What a drastic change one week of challenging conditions can make in fishing. Between Christmas travel, single-digit air temperatures and gale-force winds, there were very few opportunities to wet a line. A lot of local ponds froze over, although now, Cape Cod is seeing nearly 50-degree temperatures. As any remaining frozen waters thaw and the sun continues to shine, our freshwater ponds will be coming back to life with trout, bass, perch and pickerel all feeding actively.
I hope everyone had a safe, happy and healthy holiday. The Cape took a serious beating last week from the storm, and lots of waterfront properties were flooded or damaged. Going into the New Year, reach out to your neighbors and see if there’s any way you can lend a helping hand. Things got a little hairy along the water.
The jetties at my local beaches were completely covered, the beaches had disappeared, and in many cases, roads were closed off entirely. It’s amazing that a week ago, my buddy Stavros was catching holdover striped bass in Vineyard salt ponds as the pressure change from this incoming storm had winds kicked up and bass feeding.
In the winter, windy conditions have the potential to make fishing nearly unbearable, but the wind is what kicks up all the bait in the backwaters, which in turn, drives stripers to feed. I haven’t given up on my quest for holdover bass on Cape this winter, but I’m taking some time to reconsider my approach and the baits I use. Somethings gotta give.
Stavros told me that he is finding success on a classic backwater bait—and a favorite freshwater lure of mine—the Storm 360GT Searchbait. These soft-plastic paddletail swimbaits come with a pack of 3 tails and one 1/4-ounce jighead, and they feature a small, subtle rattle in the nose of the jig. In the past I have used them for walleye and smallmouth bass, but Stavros insists that they are his number one producer for winter holdovers. It is my thinking that the additional rattle assists stripers in tracking down white swimbaits in cloudy water; otherwise, any 3- to 5-inch soft plastics like Keitechs, Zoom Flukes and Al Gags could be the ticket to success when fished in the right areas.
This week, I’ll be looking for slightly deeper water while slowing down my retrieve to a crawl in an effort to hook a holdover striper.
On the freshwater front, trout fishing is the safest bet for putting together a consistent catch this week. In last weeks report, rainbow trout had been biting well on Kastmasters, Powerbait and nightcrawlers suspended under a bobber. I don’t know of many anglers who fished this past week, myself included, so I took to my lunch break today for some trout fishing in the wind.
Upon reaching the spot, I saw whitecaps and immediately became discouraged. “Well, I came this far, I might as well fish it”, I thought. Boy, am I glad I did. What happened for the next 30 minutes was probably the best rainbow trout fishing I’ve experienced all year.
A full on blitz of rainbows on what I’ve confirmed are actually juvenile herring (not shiners), created an insane bite on Kastmasters. On almost every cast I caught rainbows while casting parallel to shore. In my experience, the juvenile herring get trapped against the shoreline near an outflow, and with the wind blowing toward the creek mouth, there was a full on rainbow trout blitz. I brought 4 rainbows to hand in a matter of 15 minutes, before noticing a massive school of full-grown, 9- to 10-inch herring sitting in front of me. Their steel-blue backs were easily distinguishable in the crystal clear water; what a sight, to have so many herring densely schooled right in front of me. But, that’s when I realized why they were sitting stagnant… the herring were trapped by a wall of dead leaves, twigs and debris that had washed across the lake with the storm this week, so I immediately stopped fishing, and in my waders, hopped in the water to clear the creek of as much debris as possible. These fish were hoping to make their journey back downstream and out to sea, and if they didn’t, they’d likely become cold-shocked like this one.
I also noticed an alarming amount of dead minnows due to the cold, several of which were juvenile herring; the others were banded killifish. It didn’t worry me though, because the trout were clearly eating well. There were large schools of herring fry, along with the adult herring, swimming all around me.
The trout were fired up due to this abundance of bait, and I hooked into several others that popped off, including a FAT pancake of a ‘bow that spat the hook as I attempted to net it.
A slow and steady retrieve close to the bottom triggered every strike. But once I got my fill of trout, the rest of my attention turned toward clearing as much debris as I could. On all fours, I scooped mud and leaves from the creek mouth with a random 2×4 that I found floating, and restored the flow as best I could (only temporarily). My only hope was to help the larger herring return to the sea, but it still seemed too shallow for them to pass. Looks like I’ll be going back to fix more. As a bonus though, I now have a new spot for throwing big swimbaits when it comes time to target largemouth at night in the spring.
After a couple more casts, I hooked several more rainbow trout and landed two, one of which redeemed the one I dropped at my ankles earlier.
Trout fishing aside, after a day or two of sunshine and open water, largemouth bass should also be on the prowl. They’ll be staging on drop-offs and ledges for quick returns to deep water after feeding on baitfish in shallow.
Smallmouth bass fishing has the potential to be excellent this week, as well. On New Years Eve of 2021, Jimmy Fee and I hopped into the kayaks with some finesse soft plastics and blade baits to see if we could put together a bite. There were a few other bass boats out, and guys were catching, which was great to see. Lacking a fish finder, we used Google Maps and Navionics on our cell phones to roughly place ourselves over deepwater humps where smallies school in the colder months. The lake was calm, and we overheard the bass boats nearby catching on ned rigs. Jimmy hooked quite a few dinks on blade baits, and I managed to catch one solid warrior on a soft-plastic craw that I had rigged on a 1/8-ounce jighead.
