Over the years, I have made a habit of driving up to the canal early Wednesday morning before I begin to scribble my weekly column. It puts me in the proper frame of mind, often becoming one of those folks who just seem hypnotized by the scene in front of him.
Sometimes I am lucky enough to see someone catch a fish, giving me a firsthand report to share as opposed to just the news gathered from other anglers and the helpful owners and employees of the tackle shops that dot the upper and mid-Cape landscape.
This week, I was treated to a special moment when a very excited angler walked through the door at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore and asked if Bruce Miller would weigh a fish for him, as well as take a photo that could be displayed among the many others on the shop’s braggin’ board.
Since Sheila and Jeff had yet to arrive to help out at such an early hour, I offered to assist Bruce, who was busy ringing up sales of plugs, jigs, bait, and other fishing paraphernalia.
After hanging the digital scale from its hook in front of the shop, I watched as the aforementioned individual went to the back of his van and brought forward a big bass – a really big bass.
It registered 43.1 pounds and his excitement was palpable as I used his phone to take numerous photos and folks offered congratulations on his catch.
I was left with conflicted thoughts that are too complicated and confused regarding killing such an important fish, especially given the current overfished status of the striper spawning stock.
But I also knew that this wouldn’t be the only cow that was caught in the Big Ditch this week and throughout what promises to be another strong year. In fact, Bruce had weighed in a 48-pound bass the day before.
Todd Benedict at Falmouth Bait & Tackle in Teaticket gave me both a pretty good idea of the quality of the fishing and how crowded the canal is.
Earlier this week, he worked the early morning bite as the bass moved into the west end as the current turned east in the wee hours and two hours later, after a doctor’s appointment, Todd went to the east end and they were catching fish there.
Apparently, the greater challenge than catching fish is finding a parking space; at 4:15 the other morning, Todd said there wasn’t a spot in the Cape-side lot under the Bourne Bridge and that was the story in pretty much every parking area on both sides of the Canal as well as along Sandwich Road.
A.J. Coots at Red Top in Buzzards Bay told me they had weighed in a number of sizeable bass as of Wednesday, with a 36-pounder topping the list as folks are visiting the shop on a regular basis looking for paddletail jigs.
While the Ditch is hot, in pretty much every other shore spot, the top end of the spectrum for bass is the low 30-inch class, with far more schoolies and a very rare striper over 40-inches.
Jim Young at Eastman’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street in Falmouth said the schoolie bite is ridiculous, with folks reporting fish in the 16 to 24-inch class on pretty much every cast. It doesn’t seem to matter what you throw, from small spooks and poppers to soft plastics rigged in a wide assortment of ways, as long as they are white. Flyrodders could have fun trying to figure out what pattern isn’t working, these small fish are so aggressive.
I wish I had better news to report concerning bluefish caught from the southside beaches, but other than a few words about scattered catches down around Popponesset and Oregon Beach, it looks the spring run was another bust this season. Amy spoke to one customer who ran into a school while out in his boat, but that is the only tale concerning chopper tails that she could share.
Like A.J. Coots, the main challenge for boat anglers throughout the Upper Cape has been the wind this week, which is really frustrating since there are fish out there to be caught.
Last Friday, I enjoyed a great trip at Middle Ground with Palo Pierce, Senior and Junior, but it was the younger one’s lady friend, Elizabeth “Biff” Ryan, who stole the show with her first bass ever, taking big fish of the day honors at 30 inches on her first cast, using a bubblegum Hogy. Everyone caught a number of really fat, healthy stripers in the 24- to 28-inch range, both on unweighted plastics and topwater plugs.
You can pick pretty much every shoal in Vineyard and Nantucket sounds and you will find bass, but the word from Jim Young is that Woods Hole has produced the biggest ones, with a couple of 25-pounders jigged up on wire.
Phil Stanton has been enjoying a banner casting season in the Hole on everything from bucktails to plugs, with one of his favorite colors a scheme he calls “clown,” but many manufacturers refer to it as “Wonderbread.”
I received an interesting inquiry and photo from Bill Greene concerning the identity of a fish that he and Stan Ott found swimming in schools inside Tarpaulin Cove recently. I suggested the fish was a mullet, similar to the larger ones they catch in Florida and other southern states. Typically, the mullet that are caught in the northeast are baitfish, but certain members of the family grow up to 16-inches or longer, as some of the ones they caught measured.
Last week, I got to fish with Bill Lynch’s 13-year-old grandson Travis Tanberg, who hails from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Bill had informed me beforehand that Travis is totally into fly fishing and I can honestly say that his skills are simply unbelievable. Not only can he double haul and shoot line with ease, but also he knows the proper way to use side pressure when playing a fish.
We had a great day in Barnstable Harbor on a large school of bass that were rolling and slurping in sand eels and I thought it would be cool to see Travis tangle with a bass in Woods Hole where the currents really challenge a flyrodder. Last Friday, the wind was out of the southwest, which is typically good for someone using the long wand, but Travis is a southpaw, putting the breeze off the wrong shoulder. When I asked him if he could backcast, he then proceeded to put on a display of this skill that had me slack jawed.
Unfortunately, what I had hoped would be a display of stripers and squid never shaped up and I managed to put Travis on a single fish.
Any fisherman should avoid using the word “guarantee” when talking about critters with tails, fins, and gills, but the black sea bass bite both in the sounds and Buzzards Bay is as close as you are going to get to a sure thing. Each time I have launched from Falmouth Harbor since the season opened, I have watched the Patriot Partyboat vessels return with happy customers hefting bags and coolers of big sea bass and scup.
In Buzzards Bay, the ground fishing is excellent as well, but A.J. Coots repeated a common lament: he has his boat in the water, but getting out has been the issue. That last time he did get some fishing in, he was treated to great action on sea bass and he is hoping that by this weekend things will lay down enough to make it possible to visit any number of productive spots.
Jeff Miller is convinced that a good number of the big bass in the canal are out in the west entrance from the Hog Island Channel over to Bird Island, feeding on the schools of pogies that boaters have reported. Since the bass are moving in and out with the currents, finding the bait has been of paramount importance if your goal is to catch a cow.
There are also plenty of schoolies feeding on sand eels and other small bait in the waters from the Maritime Academy to the Mashnee Flats, with early mornings often filled with birds and surface feeding stripers in the coves, rivers, and harbors that dot the upper Buzzards Bay shoreline.
If you like mackerel to eat, then the east entrance to the Canal is the place to be and Jeff Miller said that boaters looking for bass have been trolling large Rapala Magnums or bunker spoons from the CC Buoy to the Dumping Grounds. Once they locate stripers hanging under a school of mackerel, then it is sabiki and livelining time.
Live mackerel are also producing the largest bass around Barnstable Harbor, confirmed Andy Little at The Powderhorn in Hyannis, although some anglers prefer to troll jigs and umbrella rigs, similar to what the charterboats employ at this of year from the Brewster Flats out to Billingsgate and along the Path from Wellfleet to Truro.
It might seem early in many people’s minds, but reports of excellent offshore action have been filtering in and Chuck Martinsen of the Falmouth Department of Marine & Environmental Services showed me a photo of a hatchet marlin that he caught on a trip out to the canyons on Capt. Larry Backman’s vessel, Skipjack. Along with this unusual billfish, they also caught mahi mahi and bluefin tuna.
Our fishing guru Captain Dave Peros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org