Canal Stripers Have a Long Season
by Frank Daignault
The Cape Cod Canal is a classic striper spot because
it is a highway in the striper's migration
he first thing that hits you when you see the Cape Cod Canal is that there is more fishing potential than you can possibly experience. The reason for this is that both of its banks combine to provide fourteen miles of shore fishing. Within that distance there are loads of nooks and crannies that make the search easier. Something of tremendous importance is that, depending on the tide, the water whips through it, pulling on either Buzzards Bay or Cape Cod Bay.
Canal regulars stand by the old observation that the east end during the morning east tides draws good stripers up from Cape Cod Bay. As a consequence, you'll see all manner of methods in use. While there is always plenty of room, wader clad fishers line the shore on the Canal side of the jetty at its extreme east end at low tide during the dawn. Full or new moons, and this is always when the tide is high at midnight, offer vigorous east moving water that provides feeding linesides from 4 A.M. until after seven. Thus, timing is tide related when action starts in the darkness and you'll often hear the bass feeding. Some mornings with the first light you'll be able to see fish breaking the surface on bait during the magical time.
Follow the signs to Scusset Beach east from the north rotary of the Sagamore Bridge where routes 6 and 3 intersect. At a large beach parking lot at the end of the road, cross to the right toward the amber Canal lights then climb down the rip-rap at the most easterly street light to the sand under the jetty. If you've read the tide chart correctly, the water will be ankle deep or less at the jetty base.
At the west end -- opposite end, the same mainland side -- the Massachusetts Maritime Academy has a few quiet spots -- pockets of slower water that act as a haven -- where bait gathers. The situation here is less tide dependent. If the fish are at this spot you'll usually hear them. From Main Street in Bourne, turn south toward the Canal at the traffic light onto Academy Drive.
On the opposite side of the Canal, after crossing the toll free Bourne Bridge (Route 28), take a right from the rotary onto Trowbridge Road, then right onto Shore Road, then right onto Bell Road -- all short distances -- to a Corps of Engineers parking area. Here, under the Railroad Bridge, and if you can't see this Railroad Bridge you're really lost, there is a big cove on the left called the "Mud Flats" or "Tidal Flats Recreational Area" which is directly across the Canal from the Academy. Again, it is a case of checking for bait and listening for the sound of slurping stripers. Once the tide is down enough, you can walk out onto the flats on a bar that is a westward extension of the Canal bank. Just east of the flats parking lot, check the railroad bridge abutment shadows, as bass love to hide in them to mug passing bait. Let your offer swing along the outside of the shadow edge, because stripers often hide in the shadows. Incidentally, you may want to scope out the abutments of the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges as well -- a total of three bridges and six sets of abutments -- for the same kind of activity.
The Canal is a garland of hot spots, some having gained a reputation that is highly seasonal and some that require specialized methods for optimal success. I generalize about the more commonly known ones like the east end and its morning tides, but there are a lot more about which I do not know and about which a book could be written. For instance, in terms of technique, fishers often drift the bottom currents with egg sinkers and cut chunk baits or live eels for the bass that are moving in against the currents. Plug fishing with big swimmers is popular during the darkness and these same casters will often shift to bucktail jigs or tins at first light for deep swinging the currents. Fly-fishing demands a cautious selection of spots and method, and, with deep water in most locations, fast sinking lines might have an edge. Pip's Rip at the east end draws a lot of fly casters, and Mass Maritime and the Mud Flats have enough small water and eddy for some dicey fly fishing in the deep night.
Admittedly dawn is good but it is too short to give you a satisfying fishing session. While there is some productive daytime angling, such as during the herring run, the Canal remains primarily a night proposition. This is really striper hunting, which means that it pays to get around to as many places as you can comfortably drive to for a listen. Both banks have a paved tow road that fishers on foot or bikers can use. Many serious, cult-like canal regulars have bikes that are outfitted with rod holders, gear baskets and saddlebags. Equipped with big poppers, they ride the road at dawn looking for breaking fish.
Water action during full tide is like that of a powerful river. There is no surf here -- though the wake of passing ocean vessels more than compensates for that if you like getting wet. I would always fish my heaviest, most big game tackle in this spot because current adds to the peskiness of a decent fish. Conversely, though it is big water, the inland, protected nature of this man made 700 foot "ditch" is a suitable escape from vicious sea storms that ruin fishing elsewhere.
Look for first keeper stripers mid-May, but local populations are augmented throughout the season that ends with a rush of passing migrants in late October. Bluefish -- always targets of opportunity for stripermen -- show up in July. Unlike waters west and south, summer fishing holds up on the Canal offering stripers and blues at something between a steady pick and blitz when they are hard to find elsewhere. Time proven, the Cape Cod Canal is a classic striper ground because it is reliable throughout the season.
Interstates 195, 25 or 3 will get you there, but never try to get to the Cape on a Friday night or Saturday during the summer. Tourism has inundated the Cape's domestic resources at a far greater level than it has the fishing opportunity. While you can sit backed up in traffic on one of the approaches to the Canal's bridges for hours, have difficulty finding lodging or a table in a restaurant, there is always room for fishing. Also, avoid commuter hours because many Cape residents work in Boston and travel from the Cape daily. Lodging -- always lower price in the off-season -- is all over Sagamore and Bourne. At least three tackle shops can report on the fishing: Red Top Sporting Goods (508) 759 3371; Maco's Bait and Tackle (508) 759 9836; Roy's Bait and Tackle -- with guide service -- (508) 759 2151.
Additional Information: US Army Corps of Engineers - Cape Cod Canal web site includes an Adobe Acrobat PDF map of the recreational area, live telecam images, information on recreation, natural reources, navigation, photo album, educational information and canal history.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
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Articles by Frank Daignault