Spring Stripers on the Cape

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Spring Stripers on the Cape

A high of 68° with sun and southwest winds promised that some bigger bass had pushed into the area. It was difficult to imagine the near 70-degree

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A high of 68° with sun and southwest winds promised that some bigger bass had pushed into the area. It was difficult to imagine the near 70-degree warmth and sun when I got into the old Suburban, a.k.a. “The Quahog Cruiser,” at 5 a.m. that morning. But, with the unfettered optimism that fills fishermen on Cape Cod during May, I hardly noticed the chilly 50-degree air. Driving to the marina was easy because there was no one on the road, and I soon had the boat loaded up. I noticed bass blitzing right behind my boat and before I even put the key in the ignition, I had my first bass of the season over 28 inches. I fished all over the harbor that day, caught dozens of bass, and never got above no-wake speed. That’s the beauty of May on the Cape.

Boat and Kayak Fishing

You don’t need a boat or kayak in the spring to do well on stripers, but it sure helps. This is not the time of year when making long runs is going to be crucial to success. Some days, a flats boat might be the ideal craft, especially if you are trailering it. Small boats let you get all over the Cape and use some of the lesser-known ramps that a larger boat may not be able to use—particularly if the tide is low.

fly fishing Cape Cod
Backwaters, from Waquoit Bay on the South Side to Barnstable Harbor off Cape Cod Bay are some of the first places to see active stripers on the Cape. Photo by Eddy Stahowiak

Kayaks, paddleboards, and even canoes are highly effective this time of year. In fact, it’s probably the best time of year to kayak-fish for Cape Cod stripers. With car-top vessels, use your connections with friends who have houses on fishy pieces of water. A bottle of wine or a case of beer can go a long way in helping you launch closer to the action.

Buzzards Bay

The first place the bass—especially bigger bass—show up is in Buzzard’s Bay. The shallow water warms quickly, and the many harbors fill up with bait.

Buzzards Bay striped bass
Buzzards Bay sees the first bass, especially the first big bass. Photo by Eddy Stahowiak

In general, target outflows like creek or river mouths, or harbor entrances on the outgoing tide. The mouth of Weweantic creek, the mouth of the Wareham river, and the west end of the Canal are reliable spots for spring stripers on the western side of the bay, while fishermen on the eastern side should have luck at the mouth of Pocasset Harbor and at Hospital Cove.

On the incoming tide, stripers feed around the points of land that extend into the bay. You really must watch your depth when fishing these areas as it can be shallow and there are a lot of motor-eating rocks in some areas.

The South Side

In Nantucket and Vineyard sounds, the idea remains the same. On this stretch between Woods Hole and Chatham, my favorite way to fish is to hit the outflows on the outgoing tide. These consist of river mouths, harbors, and salt pond entrances, and all of them hold fish at some point. The Upper Cape is thick with these spots, such as Three Bays, Great Pond, Waquoit and Popponesset bays, and Cotuit Harbor.

fly fishing an inlet
River mouths and harbor entrances will attract early-season stripers, especially on a dropping tide. Fish these areas by bringing the boat up the mouth of the inlet and drifting back out, casting ahead of the drift to give the bait time to sink before slowly stripping it back.

Centerville Harbor reliably holds fish in May and can be fished on either tide. The boulder fields are loaded with fish, but you must be extremely careful or you’ll wind up with a hole in your boat. Bass River holds fish, though the mouth of river gets crowded on weekends.

I fish these areas by bringing the boat up the mouth of the river or bay and drifting back out, making casts ahead of the drift to give my bait time to sink before slowly stripping it back.

Most of the bait around in the spring are 2- to 5-inch “white bait,” so a Clouser Minnow is perfect to imitate all of them. I favor duller colors like olive or olive/brown since the water is clear, and bright colors aren’t be needed to attract the fish.

There are also many harbors and mooring fields that hold fish in May. Bass in these areas won’t necessarily be glued to any sort of structure unless bait are around. My advice is to poke around before running to another spot. You may find enough fish 100 yards from the dock to make your day right there.

Cape schoolie caught on the fly
The small jetties on the South Side of the Cape give fly-casters access to deeper water. Photo by Eddy Stahowiak

From Shore

There are plenty of opportunities to catch spring stripers from shore as well. Any outflows with shore access are potential hotspots. West Dennis is a favorite of mine because it’s not a long walk to the river mouth and I can walk upriver a long way on the eastern side. The marshes and sod banks upriver warm faster than the main channel (keep that in mind at the very beginning of the season). Dowses Beach is another spot that offers easy parking and a short walk to the water.

Fishing the outgoing tide at the river and harbor mouths from shore is simple. Cast at a 45-degree angle up-current and slowly use two hands to strip the line as the fly swings down-current. The two-hand strip is nice because it keeps you tight to the fly and ensures the line is going directly into the stripping basket. I use only sinking line in this scenario, usually 8 weight. In my experience, if it is shallow enough that I need a floating line to keep the fly off the bottom, I don’t catch many fish unless I can sight-fish to them. An intermediate line works, but I prefer the full sink in moving waters.

sunset fly casting
There are plenty of areas on Cape Cod where stripers swim within fly-casting range of shore. Photo by Eddy Stahowiak

Fly-fishing the upper harbors and rivers themselves can be tricky since many of them are pond-like with few indicators on where to start. In these scenarios, I fish the lower half of the tide and look for drop-offs. When I find them, they may fish well at the lower tide stages but, if not, I take note of the locations and come back when the tide is high.

Fishing deep inside the bays requires a lot of moving and blind-casting to find the fish, but these areas warm up first and often hold the first good striper fishing of the season. They are the places for your 110-foot “hero” casts to cover as much water as possible. Don’t be surprised if you hook a bonus weakfish in these areas. There are a few more taken every year.

As the water warms, the bass are less concentrated in the uppermost parts of estuaries and harbors and will begin feeding more at the harbor mouths and the open water of the Sound or Buzzards Bay. This is one of the most exciting times of the year on the Cape, so get out there and have fun!

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