There is little doubt that when it comes to a greater number of larger striped bass, the bay is the place to be.
Up around Provincetown, especially from Herring Cove to the Race, with some boats running down the backside close to the beaches in search of larger fish; in general, the topwater bite is decent on bass in the 30 to 34-inch class. Jeff Miller at Canal Bait & Tackle in Sagamore told me that he spoke to a scalloper who has witnessed fish feeding on mackerel and baby haddock. When that is the case, big plugs are the way to go, with spook style topwaters more popular than traditional poppers, although pencil poppers are still a good choice. The plastic Musky Mania Doc, typically in the bone color, is number one when it comes to spooks in those parts, with Ryan Smith’s Jackhammer, Lemire’s Wavejammer, and Gibbs Glider and Wave Walker wooden spooks that fish well. All of these plugs are big, up to 9 or 10-inches in length and 4-ounces, so it takes pretty stout tackle to toss them.
If lighter tackle is your option, the Doc comes in a junior model and so do some of the others, while smaller spooks such as Jumpin’ Minnows, Yo-zuri Hydro Pencils, and Zara Spooks and Super Spooks will work.
The plug bite is quite often an early morning one, particularly if you combine first light with a dropping tide.
As much fun as plugging is, the reality is that more fish are taken at this time of the year in this area either jigging when sand eels are the primary bait or livelining mackerel.
There is a wide assortment of metal and soft plastic/leadhead combinations that you can use, but I have never gone wrong with Hogy Epoxy Jigs in olive, silver, or pink, as well as Barbarian Jigs in the same colors.
If the fish are keyed in on mackerel, but you can’t seem to gather some up, then Sebile Magic Swimmers are popular and effective if you end up using artificials as an alternative. The fast sink models are the top choice since you can work them at various levels of the water column, including down deep.
Local charterboats that prefer to pull wire, using jigs or umbrella rigs, are catching their limits, but right now they are dragging Magic Swimmers and Bombers, said Paul Newmier at Blackbeard’s in Eastham. Of course, there is no reason to do any trolling around the shoals as the fish are often up on top or at least in the upper part of the water, pushing sand eels. Some boats toss Docs and other big plugs in hopes of catching a larger fish, but my last trips have produced big fish on small, sand eel colored soft plastics rigged on very light jigheads or swimbait hooks, as well as vertical jigging. The dropping tide definitely seems to be best for surface activity, with the fish apparently scattering and hanging in deep water on the upper parts of the tide.
The drop has also seen a good topwater bite at times a mile or so off the Brewster Flats as the fish that move up into the shallows during the rising tide often follow schools of sand eels and other baitfish into the deeper edges. Even if there are no birds or fish showing, you will see folks trolling or drifting and vertical jigging when they locate fish.
Up on the flats, it’s the usual story, with the fish getting pickier during the sun up hours with each passing day, making the wee hours up to first light a good choice to toss soft plastics, swimmers such as the Daiwa SP Minnow and Bomber, and even topwater plugs.
The fly anglers who like to think of the flats as theirs often do best with crab, shrimp, and other buggy, crustacean imitations as opposed to sand eel patterns, especially if they end up concentrating on bigger bass that are way smarter and warier than your average schoolie.
Frankly, if you fish Billingsgate and then head back to Sesuit, Barnstable, or Sandwich, there is a good chance you will run into a school of bass that is happily feeding on sand eels; birds are typically a give away when it comes to where the fish are, but at times all you will see is “funny” water with the occasional swirl.
Barnstable has bass of every size imaginable, from mini-schoolies to those in the 30 and 40-pound class. Early morning and late afternoons/evenings will often find bass on top from the marshes all the way to the tip of East and West Bars, as well as on the shallows that stretch to Chapin’s and the creeks to the east. Sand eel imitating soft plastics rigged in a variety of ways are tough the beat when the smaller, more aggressive fish are prevalent, but topwater plugs and larger soft plastic targets such as the Hogy 7 and 10-inch Originals are worth trying along marsh edges, channels, and the holes between the bars on the flats.
Live or chunk mackerel continue to produce the largest bass around B-Harbor, noted Andy Little at The Powderhorn in Hyannis, although some good fish are caught by folks bouncing large soft plastics jigs or using Magic Swimmers or Stick Shadds that will sink to the level where the bass are holding.
Outside the east end of the Canal, there are a number of schools of good-sized mackerel that are being targeted by the schools of bass that move in and out of the land cut.
The flounder fishing continues to be good, especially down Sesuit way, and with sea bass having moved as far as the east end of the Canal, there is a very good chance that they are in the bay as well.
For shore anglers, it’s mainly mini-bass around the Sandwich creeks to Barnstable, with any sizeable fish typically caught on swimming plugs or soft plastics from dusk to dawn.