The hits were beyond delicate, and if you weren’t in contact with your lure that day, you’d miss the bite. This smallie hit in about 30 feet of water on a long, long pause, and gently picked up my craw before swimming beneath the kayak. The only reason I knew there was a fish on my line was that the line had started moving toward me.
If the “warm” weather continues for a bit, winter bass fishing will remain in great shape.
White perch are also available to those who are looking. Head toward the beach and pinpoint a few ponds or creeks that are a mile or less inland from the salt, and cover water by throwing spoons and hair jigs. A steady retrieve through the middle of the water column with the occasional twitch will usually call the attention of any nearby perch. Until a month ago, I had only one reliable white perch pond, and since exploring a bit, I’ve “unlocked” some new waters using the exact methods described above. With a bit of moving water, white perch are not too shy about giving up their whereabouts. Start small, and once you locate a school, seek out the plump perch with a larger marabou jig, a white grub or a slightly heavier spoon.
And I’d be remiss to glance over the potential for big chain pickerel after some mild weather and sunshine. During a slow day largemouth bass fishing on January 2nd, I fished until dusk to land a 25-inch chain pickerel that weighed just over 3 pounds. I still remember the drag that fish pulled; it was baffling! Unfortunately, it wasn’t the 6-pound larry that I was searching for, but a 25-inch pickerel is a trophy in my book and it was a great way to start off 2022. Soft-plastic swimbaits, spoons, jerkbaits and the float & fly rig will be the most likely culprits for hooking some quality pickerel this week.
Unfortunately, it looks like rain this weekend, but temperatures will remain above freezing, which means there’s some fishing in the forecast. Our local shops have you covered for all bait and tackle needs, so here’s the scoop on what’s biting in their neighborhoods:
Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay reports:
“Trout fishing has been good when conditions allow for it, although it was tough this past week. We haven’t had anyone fishing fro much else; bass are lethargic and taking cover in deeper water, but some warm weather will hopefully bring them out to feed a bit more actively. We got a new shipment of shiners in today, so if you plan to fish for bass or trout with live bait, come on down.”
Evan at Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth reports:
“Shellfishing has been good. Oystering, especially, is phenomenal in West Falmouth right now, the town did a great job seeding the oysters this year. Fishing has been slow, but I had a customer in this morning who had never fished for white perch so I pointed him in the direction of the right lures and a few perch ponds; people are getting out there to fight early onset cabin fever. Trout fishing should improve this week as well as bass fishing, so come into the shop to grab what you need before we temporarily close for a fishing show next week!”
Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis reports:
“Lots of Sports Port anglers have been having great luck fishing for trout in our beautiful Cape Cod ponds. Thanks to Glen for sending the picture of the trout above. He reports that lately the nightcrawlers have been producing tight lines pretty consistently. Jim and Mike were kind enough to share a couple of pics below from one of their trout outings. They reported that Kastmasters and other spoons were doing the trick on that day.
Send in your pictures to Sports Port and follow them on social media to contribute to weekly fishing reports in Hyannis!
In other news, shellfishermen and women have been enjoying their clam and oyster harvests. We are FINALLY restocked on the long sleeve gloves that are imperative when going for those shellfish. Stop by if you need a pair or you can always shop at our web store as well. I wish you all bountiful harvests, especially during this holiday season!”
Want to get in on the bite? Find an OTW-approved Charter Fishing Captain around Cape Cod and the Islands!
Cape Cod Fishing Forecast
This week, take advantage of the mild weather, even if for an hour or two. Reliable trout fishing is available in most of our deepwater kettle ponds, and if they’re not biting where you anticipated, cover more water. Explore new shorelines, hike, and throw a variety of lures. Sometimes one fish is all you need to feel accomplished!
White perch, although sometimes challenging to locate, will surely be biting well after ice out. Temperatures were so cold that even my favorite brackish ponds (and some marinas) had temporarily frozen, but I’ve noticed that white perch tend to put on the feedbag after extensive periods under ice. Remember, cover water an play around with the retrieve speed. Although they will usually chase a hair jig, grub or spoon, sometimes a slow hop on the bottom is necessary to catch.
Trout fishing is usually productive under sunny skies, but bass fishing should be just as consistent with warmer temperatures driving them (and chain pickerel), to feed in shallow. Largemouth bass will stage in transition areas between shallow and deep water, while smallmouth bass will remain deeper around humps and areas of changing bottom structure. For largemouth, suspending jerkbaits, float and fly, spoons and lipless crankbaits will get the job done. On the smallmouth bass front, finesse soft plastics like Neds, as well as blade baits will be the best bet for putting together a consistent bite.
Wherever fishing takes you this week, be safe, respect each other, respect the water and fish hard. Most of all, have a happy New Year! Catch you next week.