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Scratching for Stripers - Cape Cod

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Yesterday I fly fished a beach and estuary for about two hours at sunset. The tide was dropping and I hoped to start fishing a small channel along the beach. The channel however seemed to have only minimal current. I side stepped along the beach and made my way into the estuary. Current picked up but the bass did not appear and I didn’t see much bait. Switching sand eel patterns from beige to chartreuse didn’t help. As I worked my way out of the estuary I discovered the area where I expected the beach channel to form had been blocked by a newly enlarged sandbar. With the dropping tide the sandbar got me to an area with a focused, faster out flow from the estuary and waves. Got my fly in the current expecting the hit that never came.  As day light waned I switched to a black fly and worked my way back to the beach. I did notice a few small bait fish, maybe small herring and a couple of diving ducks and two seals. Got a hit and a small bass. Five minutes later another small bass that popped off as I grabbed the leader, my favorite release for these fish.

 

Results were in line with what I and a group of friends have been having this year. The year started with some good 20+ inch fish but the action has slowed. Personally I haven’t gotten anything over 26 inches. I fish the upper Cape with regular trips over the bridge and the occasional trip to the elbow.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

No surprise sadly. This will be a case of rinse and repeat. 
 

No offence but it seems so many guys are just not aware that the Striper resource is in trouble. There should be no surprise to find the fishing is poor.

The resource has been mismanaged and over prosecuted and there are envoiramental  factors in play as well.

Without Covid I would not make the 3000 mile journey I was  making the previous 8 or 9 years. 
Denial is not helpful at any stage of our lives at mine it would be downright negligent.

 

Mike

Edited by Mike Oliver

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Bass fishing has been slowing for a decade and really dropped off over the past five years.

 

 

Mike, I agree fully most anglers don’t have a clue. They see Facebook photos, or have been to the canal for an occasional blitz. Maybe they remember 2018. 
 

The guys who fish regularly from shore have noticed it the most. Shore bass fishing depends on a healthy population. I live 3/4 of a mile from a striper holding bay, where we moved in 2016. The first few years fish up to 34” were readily available to skilled shore anglers, even with lures (and some patience). 


Three years ago was the first time we noticed how much more time and effort was required per fish. Now it’s the occasional 20” and 15” fish demand paying some attention to tides, time of day, etc.
 

None of that was necessary when there was a larger population of fish competing for food!

 

Humanity has the whole Easter Island phenomenon going on. Few notice the decline in fishing or explain it away to themselves.

 

A number of people I know have bought increasingly large boats in the last few years. They are catching almost the same numbers of fish as they were 3-5 years ago while running further, more often. Others have switched to targeting sea bass, fluke, bonito, etc. 


Sorry for stating the obvious!

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I quit fishing for striped bass 2 years ago. Just not worth the effort anymore.

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The last several years it seems that I catch fewer fish and the overall size of those fish are smaller . Given the archaic rules that have been in place for a decade or more on the harvesting stripers , and the pollution of their main spawning grounds , the Chesapeake Bay , it's no wonder the fishery is in trouble .  

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It is true that the fishery is in horrible condition.  The way to fight it is, with time on the water and to learn to move.  There is a lot of shore to cover on the cape, and often the fish can be in a location one day and gone the next.  It is easy to fall in love with a location because of nostalgia, but it is better to move, hit multiple spots or learn new spots.

 

I was on the cape at the beginning of July during the week of elsa and also had smalls in areas that would be considered sounds, estuaries, etc.  I did see a few larger models cruising 36-40", but did not convert.   I saw a lot of thumbnail sized baits and some 3" sandeels.  I fished every day and flyfished most of it. This is my first year flyfishing.  I tried flyfishing at night a couple of nights but the fish seemed to only be active in the grey hours or in the light.  The activity definitely dropped off when the lights went out.  Not sure if it was bait related, but sometimes that is the way it is.

 

The day of elsa was interesting as it was the exception for the week. I fished spinning on the canal where there was no wind, flyfished an estuary in 30 mph winds, then ended the day with spinning gear a surprisingly moderate/light surf an ocean facing beach.   With elsa, I was expecting more surf and some wind but did not find either.  I caught fish all day but was kicking myself for not carrying the flyrod at the end of the day.  I found a pocket of fish in the whitewater 24-42".  All these fish were in tight, within 50 feet of the sand.  I lost count of how many I landed and caught them all on bucktails.  I am certain they would have taken a fly.  I smelled sandeels earlier as I walked the beach, so I suspect they had the pinned in the slough.   I went back the next night and only landed 3 schoolies.

 

In general, I tend to focus on areas of fast water, but I really would like to learn to fish the flats.  I know that I am lucky that my family allows me to fish like a nut.  I was mostly burning the candle at both ends.  Fishing the bookends of the day and then doing beach stuff with the family all day long.   Fishing two hours is not enough, I will fish at least a 4 hour window and vary the sample.  When I fish I consider it a clean slate and will poke at it until something happens.  Incoming, outgoing, dawn, dusk, day, night.  Fish activity can be funny and sometimes all you get of a pattern ... is a half hour window.  The fun is: trying to find that window and getting to repeat.  Talking with other anglers can help  putting the puzzle pieces together.  We are blessed on the cape with anglers who like to talk.  Other parts of the Northeast we would be lucky to get a grunt.

 

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There is the rub of mixing the two spin and fly. I did for a while. On the Cape it is a no brainier fly only. Then you always get those moments when the fish are game and in the wash.

The guys who think the spin rod is good at locating fish probably don’t put it down if they find fish. What a pity but I get it.

