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Shellfishing on Cape Cod | Getting Started With Oysters

Richard Banks

It was just a little past sunrise as I was standing in 53 degree water that was up to the top of my chest waders, with a strong wind blowing and rain starting to come down in a torrent.

I couldn’t help but ask myself again why I was doing this. The answer to that very simple question was equally simple-fresh oysters.

People around the world pay good money for oysters from Cape Cod. The reason being is that the waters of the Cape provide a very good environment in which oysters thrive.

This is something that you can do too. It doesn’t take a whole lot of equipment, and in a short period of time you can get a bucket full that will make your friends both jealous and glad to know you, all at the same time.

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So with that being said, why aren’t you out gathering up some of the greatest tasting oysters found anywhere in the world?

Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought; perhaps you don’t know what equipment you need; perhaps you don’t know that you can pretty much find oysters anywhere on the Cape.

The purpose then of this report is to share with you some insights about this fishery and to encourage you to get out and catch some these great tasting mollusks. Whether you like them raw, grilled, fried or in a stew, I hope that the information provided here is of interest, value and benefit.

Rules & Regulations

Before you can eat them, you have to catch them, so let’s start with the basic rules and regulations of shell fishing on Cape Cod.

Click below to toggle some "must know" oystering rules & regulations:

Town-specific regulations

Shell fishing permits

Resident vs. non-resident permits

When you can go

Minimum size

Equipment

The next thing you need to have for getting oysters is some basic fundamental equipment.

  • Chest waders

A good pair of chest waders is essential. Not only will they help keep you warm and dry, they will also help prevent clam itch, which can cause a poison ivy type rash on some people.

oystering on cape cod

Chest waders can also help get you into deeper water, ahead of others who might be sticking to the shallows. One time I got my limit very quickly out deep, while others in shallow didn’t get any.

  • Wet suit jackets and diving gloves

During the fall and winter I would suggest a wet suit jacket and a pair of diving gloves to help keep you dry and warm. With water temps in the 50s or lower, hypothermia could become a factor.

  • Floating baskets

A floating basket is good for stowing your oysters, along with a bucket that is measured for the limit you can keep. For example, I put a 5 quart pail inside my basket so I know when I am getting to my limit without any guess work.

Strategy

Some people use a glass bottom bucket to help them see the oysters, and then use a shelf grabber to pick them up in deeper water. I once saw someone using what appeared to be the bin from their refrigerator to spot the oysters, and also to carry them.

I prefer to use my polarized sunglasses and a long handled clamming rake. Even though I am in amongst the rocks, the rake does a good job of picking up several oysters at a time, compared to just one at a time with the grabber.

You should also have a measuring tool to help ensure that your oysters are legal. Any small oysters should be returned to the water right away.

In shallow waters you don’t need anything other than a good pair of waterproof boots and gloves, as you can pick the oysters right up off the bottom. The clearer the water, the easier they are to find.

Oysters can also be found growing attached to rocks and boulders. At low tide you can usually just break them off the rocks or use a small pick hammer to break them off.

Oysters don’t bury themselves in the sand because they would suffocate if they did. This means you can often walk along in the shallows and just pick them up as they are laying there.

After a strong storm you can sometimes find them along the beaches. The waves will often wash them up onto shore.

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  1. Great write up!

    Reply
  2. Great post!!
    Any tips on where to get oysters in Mashpee?

    Reply
    1. Hello Csmith! Yes we do have some tips. Richard just sent me the following to share with you…

      Carly

      Thanks for your note on My Fishing Cape Cod.

      Although I have not been oystering in Mashpee I did find the following

      Mashpee Shellfishing & Clamming
      Mashpee Town Hall, 16 Great Neck Road North
      Mashpee, MA
      Phone: 508-539-1439

      To shellfish in Mashpee you must have a Mashpee shellfish permit or Wampanoag Tribal ID card. You may buy a permit if you own land in Mashpee or live in Massachusetts.

      Permits are issued at the Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 pm. and during the month of July on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

      Fees Family, $25; seniors, $6; non-resident, $80

      Hours: Non-commercial shellfishing is allowed every day between sunrise and sunset.

      Shellfishing Locations: Shellfishing is allowed up to the high tide shoreline, except in areas closed because of contamination or otherwise restricted by the Mashpee Shellfish Regulations.

      Areas reserved for non-commercial (family) shellfishing are in Waquoit Bay, Great River, Hamblin Pond and Popponesset Bay. Refer to the shellfishing maps for closed or restricted areas.

      Harvest of quahogs, soft-shell clams, scallops (in season), mussels and razor clams is allowed as specified in the regulations. The taking of oysters is prohibited until further notice. Catch limits are established for each harvestable species and can be found in the regulations. Shellfishing maps

      You can also check out the Mashpee website for more information at http://www.mashpeema.gov/shellfish

      This is a map that shows where some of their shellfishing areas were. I am not certain as to how old the info is so please check with your town offices as to when beds are open and closed to the public.

      Thanks again for the comments.

      Best regards,

      Richard

      Reply
      1. Dan Martin (another member of MFCC) also had this recommendation:

        “Mashpee neck….follow the road by that name to its south most point”

        That should help get you started. Gluck!

