Weather and Boating

Tides, wind and weather: How they affect your fishing plans.


The waters surrounding Cape Cod are some of the most productive in U.S. for the recreational angler. Regardless of your level of fishing experience it’s likely you will return to the dock with either fish in the cooler or great stories – or both. However, as with all boating adventures it’s important to anticipate the conditions you’ll encounter and make the necessary preparations.

Wind direction and force (and how weather affects those things) along with tide should be your first considerations. In the summer, southwest breezes are almost always the rule. Typically, many days start out with a light breeze but force increases as the day progresses. This is important to take into account if you’re planning to fish anywhere on the south side of the Cape. Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds along with Buzzards Bay can become quite uncomfortable in smaller boats with confused, short chop of three or four feet or even bigger when the tide runs against the wind direction. On the Cape Cod Bay side this is primarily an offshore breeze though and boating there can be a more comfortable experience.

In the spring and fall (and in the summer after a storm blows through) the wind direction is usually north or northwest, which is generally less productive from a fishing perspective even though those Sound waters will be flatter. On the Cape Cod Bay side, just the opposite is the case. Any sort of easterly breeze (northeast, southeast, due East) usually follows or precedes storms and if you have a small boat – anything less than at least 18 feet – you should probably reconsider your plan if you’re intending to head out for a day of fishing. You may be able to find some spots inside larger enclosures such as Pleasant Bay or Waquoit Bay, or perhaps in tight along the Buzzards Bay shore however.


Tidal variations around Cape Cod are quite dramatic and equally important to understand and anticipate. For example, in most areas of Buzzards Bay the rise and fall of the tide may be only in the range of three to five feet, but on the Cape Cod Bay side that variation may be up to eight feet or even more during the times of new or full moons. While this can make for some great fishing – stripers and bluefish love strong currents – you can find yourself high and dry as the tide retreats off the flats from Barnstable all the way down to Wellfleet. Always consult a tide chart before heading out – there is a variation of about two hours between the Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay sides of the Cape.

Fishing the Elizabeth Islands and the Holes between them present unique challenges related to tides. With a variation in height of tide of almost two feet at times between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound the water runs with amazing force through the Holes and the tide direction along the islands varies at different stages of the outgoing and incoming. It is highly advisable to study a current copy of Eldridge Tide & Current Book where you will find charts with notations showing the direction of the tide on an hourly basis along the Elizabeths. Extreme care must be taken when fishing in any of the Holes to avoid the many boulders and shoals that are present to avoid being swept onto these hazards by the very strong flow.

The other areas that can be challenging are near the entrances to the Cape Cod Canal. This is particularly true of the west end where very large standing waves form when a west running tide is in conflict with the prevailing southwest wind of summer. Study canal tide charts to determine the direction in the canal (which changes four times in 24 hours) if you’re considering fishing the area near Mashnee Island or the entrance to Onset harbor.


Fog is always a possibility around the Cape, especially in the summer. In some places such as the waters near Monomoy and Chatham it can be a daily occurrence due to the collision of the cold waters of the Labrador Current just off shore and the relatively warm waters of Nantucket Sound. Fog is also common in the summer south of Martha’s Vineyard and the fog banks often move into the Sound and enshroud the southern Elizabeth Islands. Foggy conditions often feature some fabulous fishing but if your boat is not equipped with radar and a chart plotting GPS unit you’ll have to decide if being surrounded in pea soup fog with visibility of only a hundred feet is worth the risk.

If you plan to fish well offshore for tuna or the pelagics that visit our offshore waters you will often find that the rough conditions closer to shore flatten out as you move out of sight of land. This is because the differential between the temperature of land versus the ocean temperature that causes upwelling of air and onshore breezes is not a factor farther out. However, storms can generate extremely uncomfortable conditions so keep a sharp on weather maps and predictions.