If you insist on limiting your fishing opportunities to saltwater, I imagine yours is the same question as the one I have been asked about a dozen times so far this season: “Any stripers—or schoolies—around?”
Well Bob Lewis saw a post on Facebook from Vineyard surfcaster Abe Pieciak who said he caught a “migrating striper” on Monday. Abe included a photo of the fish’s tail, which had sea lice on it, a sign that many folks typically use to distinguish a fresh arrival from a holdover bass.
I have heard some discussion about holdover fish on occasion moving into open water from the salt ponds, rivers, or estuaries where they spend the winter, thereby gathering some sea lice, so you can’t necessarily count on the presence of these copepods as a sure sign of whether an early season bass has just showed up in local waters. Frankly, I used to get wrapped up in this distinction, but now that I am older, and supposedly a bit wiser, I simply don’t care; it’s a striper and that’s good enough for me.
Bob also spoke to fellow Osterville Anglers’ Club member Charlie Richmond, who in turn had conversed with another club member, George Noonan, who keeps his boat in Green Pond in Falmouth. Apparently, George was working on his boat last weekend when another boat came in and reported that they had caught a few bass, including one that fell within the slot limit at 30 inches.
For informational purposes, the size limit for striped bass is once again governed by a slot limit from 28 inches to less than 35, while the bag limit remains at one fish per angler per day.
Bruce Miller from Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore said there have been the usual April reports of schoolies up inside the Weweantic and Agawam rivers, as well as Buttermilk Bay and Onset, but other than a few herring in the run, the Big Ditch is still quiet. Shallower areas with darker bottom are typically the first to see bass activity this early in the season, and the Canal certainly doesn’t fit this description.
Many people associate water temperatures of 50 degrees as the magic number when bass start to become more active and feed in the spring. As of midday Wednesday, the water in Cape Cod Bay was around 46 degrees; Buzzards Bay and Woods Hole were at 49 or so; and outside Waquoit Bay it had reached 52.
Jim Young at Eastman’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street in Falmouth was surprised that he hadn’t seen any squid boats in the sound. At this time of year, he noted, he typically would have seen a few on his way to work. Along with water temperature, the presence of long fin squid, the type we see in the sounds and around the Vineyard and Nantucket this time of year, is a pretty good sign that the saltwater scene is beginning to “happen.”
The word from Andy Little at The Powderhorn in Hyannis is that May 1 is the magic date for when the squid boats, as well as the charterboats in his area, become active. I was interested in the May 1 date, since I, like Jim, have become accustomed to seeing squid trawlers in late April.
Recreational anglers jig for squid, with some using their catch for fried calamari and other favorite recipes, while others split their Loligo between meals and bait, taking extra care to maintain all the ink and other juices before they freeze it for use later in the season.
Frankly, the thought of covering the Katie G with ink and other squid offal is enough to give me the willies, and for those like me who shudder at getting their boat all googered up, many local tackle shops specialize in purchasing squid from the trawlers, packaging and freezing it for sale as “local squid.” From past experience working in a local tackle shop, it is in high demand, so if you want some, buy it when you can.
Christian Giardini over at Falmouth Bait & Tackle in Teaticket had an interesting note on squid as well, in this case how another species might impact their population this season. A customer of his was heading over to Edgartown earlier this week and saw an incredible number of scup feeding on the surface. I’ll admit that I was wondering about this info—I guess it’s the fisherman in me to question the veracity of reports—but Christian assured me this individual wouldn’t have identified them as scup unless he saw them clearly. This report of large numbers of scup had Christian worried that they could break up the schools of squid when they finally show up, making them more difficult to target.
Speaking of scup, the recreational season is open year-round, with a nine-inch size limit and 30 fish per person daily bag limit; remember, if you are fishing from a recreational boat, the maximum limit per vessel is 150 with five or more anglers aboard.
Typically, the best tautog fishing around the Upper Cape takes place in Buzzards Bay and once again Jeff Hopwood from Maco’s in Buzzards Bay and Monument Beach offered up a good example of the importance of temperature. Last Sunday, he went out looking for tog over towards Wareham, but with the tide flowing west out of the Canal, bringing colder water from Cape Cod Bay, the water temperature was about 44 degrees. Jeff and crew managed a couple of very small fish, under 12 inches, and he eventually decided that if it was too cold for the tautog, it was too cold for him.
A couple of other anglers he knows went out on Monday and they had better results, this time on the east current; water temperatures had gone up to 46-47 degrees and they had managed some legal fish. One of them had left from Hen Cove and the other Phinney’s Harbor, so Jeff suspected that they were fishing around the Wing’s Neck and Scraggy Neck areas, although there is a multitude of choice structure in upper Buzzards Bay.
Over at the Sports Port in Hyannis, Amy Wrightson had news of a 6.5-pound largemouth caught on a large shiner; she said it had a huge stomach and agreed with me that it was probably larger than many of the early season schoolies that will be caught in the next couple of weeks. The happy angler would only say he caught it from a local pond, but Amy also told of a 3.5-pound largemouth that was caught on a Rapala crankbait in Mashpee-Wakeby.
When it comes to largemouth bass, A.J. Coots suggested three categories of lures for early season work: chatterbaits, jerkbaits, and Rattletraps. All three of these can be worked slowly, which is important in cold, early season water. Suspending jerkbaits can be retrieved and then stopped, at which point they will hold at the depth they were being worked at, keeping them right in the face of a hungry, yet lethargic bass. Chatterbaits are very versatile and can be paused, similar to a suspending jerkbait, as well as being swum or jigged. Rattletraps are another slow retrieve bait and they are especially productive in ponds that serve as spawning grounds for migrating herring.
Although not many people target them, A.J. added that most largemouth ponds harbor good numbers of pickerel, some of which grow to impressive sizes.
One of the issues facing shorebound freshwater anglers who prefer to keep their feet on dry land is the amount of available shoreline based on water level. A.J. said that isn’t an issue this year, with so little rain; in fact, he laughed as he pointed out that some of the bedding areas he has liked to fish in the past aren’t even under water right now.
The Cape’s ponds also hold a number of panfish species, including crappie, and they can require a mighty big pan, as was the case with the 1.9-pounder that Christian G. weighed in midweek. Many folks fish for crappies and sunfish with jigs and even with small popping bugs on a fly rod, but in this case the angler was using a shiner, which is a good way to target the biggest fish, Christian advised.