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Bay City Fishing
Stripers in the Boston Harbor Islands
by Frank Daignault

ith the resurgence of striper fishing, we have to add Boston Harbor as a new spot in the list of places where there is good striper fishing. We say new because a generation ago, when we last had the linesides, Boston Harbor was so polluted that it was not a suitable destination for anybody to fish for anything. That has all changed.
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If you ever saw the harbor and how it is used today, you would be embarrassed at having forgotten about the place and impressed with how it has come back. Expensive efforts at effective sewerage treatment over recent years have made the place sparkle. It simply is no longer polluted. People are swimming there. They are sea kayaking, camping, hiking, and bird watching. For years it has been a best-kept secret for waterfowling. They are camping on four of the thirty harbor islands and, with a few unimportant exceptions, fishing from just about all of them.

The 1600-acre Island Park, which boasts 35 miles of shoreline, is jointly managed by the National Park Service, Coast Guard, Massachusetts DEM, MDC, and Mass Water Resources. These harbor islands are steeped in tradition and dripping in history; some of them were used as internment camps, prisons really, and go all the way back to King Philip's War, the detainment of Civil War Confederate officers and even Italian prisoners of the U.S. during WWII. Back to fishing.

Downtown Boston is being promoted as a place where people walk -- and, when they are not walking, they are taking a water taxi from one part of the harbor to another as well as from island to island. The waterfront is a vibrant, restaurant filled place mixed with upscale, dont-ask-the-price condos that come with a mooring for your yacht thrown in. Whether you are fishing from a boat or walking an island shore, the more seaward harbor islands offer pristine angling opportunities these days for stripers, a species that should surprise no one.

On a good day, you will see plenty of small craft in a rip which forms on the south side of Little Brewster Island from which Boston Light, the oldest standing manned lighthouse in the United States, guards the shipping. Touring there we saw boats anchored with bunker baits tethered to lines drifting downtide. Along the four craggy Brewster Islands in full daylight, we could see fly and plug fishing guides tooling their small boats in close to the rocks where their charges cast for stripers. Moreover, they were catching linesides in the daylight which is a time when these fish are less likely to be taken. The harbor is famous for bottom fishing for cod and haddock both of which are also coming back. If people were that happy with the fishing during the day, you had to wonder what it would be like at night.

Copyright 2006 Boston Harbor Islands Partnership

It is impossible to determine the number of guide services that are committed to the burgeoning interest in fly-fishing for stripers; however, it can be said that every one of them has been spawned out of the rediscovered harbor. Only ten years ago it would have been impossible to find such services. Today it is possible to engage a licensed skipper who is acquainted with the harbor navigationally as well as with its striped bass fishing. When a guide knows where the fish were yesterday, that person is more likely to find them today.

That is not to say that an outfitter is needed to sample the fishing of the harbor islands. With the explosion of interest in competent kayaking, people are getting around the harbor islands on these limited craft. Nonetheless, this is still open water and both competence and experience are needed to do it safely. While sampling these waters with a kayak, our son, Dick, was swamped and overturned by a high-speed ferry during the day. Thus, boat traffic can be a summer problem with these smaller craft. It is kind of a natural user conflict which springs from the new harbor interest, so be careful.

The National Park Service administers a permit system for small tent camping. The camping season here continues through Columbus Day weekend in October on Lovell's, Peddock's, Grape, and Bumpkin. Each of the four islands has ten or more individual sites that have a two-week limit and one or two group sites. To make free reservations, which are required on Lovell's and Peddock's, call 617- 727-7676. Bumpkin and Grape have a reservation fee of $10 ($8 for MA residents) for individual sites and $25 for group sites; call 877-422-6762. You can cook but you have to carry in your own water and carry your trash out. No alcohol or pets are allowed. For more information, call 617-223-8666 or www.BostonIslands.com.

From the shore of these strategically placed islands, it is possible to fish some hard running tiderips -- preferably at night -- when striper fishing from shore is at its best and when there are few, if any, others. Tidal exchange is high here and mid-tide rips worth testing are at the south end of Lovell's. Peddock's splits with two south ends. Thus, with the north point, three spots command current on this island. Grape in Weymouth and Bumpkin in Hingham don't appear to offer as much current. On the other hand, they would be easier to access by kayak while offering the same remote, no-one-else-fishing, quality.

Alternative mainland choices would be camping at the campground at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham. Another good south harbor shore fishing option is Hull Gut in Pemberton where a thin finger of land reaches into the harbor opening that throbs with current and good fishing on either tide. This is nice big water for plugging that is from the mainland so you don't need a taxi or kayak. Nearby bait fishers spread along the shore once water eases off enough to hold bottom.

Keep in mind that while utilization of the harbor is new, those methods that work elsewhere will stand you well here. Light tackle plug and lure fishing can be as productive as fly-fishing. Late summer bluefish are an added species that always enhances the mix found in striper fishing, and Boston is no exception. On any part of our striper coast, fall is the time when fishing really picks up. Late September and early October are prime in this northern part of their range. Our highly migratory stripers are feeding heavily on bait supplies that are higher at this time while more fish are arriving from the north.

There is something counter-intuitive about fishing clean water with a big city skyline behind you and a lineside in your fore. It is a thing that, until I went there, I had never experienced much. It gets you thinking that anything is possible and reminds you how easy it is to lose a good place to fish when the water has no care and that it can be brought back when it has.

Copyright 1998-2011 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved

Frank Daignault
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. Autographed copies of any of these books can be ordered directly from Frank, HERE.

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