        Reply
  3. As an FYI, I went out and got some oysters from the Bay at the beginning of March. I enjoyed a few and put the rest in my refrigerator. Last night, on April 22 I popped a few open. They were all still full of juice and very flavorful. There were a couple that had opened up a little at the seam so I didn’t even try to open them. So I have had them in the frig for close to 8 weeks and no issues with freshness or flavor of the ones I ate. Hope this helps. Clamming should be starting in Yarmouth pretty soon and I will do a report on that in the near future as well as a report on my trip to Venice LA.. All my best to you and yours, Richard

    Reply
    1. Awesome stuff Richard, thanks for contributing.

      Good luck down in Louisiana!

      Seems like your chances will be very good fishing with these guys > https://youtu.be/pAOMFmXloAI

      Reply
  4. Is there any town that rents or loans out the equipment to go oystering? A couple years ago my daughter and I did that clamming for the day and it was such a great experience.

    Reply
    1. Tammy
      You really don’t need much equipment to pick them off the rocks. A device to measure the oysters, some heavy duty gloves, a pail to put them in and a glove and knife to open them with. If you have the device for measuring clams it may also work for measuring the oysters.
      However, many towns do have equipment you can use. When you go on a town’s shell fishing website it should indicate whether or not equipment is available.
      I hope this helps.
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Reply
  5. Hi Richard – When it works out with tides and times, I can combine clamming with fishing, especially if I’m geared up in waders etc, that way I’m guaranteed a “catch”.

    Reply
    1. Jane
      Excellent…often times I’m out there in a boulder field thinking this would be a great place for fishing. Next time I will go early and take the rod and reel.
      Thanks for sharing…hope to see you out there.
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Reply
  6. Awesome post! Thanks for the input as this is an area that I have been eager to explore yet know very little about.

    Reply
    1. Gregory,
      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and to send along a comment. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a note or give me a call.
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Reply
  7. Richard, thank you so much for posting this great information. I will definitely add this to my to-do activities this year.

    Reply
    1. Brian
      Thanks for reading the article and sending along a comment. I hope to write one about clamming on the Cape which is another fun thing to do. As oyster season is now open in towns around the area I look forward to hearing about your success.
      Best regards
      Richard

      Reply
  8. Great article….I’ll be getting a shellfish license in Eastham this year. Salt Pond and Hemenway Landing seem like good places to start.

    I absolutely love Wellfleet oysters and agree on the brine only approach. Wonderful. Only thing that competes is kummamoto oysters on the west coast.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for the comments. Let me know when you get some Eastham Oysters and we can do a taste comparison.
      All my best
      Richard

      Reply
  9. How long can you store freshly dug oysters?

    Reply
    1. Sally,
      Thanks for reading the report and for the note and question.
      A couple of things,;
      Keep them in their shells
      Store them flat side up
      DO NOt store in a sealed bag or container
      Keep refrigerated until you are ready to shuck them
      Some suggest placing a water towel over them

      With all that..I picked up some oysters after a storm about a week before Thanksgiving. I served some to guests on the big day and kept the rest in the refrigerator until the 20th of December. I checked the shells to make sure they hadn’t opened up and and did not have a bad odor when opening. They were fine.

      The people who grow oysters will remove the oysters from the beds in winter and put them in cold storage until early spring when they get returned to the water. They don’t seem to have any issues with doing this.

      If you have shucked the oysters they should be eaten right away or cooked.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read the report.

      Best regards

      Richard

      Reply
  10. Christmas morning…fresh batter fried oysters! Yum! Very easy to do.

    Reply
    1. Sally
      Sounds great…do you have a batter recipe you would like to share?
      Enjoy the day,
      Richard

      Reply
  11. Thank you for the article and tips, Richard.

    Reply
    1. Scott
      Thanks for taking the time to read the article and to send in a note. I hope to write something about clamming in the spring and hopefully you will enjoy that as well.
      Yours,
      Richard

      Reply
  12. Richard, nice write up. I’ve been getting them basically year round (whe weather permits) here in Eastmam. When you can’t fish, you can Oyster.?

    Reply
    1. Don
      We should do a taste test comparison. I think it will be a tie. Looking forward to enjoying all the fishing on the Cape.
      All my best,
      Richard

      Reply
  13. Nicely done, great post.

    I also like to snorkel for sea clams in Cape Cod Bay at low tide. I use a screw driver to pluck the sea clams from the sand. Simple stuff and a lot of fun.

    Sea clams are great stuffed with breadcrumbs in the shell, or in a chowder.

    Reply
    1. Ryan
      Thanks for the comment it is greatly appreciated. Perhaps one day we can get out together and get some sea clams. Thanks again for the amazing website and providing us an opportunity to share our fishing experiences.
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Reply
  14. Great report and happy new year! I lost your phone number. If you like to PM the number again I would appreciate. Emil

    Reply
    1. Emil,
      Thanks for the note and comment. I sent the phone number in a separate email and look forward to hearing from you.
      Happy New Year..
      Richard

      Reply
  15. Thanks so much for the info Richard. They are so delicious. I didn’t know that you could store them for so long in the fridge.

    Reply
    1. Frank
      Thanks for the note and comment. Although I have had salmon right out of the Kenai and mahi mahi right out of the Gulf, I was still truly surprised to find how much different truly fresh oysters taste. Even after they have been in the frig for a few weeks they are still fantastic. Storing them flat side up makes a big difference.
      All my best,
      Richard

      Reply

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