April 1 2012

Stellwagen Bank’s Incredible Fishery


Ryan Collins

Stellwagen Bank is one of the coolest places to wet a line on Cape Cod. You never know what you might encounter!

The Bank is located about 19 miles from Plymouth, 27 miles from the Cape Cod Canal and 6 or so miles from Provincetown.  That is relatively close to shore as far as tuna fishing is concerned.

For example where I fish in Costa Rica, boats regularly make runs of 50-80 miles offshore to find tuna.

According to NOAA, Stellwagen is the result of the retreat of the last great ice sheet - the Laurentide Ice Sheet.  Odds are that the same ice sheet is responsible for the formation of Cape Cod.  

The Stellwagen Bank of today is the result of 25,000 years of geological activity.


An Overview Of Stellwagen

Stellwagen is a pretty big piece of bottom.  The Bank encompasses 842 square miles and is about 26 miles in length and 13 miles across at its widest point.  

It's my understanding that the Bank is, for the most part, a large sandy plateau.  At the Southwest Corner of the Bank depths as shallow as 65 feet can be found.  

However these shallow areas can drop off dramatically to hundreds of feet in certain spots and off the edges of the Bank.

History Of Whaling & Fishing

Stellwagen has always been a hub of fishing activity.  Fishing Stellwagen Bank hundreds of years ago must of been a daring experience.

I personally can not imagine what it must have been like to fish Stellwagen from small dorys and row boats!

Whaling was also an important industry centuries ago, and Stellwagen Bank conveniently provided plenty of whales for the dozen or so whaling ships that once called Provincetown home.

Today these whaling ships have been replaced by whale watching boats and pleasure vessels.

Fortunately the whales are still around, and even relatively large concentrations of Right Whales (of which only 411 or so exist in the world) can be found feeding and playing around in the area.

Stellwagen Wildlife

cape cod humpback whale tail

Humpbacks, pilots and right whales are not the only marine mammals we have seen at Stellwagen.  

I remember once being surrounded by hundreds of common dolphins (which was very cool) as well as spotting the occasional seal.  I'm yet to see a sea turtle but I know they are out there, and I'm still waiting on a Great White shark - which also venture into the vicinity of Stellwagen from time to time.

Sometimes blue sharks will infiltrate the Bank. 

cape cod bay fishing blue sharks

Blue sharks can be fun to catch but they do a number on your tackle. Mako sharks are also occasionally seen and caught on the Bank.

Popular Fish Species

Cod, haddock and pollock are commonly caught off the bottom of the Bank.  Once in a while a lucky angler will land a halibut or one of various other interesting bottom dwelling fish. 

Striped bass and bluefish can also be found all over the Bank, however it is illegal to target stripers at Stellwagen because the bank is outside the 3 mile federal waters limit.

The most popular fish to target at Stellwagen is, of course, the bluefin tuna.  Tuna of all sizes and shapes can be found all over the Bank.  

We have seen giants over 500 pounds and footballs under 75 pounds breaking the surface at the same time at Stellwagen.  

On a few trips we have been virtually surrounded by hundreds of jumping tuna, which is quite the adrenaline rush!

The tuna generally arrive sometime during late May or early June.  With this winter's super warm weather, I would not be surprised if we hear of tuna being spotted by the middle of May.  We'll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

Effective Tuna Fishing Tactics

During the spring one of the most productive tuna fishing techniques is flying live bait under kites.  If you're not familiar with how to catch tuna with a kite, click here for a crash course.  I'm no expert but we have had some success in the past using kites.

kite fishing red kite

A lot of guys prefer to cast top water plugs and vertically jig for school size bluefins.  Over the years we have had good success with 150 pound class fish by trolling soft plastics on spinning gear.  

Catching a tuna on spinning gear is, in my opinion, the best fishing workout in the world.

In 2011 several tuna over 1,000 pounds were caught in the waters surrounding the Bank.  I believe one fish tapped the scale out at 1,200 pounds.  Needless to say there are some seriously big giant bluefin tuna in the Stellwagen Bank area.

Best of luck fishing Stellwagen this year.  Maybe you will be the next guy to land a 1,000 plus pound fish.

Tight lines ?

About the author 

Ryan Collins

I'm fortunate to have grown up on the beach, and I've been fishing since kindergarten. I have great family, friends and fishing experiences to be thankful for. Just being out there is enough-catching fish is just a bonus!

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