found the spot almost accidentally. I was returning to Chatham
light from a morning fishing the rips east of Monomoy Point, and was
following along the beach just outside the breakers. Usually I would
run a course from the rips to the buoy off the Chatham entrance, but
today I had chosen to take a more exploratory path home.
Just north of the inlet in between the two Monomoy Islands, I started noticing the bait. I could see vast schools of sand eels dimpling the surface as my skiff skimmed along. A flock of cormorants were working offshore of me, with a scattering of gulls overhead of them. On the beach, just above the wrack line, hundreds of gulls were standing there, as if they were
waiting for something. I suspected that I was a witness to either the end or the beginning of something big.
Being slack water, I knew that if there were fish under all this bait they would show better when the
tide started running. An occasional bass could be seen in the breakers, so I spent most of that afternoon poking around the sandbars and the beach. As the tide dropped, two or three channels became exposed where
I could go in between the bars to a calmer, deep lagoon on the shore
side of the bar, and I marked them with my Loran. Beaching the boat, I
grabbed my rod and a couple eels and started walking the edge of the
bar. I saw many small pods of keeper bass that day in the surf line and
I caught a couple of fish, but I remember seeing many, many more than I
caught. In leaving that day, I knew something was wrong, but wasn’t
sure what it was. It was if the fish, too, were waiting for something
Rowing out to my skiff this morning, I pondered what had been a long
eight days of waiting for the right conditions to be as I suspected they
should for those fish to bite. I believed the fish I found that day
would bite with the ideal combination of low light and a moving tide.
Suspecting the brightness of the previous day had put the fish in a
finicky mood, and some connection between those gulls on the beach and
the sand eel concentrations, my hunch said to go explore it. I had
been there through the dropping tide in the afternoon that day with less
than ideal results, so I wanted to try the rising tide in the morning.
I needed the combination of the rising tide to coincide with the coming
of dawn, giving me just enough daylight to see the breakers, yet not too
much light to put the fish off. I hoped the big schools of sand eels
would still be there.
Last night’s low tide was at 2:27 AM on the Chatham bar. Give or take
a quarter hour or so, that put maximum flood at around 5:15. Planning to
be there early, I was leaving my mooring in Pleasant Bay with plenty of
time to spare to pick my way through the channels in the dropping tide.
I left the running lights off to retain my night vision. Comforted by
the solitude, and the tranquility of the calm night waters, yet excited
about the prospects of having this beach to myself with a bucket of
fresh eels, I headed down the bay and towards the cut.
Once past the
narrows, I opened her up towards the bluff of the golf course and
Dogfish Bar. Turning the corner towards Strong Island, I could see
fairly well now that I was away from the lights of the houses. The
current was ebbing pretty strong, allowing me to pick my way along the
center of the channel by watching the direction of the tide on the
lobster buoys. Once abreast of the Chatham fish pier though, I slowed
my homemade flat-bottomed skiff down. The year before, I had run
aground at high speed on this bar with a dropping tide. That was a
lesson I’d rather not repeat. I had to unload all my fishing gear,
fuel, fish box, and battery out of the boat, take the outboard off and
hump the boat back to the water, now 40 yards further away and then load
all the stuff back into the boat again. Abreast of the south edge of
Nauset Beach, I turned west towards the rock revetments and the channel
there, and took my time to get my bearings.
The current was rushing through the narrowed waterway, looking really
fishy. I noticed a brief flash of light over against the rock wall, a
popular fishing spot. The skiff that was fishing there also had his
running lights off, and upon hearing my engine, was flashing at me to
warn me of his presence. I slowed to an idle and looked it over,
thinking it looked pretty good. It even smelled fishy.
There are times when I get a sense or a hunch about a spot or a place, some call it “reading the water” others even try to teach this skill, but mostly its the subconscious remembrances of fishing spots we’ve visited before. An
important thing I’ve learned is not to discount these hunches or
premonitions as they are your natural fishing instincts telling you what
to do. I now noticed another boat there and with me that would have
been three, so I decided to keep going. There were fish there though,
and it is always hard to leave fish to find fish, but this morning I was
acting on a bigger instinct that there was something waiting for me more
Idling slowly till I was well out of their drift, I
throttled up and headed out into the cut. Now I was more than halfway out, past the lighthouse, I could hear the surf on the bar. Cutting my engine, I listened carefully for the size and location of the breakers
as I drifted out the channel. I could hear the water rushing against
something getting louder and louder as the boat drifted closer to it.
The blackish green can buoy at the end of the beach spit on the Chatham
side materialized out of the gloom. I dug the spotlight out from under
the seat and plugged it into the socket. It would be needed to find the
radar reflectors marking the channel around the bars and to see the
breakers. The swell seemed to be a foot, with an occasional two footer,
small enough to cross but big enough to not risk taking your eyes off
of. The “ C “ buoy’s periodic moaning, together with the fact I could
not see the interval of the blinking light, told me there was fog just
outside the breakers. This is normal for the Chatham and Monomoy area in
early August and I was glad to know it was there, as it kept many
fishermen home and provided some cover for me. If the fish were at the
spot, I didn’t want any company. The fog also reduced the amount of
light hitting the water and hopefully keeping the fish biting longer.
