First Tracks to Cape Cod Holdovers

I was kneeling in 8 inches of fresh powder—trying to lessen the effect of the wind on my fly line when retrieving from the high bank—when I looked around as the white-washed salt marsh and began to wonder why the hell I was still out there. I’d been there for 90 minutes, had felt what was either the bottom or a lazy strike, and no other excitement. Besides the occasional plow rolling down the road in the distance, the only life I’d seen was a quartet of geese drifting downriver, their backs caked with the driving snow.

The reason, I’d decided, was that it was Saturday, and I had a large chunk of free time that I’d planned to spend fishing long before the blizzard set its sights on Cape Cod. Also, I love fishing in the snow.

A falling snow transforms a familiar waterway into someplace different. With most fishermen stoking a fire or shoveling a driveway, it also leaves the waterways empty, making it feel remote and the trip feel like an adventure. As I laid first tracks through the freshly frosted Upper Cape salt marsh, home felt a lot farther than 15 minutes away.

The holdover stripers I’d been looking for should have been easy to find. I’d timed my trip around the low tide that should have concentrated them in the deeper holes and channels of the estuary. Yet, after an hour and a half of frustrating casting and retrieving in the wind, I was fishless and considering heading for home. Another cast landed sloppily on the water, and instead of the slow, deliberate retrieve I’d been using hoping to coax the hunkered-down holdovers in to eating, I ripped the fly in. Feet from the bank, the line went tight. Holdover striper in hand—all 9 inches of it—I vowed to go home after one more cast. Once again, a fast retrieve resulted in a tight line. I left immediately after releasing the fish—I’d caught my blizzard bass, no need to be greedy—and headed back home, where there was a driveway that needed shoveling and a fire that needed stoking.

  1. stephen desisto

    Great to see you got out on the water for some hold over Stripers.Please respond to this email if you think this makes sense.After a big snow storm like the one we just had on the Cape do you think we will have a kill off on some of these bass.I think with the snow and the drop in temperature the water temperature will go down to fast for some or all of the fish that are trying to hold over on the Cape .I think the snow melt brings the water temperature down even faster and that leads to a kill let’s hear your thoughts on this please Thanks for letting me OST on your site.

    • scott munson

      Extreme cold snap combined with an astronomically low tide is the usual culprit in the smaller tributaries far up in the marshes. Seen thousands dead at one time floated up on the banks like a veritable fish market with some still in the water. All cold stunned.

  2. Greg W

    Great article.
    Not just fishing but catching in a blizzard!
    That is definitely bucket list worthy.

  3. Bparsons

    The hold overs will be fine as the cold duration for this storm was short. When there is an extended period of cold that causes the creeks to ice up and create several feet of sea ice, then you have a problem. On a decent winter I have caught them through out the winter, but when there is a freeze up that kills most of it until the fresh fish come in the spring.

    • Joe

      Hi guys its great to hear aboutsome great holdover fishing! I have never fished any estuaries on the cape but as a native of fairhaven I have had great success in newbedford harbor and further up north in the acushnet river. Some winters are better than others. But yes If you get that insane low double digit and single digit salty ice producing cold, that seems to shut it down. Yes it’s pretty cool to catch stripers in the snow! Tight lines

  4. Bill Biswanger

    It’s so much fun to go after your quary and be in the success ring. I have gone for trout up in the Nissitissit River when there was 2 feet of snow on the ground and ice flowing on the river with a 12 inch rainbow pulling hard at my string. So much cold and a reward as well.

  5. Andre

    Sounds like a great time!! I’m fairly new to the area,,,,do you think I would be waisting my time fishing for stripers at the mouth of the Merrimack?

  6. Matt

    U guys r nuts! It’s cold out! Relax! Gain some weight! Watch tv! Sleep! Spring is coming

  7. Joe

    Mouth of the Merrimack might be a little too far north for holdovers, although I have heard of people getting them near the Boston area but not as many. Merrimack is even further north so my guess is that it might be tough for holdovers, but a local guy could give you better info. Fishing for holdovers is never a slam dunk and like others have said on this post it changes from season to season. My best luck seems to be in the early part of the winter up to New years, then like I said It seems to shut down with the bitter cold.

    • Merrill sargent

      Stories of Striped bass have been caught up in the Exeter River and in Great Bay in New Hampshire In the winter time by pulling them through the ice. The latest ive ever Targeted them was as late as November

  8. Dave Tottenham

    Three or four years ago I caught a 32 pounder a mile up a creek after some very cold weather! Feb 12th!

  9. Martin

    Hi all:
    40 degree temps today. No skiing, so mind wandered to fishing here near Freeport, Maine. Started April last year with “smallies” in Cumberland county then switched to strippers at Wolfs Neck. If it stays this warm I may reverse that if stripers come in early.

  10. Spence

    It’s time for some White Perch, Get some grass shrimp and a bobber, See if you can find them, lots of fun if you find them

  11. Mark macneill

    Its just me but i cant stand fishing for schoolies. Why bother. I say let them grow since you cant keep the smaller ones. I would go fresh water until migration kicks in

  12. Ben Merry

    I caught 3 schoolies on my 7wt up the creek around march 31 in duxbury mass

  13. Jim


    Anyone have any luck with holdovers in Falmouth, Bourne or Mashpee? If so, any location suggestions would be great to get. From some things I’ve read the south side of the Cape might be a better bet than Buzzards Bay. Thanks!


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