 

Sitting on two stools is pretty tricky. From shore about the only place I do not wish to fly fish is the canal. Everywhere else is so doable.

 

Night time will be good to you. It may have been how you fished not the night per say.  I can’t recall doing better in the day verses night in May and June.
 

 

Getting slammed in the dark is something very special.

 

Mike

 

 

Edited by Mike Oliver

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4 hours ago, Mike Oliver said:

There is the rub of mixing the two spin and fly. I did for a while. On the Cape it is a no brainier fly only. Then you always get those moments when the fish are game and in the wash.

The guys who think the spin rod is good at locating fish probably don’t put it down if they find fish. What a pity but I get it.

 

Sitting on two stools is pretty tricky. From shore about the only place I do not wish to fly fish is the canal. Everywhere else is so doable.

 

Night time will be good to you. It may have been how you fished not the night per say.  I can’t recall doing better in the day verses night in May and June.
 

 

Getting slammed in the dark is something very special.

 

Mike

 

 

I would agree that the cape is a great place for the flyrod. I would say about 80% of my week was flyrod dedicated and did not carry spinning at all.   I only broke out the spinning when I thought the flyrod would be futile....as in... the canal, and post Elsa in what I expected to be big surf / distant bars on an outer beach.  Basically picking the tool better suited for the job.  There was white water on that outing post Elsa but the surf was pretty tame.  If I knew what I know now, the flyrod would have been the option.

 

What had me rattled, In June I fished some moderate white water from the rocks and quickly found that I do not have the skill yet for that kind of fishing.  What a mess.  The incoming waves moved faster than I could strip. My line got caught up in the bubble weed and rocks.  Luckily, no one was there to witness the fiasco. Definitely a clown show.  I suspect it might be a couple more seasons before I give it a shot again.  Learning moments....and now I know that I dont have the skill yet for big water.

 

Regarding Day vs Night. I have definitely found instances where night fishing was poor and daylight superb, and vise versa.  Sometimes it correlates with a condition change, sometimes it could be the bait has moved. Most guys who stick to just the night miss out.  Night only is a popular mantra for spinning guys, yet every season I Magoo my way into some quality 30-40# fish on plugs in the daylight.  Not blitzing fish or canal fish,  but fish that cruise the edges of reefs.  Most of my daylight fish are bucktail fish, which for all purposes is an oversized fly.  I fished the cape in May and in July.  May was much more reliable, but variable in the numbers.  July for me, seemed feast or famine and did better with spinning.

 

I am hoping to catch a 20# fish on the fly this season.

 

I am enjoying fly fishing, but I am still more productive with the spinning rod. I also would opt for spinning if I knew that mostly bigger fish were around.  As much as I would like to catch a larger fish on the fly, I also know that the low teen sized fish I have landed took much more time than they would have with spinning gear.  I am horsing them in, but when they are green they can be stubborn.  If I did catch a 20# class fish this season, it would be one and done and probably would not intentionally target them again with the flyrod.

 

 

Edited by puppet

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On 7/17/2021 at 2:09 PM, puppet said:

" tried flyfishing at night a couple of nights but the fish seemed to only be active in the grey hours or in the light.  The activity definitely dropped off when the lights went out.  Not sure if it was bait related, but sometimes that is the way it is."

 

puppet: From personal experience of flyfishing for 25 years from shore with my fishing buddy, from dusk till, sometimes, dawn, in all our N/E locations, including the Cape, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and my home shores of Long Island, NY, I'd like to offer, for your consideration, some reliable information or, at least reliable info for us for years:) Do not leave the beach just after dusk, when, as you say, the activity definitely dropped off when the lights went out. Like around 9PM when most of the fishermen are leaving the beach because it's dark? Nope, not the time for you to leave, in our experience. Give the stripers time to adjust to the changing light, stick around, expecting nothing for a half hour or an hour and then start fishing again. 

I feel if you give this a try, you may change your mind about whether the stripers really disappear or not after dark, near shore. Of course, as so many of our flyfishing friends will attest to, changing striper conditions nowadays could negate this previously "wise" advice but, hey, just give it a try. Plan to fish well after dark from your shore spot especially if you know sand eels have been present in pre-dusk hours. Those larger stripers will come in to feed in the dark hours when everyone's gone home and the waters are calm with no fishing pressure.  Hope this advice might help you out. 

 

 

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@flysully
Thank you for the note and I have witnessed and experienced the same...most anglers leave after dark and the bass can be bigger and closer than in the daylight. I am new to flyfishing in the salt, but I have been fishing the surf for over a decade and primarily target the night tides.

 

Over that particular week I fished the dark a couple times... 9pm to midnight, then on a different morning, 1 am thru 6am, but found no activity. One outing was spinning....plugs paired with teasers.  The other was flyfishing only and threw every pattern in the box.  Those fish did not respond to anything in the dark.  Usually when that happens, I do not fight it but go with the flow.  It could absolutely be that my bag of tricks was not deep enough or the two windows I picked were duds.  Both dark sessions, I did have fish in the daylight  versions of same tide stages earlier in the week. Typically this would translate to better fishing,  but occasionally that type assumption can be wrong.

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puppet, if you were sure the stripers were out there, I would suggest trying a floating flyline with a tiny white floating sand eel pattern, casted out there and then not moving it except with a slight "twitch" occasionally. We have found that to be successful on those frustrating nights when the fish are very picky - assuming, again, there are indications that the fish are there.

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Had a decent last of May and 1st of week of June, then a real nose dive. Watched the last 12 years really go down the tubes.  Truthfully thinking its not coming back. Sand eels and not much else for bait, even that is not the cause.

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