Spring Time at the Cape Cod Canal

In just a couple of months, the first Cape Cod fishing report highlighting the arrival of big striped bass will trickle in.  Without a doubt the spring-time arrival of the striped bass at the Cape Cod Canal is one of the most highly anticipated fishing events of the entire season. Six long months of no striped bass is quickly replaced by top water blitzes, beautiful mornings and fantastic striped bass fishing at this famous Cape Cod fishing spot.

The first striped bass of the year at the Canal generally arrive early in May and are typically on the smaller side.
A lot of guys do pretty well on these small fish which is great. However I usually find myself fishing estuaries and the beachfront during the first week of May. I tend to wait and fish the Canal when the bigger bass begin to filter though.

These much larger striped bass pass through the Canal beginning at some point in mid-May. By the end of the month a steady stream of 15-60 pound striped bass are filtering into and out of the land cut.

Most of these schools of striped bass are using the Canal for feeding and migration purposes. Over the past few springs the Canal has boasted astounding amounts of mackerel, herring and menhaden during the spring.

Couple these forage fish with the lobsters, crabs and other Canal creatures roaming the bottom and the table is set for epic striped bass fishing. In addition to great feeding opportunities the Cape Cod Canal also significantly reduces the overall mileage that these fish need to log in order to reach their summer feeding grounds. To put it simply, the Cape Cod Canal is a food-filled shortcut that large schools of striped bass find very alluring.

The geography of the Canal also makes feeding easier for striped bass, and fishing easier for the striped bass angler. The Canal is a very contained ecosystem, especially when compared with the vastness of Cape Cod Bay or the open ocean. Schools of bait fish have less room for escape, because the Canal is only a few hundred yards wide and 50 or so feet deep. This contained area also produces a unique striped bass fishing opportunity for surf casters. All the action is happening in a relatively small, easily cast-able arena.

Over the past handful of years the striped bass fishing at the Canal has been noticeably better during the spring than in the fall. I find stuff like this interesting and I can’t help but think of why the fishing during May and June is awesome, while the fishing during September and October is a little lackluster. Fortunately I recently stumbled across a new scientific study that is really helping us understand exactly how striped bass use the Cape Cod Canal.

Acoustic tagging has helped researchers establish how striped bass are moving around, and exactly how they may be using the Cape Cod Canal. Even though the study is in its infancy, I found their findings very intriguing. The following was posted at Eregulations.com.

Striped Bass Migrations

Every summer large striped bass can be found gorging on schools of sand eels, mackerel, and herring in federal waters off of Massachusetts. Federal fisheries regulations prohibit the retention or targeting of striped bass by recreational and commercial fishermen outside of state waters, making all of federal waters a refuge for striped bass.

Tagging studies have documented the seasonal latitudinal (north-south) movements of striped bass along the eastern seaboard; however, the inshore-offshore (longitudinal) movements are not as well known. This information gap has an impact on regulations as managers must rely on public perception and anecdotal information to assess the effectiveness of regulations. In an effort to increase information about the longitudinal movements of striped bass off of Massachusetts, MarineFisheries initiated a study designed to monitor the movements of fish tagged on Stellwagen Bank and determine if and when the fish move into state waters.

Beginning in 2008, MarineFisheries deployed an array of 36 receivers that extended from the eastern tip of Cape Ann south to Scituate, plus 8 more receivers in southern locations off of the backside of Cape Cod and in the Cape Cod Canal.

During the spring of 2008 and 2009, we caught 128 striped bass in federal waters on Stellwagen Bank and surgically implanted acoustic tags. The batteries in each tag will last for over three years, so the study is still ongoing, but data are being received and processed. While formal analysis will continue over the next couple of years, researchers are already finding interesting trends in migration.

If anyone has fished in the Cape Cod Canal, also known as “the ditch,” they know that during the spring and fall migration, schools of large bass can be observed riding the tide through the canal, freely eating plugs and bait that land in their path. The acoustic receivers in the canal have confirmed that it is a major conduit for bass migration.

During the spring months, 74% of the tagged fish which were detected moving north, use the canal for northward migration. Comparatively, only 35% of the detected fish use the canal when moving south in the fall. In addition, approximately 58% of the fish tagged on Stellwagen Bank were detected entering state waters, indicating that these fish, at some point of their migration, are available to recreational anglers.

The bass in the study were caught at Stellwagen Bank. Over the past few years many anglers have found large schools of striped bass in areas rather far offshore, including Stellwagen, Regal Sword and the BB Buouy - which are all traditional bluefin tuna hot spots.

So far their research is directly supporting what Cape Cod Canal anglers have been reporting for years. The exact reasons why there are more fish in the Canal during the spring when compared to fall is a bit of a mystery.

However I’d be willing to be that more than likely the reason is that there has just been more food in the Canal during the spring then the fall. The old adage of “find the bait and you’ll find the fish” almost always holds true-so why not with regards to Canal fishing?

One thing is for sure though, when the big bass arrive, the Canal fishing can be lights out.

There’s been multiple striped bass blitzes during the past few Mays and Junes that lasted from sunrise to sunset. Many of these blitzes contained bass up to 50 pounds. More often than not these bass are feeding aggressively on top, which makes for unreal top water plugging opportunities. I vividly recall one morning two years ago that I enjoyed 14 casts in a row that produced 14 twenty to forty pound stripers. The even more incredible part of that day was the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone was catching just as many huge bass.

Last year when this happened I caught two twenty pound striped bass right off the bat. Both fish got hooked awfully bad with the plug’s treble hooks, so I opted to take them home for the grill and just sit back and watch the action. I sat there on the rocks as packs of 15, 20 and 30 pound striped bass chased mackerel right up onto the rocks. These were huge fish in just inches of water!

Please don’t think that the fishing is this good all the time-because it just isn’t. However if you can time your spring fishing trips to the Canal well, then you can seriously increase your odds of getting in on one of these blitzes of a lifetime.

Tight lines,


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