Middle Ground is one of the most famous fishing areas in Vineyard Sound, running from east to west parallel to the north coast of Martha’s Vineyard. A little more than two and half miles long, the rip that sets up over the shallow water here holds various species of sport fish from late April well into November. Middle Ground is easy to find; the east end is about a mile northwest of West Chop Lighthouse and the rip line is well-defined, terminating about a mile and a half off shore due north of Norton Point.
Beginning in early May, large squid invade Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds and they (along with migrating herring) are what draw and hold striped bass in this rip. Bluefish follow shortly after, and in early June Middle Ground is a very popular fluke-fishing destination. In late June or early July, bonito sweep through, sometimes staying close to the rip for only a couple of weeks and some years staying in the area for a month or more.
What keeps all these fish here is a huge amount of bait in the form of squid, sand eels, scup, sea robins and bottom dwellers like crabs and lobsters in the adjacent deep water. The strong tides pull this bait up and over the lip of the shallows and the predators are ready.
Depending upon the species you’re targeting, trolling techniques will differ. Most experienced hands prefer an easterly (incoming) tide, but there are times later in the season when the dropping or westerly tide will fish just as well. Slack tide is the time to pull in the lines and have lunch.
There are three ways that you’ll see people troll here, but only one is consistently productive. Trolling in the bumpy water is hardly ever effective, although you may catch a few bluefish. Motoring along the rip line on the smooth, deep-water side can yield a few stripers, but it’s often difficult even with wire line and heavy jigs to keep your lure in the strike zone when the tide is running hard. The better fishermen nose the boat just into the rip against the tide at about a 45-degree angle, then swing away at a 45-degree angle toward the deep water. This allows the jig to “climb” up the side of the bottom structure and then fall away again into deeper water. This is a natural presentation with the added benefit of not running directly over fish that may be holding in specific spots, a problem inherent to trolling directly down a rip line.
Some striper fans prefer to cast into the standing waves of the rip with spinning, conventional or fly gear, especially when there are squid and large sand eels around. There’s nothing like watching a big striper “surf” through the face of the rip to intercept your lure or big streamer fly.
At the height of the summer you’ll often see boats anchored up over the deep holes at either end of Middle Ground fishing chunk bait or live scup or menhaden for big stripers that sulk there.
Stripers are not the only game here, though. Bluefish of various sizes from 2-pounders up to serious choppers are here from late May right through the fall. Many large fluke are caught every year drifting through the rough water on the shallow side of the rip and the deep water between the can off West Chop, and the east end of Middle Ground is well known for holding black sea bass.
Although you’ll have company fishing here any sunny summer day, there is room to spread out and plenty of productive water.