Carefully, I threaded my way in between the bars and the breakers as I
made my way out, and once past the last radar reflector, headed south
and again was following the beach down towards my new found spot in
between the beach and the bar. With excited anticipation, I hoped they
would be there again! I motored on in the increasing grayness
paralleling the beach. On occasion, I would shine the spot onto the
beach, looking for the telltale gulls that I hoped would be waiting
there. I was beginning to have my doubts when I saw the first group.
Then there were more!. As I went further along, I was more and more
encouraged by the numbers of gulls I saw on the beach.
You see, I had figured out that as the tide dropped on these bars the night before, the
sand eels dug themselves into the exposed sand to wait for the next
rising tide. As the gulls walked the bars feeding on the occasionally
exposed sand eels, the bass were also waiting for the water to again
rise over the exposed sand eel laden flats. I did not know for sure what
the connection was, only that I suspected it had to do with the low
light. I could now make out the darker shadows of the waves as they
spent themselves against the shoreline. I could see where they formed,
but did not break on the deeper runnel in between the bars. Checking
the loran, I saw that I was on the numbers and turning shore ward, I
passed through the opening into the lagoon.
As I beached my skiff against the sandbar in that gray August dawn, I
had no idea it would be anything like it was. I could see stripers
boiling on both sides of the boat as I crossed over the bar. They were
here all right, hundreds of them, no thousands, and I had it all to
myself ! Hurriedly I anchored the boat behind the bar, and grabbed my
scrub pad and my eel container and put a half dozen into it. I’ll pass
this tip on to all - I use a 3M scrub pad, (the green ones) to grab the
eels. After you try it, you won’t use a rag again ! My rod, a custom 9
foot slow action baitcast and Garcia 6500 was rigged with 17 Lb
monofilament, a black ball bearing swivel, 30” of 40 Lb leader and a 4/0
black octopus hook snelled to the leader.
Gathering up my stuff I pushed the boat off the bar into the lagoon, kicked the anchor deeper into the
sand and started running for the surf. There were stripers everywhere
! I could see fins sticking up here and tails out of the water there.
They weren’t excited or boiling or even moving fast, it was as if they
were just rolling in the shallows. I fumbled for an eel and dropped it
into the sand twice in my excitement and haste. Finally, I got it on
the hook, a nice lively one and lobbed it out. I didn't even have to
get my feet wet as these fish were in less than 18“ of water. I had a
pickup right away and set the hook. This fish sat there for a second,
as if not believing he was hooked, and then sped off through the ranks
of his buddies, scattering them with his efforts. With my light outfit
it was touch and go for awhile with me giving, and then him giving until
I finally led him ashore in the shallows. As I fought the fish, I
noticed just how many stripers were there. It was unbelievable! In 25
years of fishing, both commercially and recreationally, on two coasts, I
had never seen this much tonnage of fish in one location! Some of the
bass were in the 10 to 13 pound range, most were 13 to 18 pounders, and
some like the one laying at my feet, were 22 or 24 pounds. I released
that one, and probably 15 more that morning, eventually taking one home.
As the morning progressed, the behavior of the fish changed as the
amount of light increased. When I first arrived, the stripers were
just rolling along with their backs out of the water. Then it seemed
that they were mostly in a head down position, with their tails out of
the water as the feeding activity increased. On every cast I would have
an immediate pickup, as if the fish were waiting for the bait. That
lasted till about 8.00 AM that morning (other days I have seen them
shut off from feeding at 7:00). From that period on the fish became
more and more selective, turning away from the bait after inspecting it.
I could clearly see the fish turn, look and then reject my offerings. I
tried small rubber sand eel imitations as well as the live eels and it
didn’t seem to matter, the bite was over.
If there is a point to this story other than to share with you this
experience, it is to affirm you to have enough confidence in your
hunches or ideas to go with your instincts. On the day I found this
spot, if I had kept to the original course from the rips, I would have
never learned what I did about that spot. Or if I had stopped at the
rock wall on the way out of Pleasant Bay that morning, I might never
have experienced seeing all those stripers standing on their heads
slurping sand eels off a deserted bar on a foggy Chatham morning. I
have learned to take a differing way home sometimes, keep my senses open
for what I may learn every day and to go with my instincts.
Observations noted during the time you are on the water, are stored in
the memory, guiding you to do what you feel is “the” thing to do at
that time. If you can trust those recollections or hunches to guide
you, then you will truly be “reading the water.”
PS: North Monomoy is no longer an island, having closed up at the
beach under Chatham Light, allowing adventuresome beach fishers to now
walk to this spot.
Copyright © 2000 - 2013 Captain Bruce Peters, All Rights Reserved
Captain Bruce Peters has been a commercial fisherman for over 20 years, on two coasts. He is a holder of the U.S. Coast Guard Master's 50 ton license #830067. Captain Peters is a 14th generation Cape Cod native from a long line of lifesavers, whalers and watermen.
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