January 20 2021

Striped Bass Fishing on the South Shore of Massachusetts | 2020 Season-in-Review


As the middle of winter settles onto Cape Cod and New England, I find that myself and many other anglers are already looking forward to new fishing possibilities in 2021!

Although the past year has been long and tumultuous at times, many of us in the angling community (from welcomed newcomers to even the most experienced fisherman) have found ourselves a silver lining as we re-discover and expand upon our love of fishing. 

As I look back onto my 2020 fishing season, there is one particular fish species, one of the striped variety, that encompassed the bulk of my fishing journey this year on the South Shore of Massachusetts.

Indeed, as the seasons changed, as did the behavioral patterns of our beloved striped bass. However, in a year unlike any other, many were able to stretch their striper season longer than ever. Some of us were still catching stripers while the beaches lay barren, and the ponds began to ice over.

I assure you, the fishing never needs to end! So, in the hopes of spreading some early inspiration for 2021, without further adieu, here is my recap of the 2020 striper fishing season on the South Shore.


Springtime Striper Fishing On The South Shore

Beginning some time in March and continuing through the middle of April, many anglers (including myself) maintain their sanity by enjoying an increasingly fruitful pre-spawn large mouth bite on the endless small ponds of the South Shore and Cape Cod.

Slowly but surely we all begin to utter the two words in the English language that give striper anglers the jitters; herring run.

One day around the second or third week of April 2020, I received an early jumpstart in the form of a frantic FaceTime call from one of my fishing pals, who had contacted me from the Herring Run Historical Park in Pembroke to report that the herring had arrived and were swimming upstream by the thousands on their annual spawning journey. Alas, the first surefire sign that the striper season on the South Shore was not far behind!

From the end of April onward it was officially ALL SYSTEMS GO. The local diehards wasted no time heading to where they knew they had an ideal percentage at the first hook-up of the season; the North and South Rivers.

Striped Bass Fishing The Weymouth, North & South Rivers

Large rivers and estuaries like the North, South, and Weymouth back rivers connect the ocean with local fresh water sources, with the brackish and eventually fresh water that they lead to serving as an essential spawning ground for many fish species.

These areas are a great place to start because the first hungry batch of newly-arrived, migratory stripers will often be found in large quantities not far behind the herring, as they chase massive schools of them up sections of the rivers that the herring have no choice but to swim through in order to spawn. 

Starting at the very beginning of May, by traveling up and down these rivers on foot atop of the marshes, I attempted to cover as much ground as possible, specifically focusing on areas of current, slack water, structure and deep holes that are likely to hold fish. 

Early season bait profiles strayed very little from the natural presentation, primarily consisting of 3-5 inch suspending or floating jerk baits with a silver or gold flash, worked somewhat franticly at various speeds up and down the current to emulate a dying herring. 

I personally found that the smaller bait profile in this situation is key to matching the hatch during the spring.

To be quite frank, from the beginning of May onward, the local rivers were ON FIRE, easily stealing the spotlight until June, when reports of bigger fish arriving in the surf began to steadily trickle in.

However, just as quickly as it had seemingly burst into flames, the mind boggling schoolie bite on the North and South Rivers shut off significantly as the waters warmed and the spring herring run died down towards the first few weeks of June. As the patterns of early summer began to settle in, the striper bite followed suit.

2020 Summer Fishing On The South Shore

Finally around the middle of June, the water and the air had warmed significantly, ushering in the arrival of more bait, more bass, and most importantly, bigger fish.

It was at this time in the season where my focus shifted away from the rivers and exclusively on targeting stripers in the surf between the countless sand strips and rock piles of Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury.

Around this point, fish in the 20-25 inch range became the daily norm. Initially, for the first few weeks in the surf, the bite was excellent on the smaller profile suspending x-raps, crystal minnows, and bomber jerk baits that have all made their way into my striper hall of fame.

My friend and neighbor Michael kicking off an epic season with his first ever Striper! There were many more where that came from!

However, towards July as the bruiser bass arrived and recreational activity combined with rising water temperatures made the average schoolie much more wary of the shallows, it was time to switch to a larger and more versatile bait profile.

Bigger Bait = Bigger Lures

As larger bait specimen like mackerel and fully grown bunker became extremely abundant in the three bays, so rose the effectiveness of much larger plugs such as sp minnows, poppers, walking baits, big bombers and even jointed swim baits.

In the later category, Magic Swimmers (like those pictured above) may instantly come to mind, but I personally found those do much better in heavy current.  

Many South Shore anglers who were casting Magic Swimmers in 2020 were vastly outperformed in the surf by jointed Bomber Longs and Rapalas, most effective in baby bluefish, herring, bunker, sand eel, and mackerel patterns.

The lip on the jointed bait allows the angler to have maximum control over the bait’s action in relation to retrieve speed, meaning you can keep it in the strike zone longer while still maintaining the flashy and erratic wobble that a summertime striped bass simply can’t resist. Click here to continue reading...

  • Nice article Brett. You could also mention that the N & S Rivers are a National Natural Landmark and that the N & S Rivers Watershed Association has a great program of dam removal underway on these rivers to enhance and restore historic herring runs on both rivers. Fishermen should be encouraged to support these efforts.

  • Have you connected with MFCC member and author Andrew Burke? He is great person and fisherman who shares your interest of film and media. Andrew has a Utube channel “Burke Films”and you can see his work if you Google “Seven Stripe Fishing Andrew Burke”. I have had the pleasure of fishing with Andrew during our trips to Cuttyhunk, the Vineyard and Cape Cod. He is about your age and your career paths seem similar.

    • Wow that is awesome!! I will definitely have to connect, that is some epic content and I absolutely love that style of stuff. Looking at these I have DEFINITELY seen and enjoyed a few of these videos before without realizing! Thanks for letting me know!!

  • I enjoyed your article and found it informative as I have never fished the South Shore during the regular season. I have seen some great looking structure while on nonfishing day trips to Duxbury and Plymouth with Betsy and fished some of the rivers when looking for holdovers. Where are you referring to when you say the “three bays”? Is South Shore confined to the area around Plymouth, or is there more? That photo of the magic swimmers looks strangely familiar. LOL!

    • Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it!! Sounds like your already well on the right trail for sure, the “three bays” I was referencing were just Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury bays along the south shore and that area in general. Pretty much down through that area until further up as far as Hull was where I spent the majority of my striper season, so I guess colloquially the South Shore pretty much encompasses that whole span of coast and beyond. Almost all of that rock structure you might see that your referring to would almost certainly be fair game in the summer months from my experience. When it gets colder I sort of migrate to harbors and inlets and just slow things down and adjust my expectations but I personally do theorize that there are holdovers in the rivers, especially due to some questionably large and muddy looking EARLY season fish. As for the magic swimmers looks like you got the color nailed!! Haha

  • Enjoyed your article Brett.Good luck with your film, and media adventure.Hope to see you on T.V. in the future. Dreams will come true with hard work and kindness. Ask Ryan. All my best young man.

    • Thank you so much Jake! That’s really inspiring for me to hear, and I genuinely appreciate that. I hope you have a great start to your year and that the fish find you as soon as possible!! Tight lines my friend.

    • Thanks Teddy!! I agree it’s definitely great to have something to look forward to this year. I’ve got a good feeling for this spring!

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