Carved out of the continental land mass, thousands of years ago by the glaciers, Cape Cod is a peninsula flexing an “arm” into some of the most productive fishing waters of the Atlantic ocean. This narrow finger of sand reaching towards the Gulf Stream, is interlaced with numerous inlets, embayments and estuaries that provide nutrients and nurseries for an incredible amount of forage species and feeding grounds for our local gamefish. From a tiny tomcod to the mighty giant bluefin tuna, there is a fish for any angler’s excitement level here on beautiful Cape Cod. The ancient glaciers also left behind many deep, clear fresh water ponds scooped out of the substrate. In these many “sweet water” lakes and ponds, one can find sunfish, perch, pickerel, large and small mouthed bass, and other native species as well as many varieties of trout and salmon, stocked by the state fisheries managers.
Starting at the very elbow of the Cape, about midway up the “arm”, is the town of Chatham and its sheltered harbors provide a convenient doorway to the Atlantic Ocean and the teeming waters to the east. Chatham Harbor (the Fish Pier), Stage Harbor, Outermost Harbor and Ryder’s Cove, all have safe marinas and mooring fields and host several Goose Hummock endorsed charter boats and fishing guides to select from. Public boat launching ramps in Chatham are located at Ryder’s Cove, and Stage Harbor. Monomoy Island, home of the famed Monomoy Rips and flats is best accessed from these launch points. Like Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound and Martha’s Vineyard areas, the shallower Monomoy Flats waters start to warm in April and attract the migrating stripers earlier than most of the Cape waters. That said, these waters are also the first to become too hot for the stripers and tend to turn to mostly bluefish or devoid of larger fish later in the summer. Spring and the early summer months of May and June will find fly fishers poling these flats waters in pursuit of stripers on the fly.
In June, the ocean waters east of Chatham start to warm, and the various Rips off Monomoy point start to shine. Many schooling, hungry striped bass are caught in the tide rips at Bearse’s, Handkerchief and Stonehorse Shoals every year. As these waters warm from May through September, the waters east of Chatham will hold increasingly abundant schools of sand eels, mackerel, herring and squid, attracting vast predatory schools of striped bass, bluefish and bluefin tuna. Starting in mid June the squid and mackerel that have been in Nantucket sound, will start to migrate out into ocean waters and pass through these “Rips” at the southern tip of Monomoy Island. At this time, the striped bass feeding “blitzes” you’ve read about happen frequently as the stripers push the migrating squid toward the surface on these current formed rips. Feeding stripers literally chase the squid right out of the water, and its an impressive sight to see the gulls wheeling and diving for hapless squid that are chased across the leading edge of the rips. The best feeding blitzes I have seen here, always seem to involve squid and coincide with maximum current at times of low light (dawn or dusk). I have seen squid and stripers bulging and slurping, swirling and chasing through ink stained water many times at the Bearse’s rip. At this magical time, the fish will bite any dark reddish, orange, brownish, and black pattern of fly, rubber, plastic and natural bait at any depth. One day, you too may witness this exiting and inspiring spectacle, but only if you spend enough time there, on the Rips of Monomoy.
Up until the mid July period, there has probably also been a striper “bite” going on in Cape Cod Bay and the lower reaches of Nantucket sound as well, due to the warm waters there from mid May into latter June. Most of this fishing is with trolling methods, but some captains will also go with light tackle techniques once the fish have been located. By mid July, these shallower waters have warmed considerably and the stripers become more elusive and head to cooler deeper waters off the shores of Truro and Provincetown, or are laying in the eelgrass beds at Billingsgate Shoals. The bluefish that prefer the warmer water, then start to move in and are caught readily during the summer. As this exchange is going on to the western Cape waters, the eastern or “backside” of Cape Cod is also continuing to warm to the more ideal 57-60 degree waters that striped bass prefer. The sand eels continue to increasingly school up and attract both the striped bass and the challenging, Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Many folks, having cut their teeth on stripers and bluefish for years, are now looking to test their vessels and increased angling skills on bluefin tuna. The majestic powerful atlantic bluefin tuna may just be the holy grail of Northeastern sportfishing. The nutrient rich waters to the east of Cape Cod attract the herring, mackerel and sand eels and in turn, bring in the voracious bluefin. Depending upon water temperature and bait supply, the bluefin show up in late May and are found quite close to our Atlantic shorelines until Thanksgiving. Ranging from 50 to over 1000 pounds they can give any angler and gear a true test of their angling skill. Its a bit harder than striped bass fishing and requires specific gear to target them safely.
Successful small, medium and giant bluefin tuna fishing is simply controlled fear and preparation. I’m afraid I wont catch one on the trip, I’m afraid I won’t get a bite, or worse, lose the one I am lucky enough to hook during the fight. It seems that all I do before and during a trip, is to think of all the things that can go wrong and try to prepare for and prevent them from happening. One can do everything right, and fight your fish correctly, and then just before he’s close enough to put the gaff into your hard won trophy, he rolls over, the hook simply falls out, and he slowly swims down and away, leaving you with that awful, bitter, fear feeling in your throat. It will happen, and the sooner you realize its “fishing,” and not “catching”, the better.
Once you make the decision to go after Atlantic bluefin tuna, you have entered into a highly regulated fishery and the rules change considerably depending upon if you are a recreational fisher or one that hopes to sell a fish if you catch one large enough. One can go to the Nation Marine Fisheries website for the actual rules, as they change often during the season. Angling category fishers cannot sell any bluefin. General Category participants can. A license is required and must be on board while fishing. Not only do the NMFS minimum size and daily bag regulations change depending upon which category you choose, but the safety requirements for vessels and operators are quite different as well. Safety regulation compliance for vessels targeting bluefin tuna commercially can be expensive, depending upon the size of the boat and the distance you go offshore. Generally, liferafts, EPIRBS and survival suits for every man on board are all required. Know the rules and prepare your vessel accordingly.
Be safe, be prepared, work hard, leave early and come back late, and if you are both lucky and good, you will land yourself one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean. Take care of your fish after you harpoon him. Lay him down on the side that the harpoon went in. Take the guts and gills out of the fish and pack his cavity with ice. Put the fish in an insulated fish bag and surround his body with ice. Don’t let the fish bang or slide around on the way home and get bruised or dinged up. Bluefin tuna is a delicacy that when properly taken care of will delight all of your friends and guests that you invite for dinner. Pan seared with sesame seeds or served raw as sashimi or sushi, the delicious Atlantic Bluefin tuna is worth the effort to catch. Good Luck !
Starting again at Chatham’s inlet and lighthouse, and looking northward along Cape Cod’s outer beaches, there are 25 miles of pristine surf fishing areas available to an adventuresome angler. Every configuration of rip tide, inner and outer sandbar and surf break can be found along this coastline. From May through October, striped bass of all sizes can be caught from the surf here. Granted, the influx of grey seals these days make really memorable days hard to come by, but find a place without seals and away from the crowds and you will catch striped bass. A few names to check out would be Nauset beach in Orleans, Coast Guard and Nauset Light beaches in Eastham, Lecounts, Marconi and Newcomb’s hollow beaches in Wellfleet, Head of the Meadow and Ballston Beach in Truro, and Race Point and Herring Cove beaches in Provincetown.
There is no need to have a center console boat, a surf ready off road vehicle, or a complete tackle box of lures, rods and reels to enjoy fishing here on Cape Cod. It is not required to take your children on an expensive chartered fishing trip to let them experience fishing’s fun. One can share the joys and excitement of catching fish for just a few dollars ! Just about every public town landing has a dock and a float on it. Under that dock is fish, some big, some tiny, but if you think ahead, you can have hours of fun with your children catching small minnows, crabs, starfish etc and perhaps even a snapper blue or small school striper. All one needs is a handful of small dry fly hooks, size 16-20, and a 6’ length of thin monofilament for each one kid fishing. Tie the hook on one end and a loop to go around their wrist at the other end. Look around on shore for a mussel growing on the piling or a clam in the mud. Break the shell and put a tiny 1/8 inch piece of clam meat on the point of the hook and let it slowly sink under the dock. Before long a 3-4” mummichog will come grab that thing and you will have successfully caught a fish ! The excitement you kids feel with this little minnow is every bit as exciting as a bigger fish. I have, as a child, spent hours face down on a dock doing just this sort of thing. The point here is fishing is fun and one doesn't need to spend tons of money to do it.
Why not come visit us this summer and see just how great our Cape Cod fishing and boating can be !
By Captain Bruce Peters Capeshores Charters