Saturday morning was cold, but the conditions were calm and still, and as much as I enjoy a quiet winter morning on the water, I was hoping for some wind as I headed toward what would hopefully become a reliable spot for winter holdover striped bass. The temperature read 33 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:30 a.m., which is actually comfortable, but it still took some serious will power to leave the warmth of my faux, plug-in “fireplace” (thank you Ocean State Job Lot).
Confident in the location and my array of soft plastic baits, the only remaining uncertainty was whether or not I’d locate fish. It was my thinking that a bit of wind would stir up the bottom and get the bass chewing, but upon arriving, the water was glass calm aside from the slight current due to the early outgoing tide. It wasn’t going to be an easy morning, as targeting holdover stripers is already a low percentage game, and I have been skunked several times over the last month. Covering water would be the name of the game. I tied on a 3/8-ounce jighead with a 4-inch white Keitech Swing Impact swimbait, approached the water’s edge, and made the first cast.
The water was shallow, but dark. Overhead clouds worked in my favor, keeping the muddy, low-light areas dim enough to aid my swimbait’s somewhat unnatural appearance in this salt pond. After 30 minutes of exploring the shoreline, I came upon a ledge that dropped into a 6- to 8-foot deep stretch of water. The water was moving better now, and as I slowly retrieved the swimbait along the bottom, I felt brief taps and tugs that indicated it was no longer sandy. When I retrieved the soft plastic, there was no seaweed or grass obstructing my hook, so I cast to the same spot a second time. Again, the bait bumped some extensive bottom structure, but came in free of snags. Mussel beds: located. This was great news. Stripers will linger around mussel beds because smaller baitfish and crabs congregate there, and despite their hard outer shells, small mussels are pretty regularly found in the stomachs of striped bass. This seemed like some promising real estate, but more incessant casting and painfully slow retrieves came to no avail. I was happy to have found some promising structure, deeper moving water, and bait, but by 10:30 a.m., it was time to move on.
I met up with my buddy Ryan who had been catching big chain pickerel on jerkbaits in last week’s report. We planned to fish for whatever would bite, so I swapped out the 7-foot inshore rod for my trout and bass rods. Unfortunately, Ryan and I were beaten to the pickerel pond by a few duck hunters who had decoys floating on the shoreline we planned to fish, so we moved on to the trout pond.
With low winds, the trout fishing wouldn’t be as simple as it was a few weeks ago when our crew at OTW went “Surfcasting” for Trout, but I was confident that this lake would give up a few. We hit a promising corner of the pond where I’ve done well in the past, and it worked. After maybe two casts, Ryan hooked into a beautiful rainbow on a Megabass Vision 110 Jr.— a suspending jerkbait that is certified candy to smallmouth and largemouth bass.
We broke the skunk, but the trout weren’t cooperating in general, so I pulled out a little trick that I keep in my back pocket when conditions are calm to grab the attention of any trout nearby.
I used a classic, ol’ reliable, 1/4-ounce Kastmaster, but low and slow retrieves weren’t working. The next cast was long, and I closed the bail early as the Kastmaster splashed down. “Let’s see if this works”, I said to Ryan. With my rod tip pointing upwards at a 90-degree angle, I skimmed the Kastmaster across the surface, giving an occasional twitch to launch the spoon a couple inches from the surface as I have seen fleeing juvenile herring do in the past. Sure enough, as it neared the rocks, a wake formed behind the skipping spoon and an aggressive swirl turned into a taut line. A few moments later, I was releasing a nice rainbow trout of my own.
I encourage other anglers, try the technique for yourself. It makes for some exciting, visual trout fishing, which can be hard to come by with a spinning rod in open water.
After a while, it became apparent that we caught probably the only two trout that were hanging out in that corner of the pond. We left, happy to have broken the skunk, and switched up our remaining free time with an attempt at white perch.
I threw hair jigs, lipless crankbaits, spoons and curly-tail grubs without so much as a touch from a white perch. However, Ryan decided to keep his Megabass jerkbait tied on, and he hooked into a couple back-to-back perch. This was new to me. I had only ever seen perch take small offerings, but on this day, they were hungry for a plug that almost measured their size in length.
I was glad that Ryan got a couple perch before we lost the school and the bite shut down. Now, when they’re being finicky towards smaller forage, I have a new lure and technique to try out.
White perch and more were biting well for Stavros Viglas on Martha’s Vineyard this week.
Here is Stavros’ report from MV:
“As we push closer to the middle of winter, you might have to work a little harder to find fish. Early mornings, late afternoon and sunset seem to be the most productive times for holdover bass. Using small white plastic jigs in the day and switching over to darker colors as the sun fades. Adding scent such as blue crab to a lure is a good way to get those finicky fish to bite. Crab flys have been working well also, allowing you to target bass and perch. Recently, a few of the great ponds were opened to the ocean, allowing the ponds to drain and let new water in. This makes the pond water levels drop, which allows you to dial in on the deep spots where the fish are sitting. A warm day is a good time to searching for trout, you will see them sitting in the brooks warming themselves.”
With the exception of white perch and trout, fishing has been relatively slow on Cape this week. The hot pickerel bite has dropped off after a few sub-freezing nights, and largemouth bass have become more difficult to locate as well. A few anglers here at the OTW offices were able to catch this week, including Jimmy Fee with his catch-em-all float and fly rig. We would all be wise to learn to fish that finesse rig effectively, as it clearly excels in catching trout, pickerel, bass, perch and more when the ponds reach near freezing temperatures.
Rainbow trout fishing has been the most consistent bite; there have even been some good reports of quality brown trout coming from Outer Cape ponds on jerkbaits, live shiners and jointed Rapala’s. Cloudy, overcast conditions have seen better fishing this week than in weeks past. Should we experience more mild weather over the next week, I’ll be taking advantage and fishing the ponds with shiners at night once again. Otherwise, I’ll be checking the forecast for those windy, choppy days to get back out to those promising holdover striper waters. Remember to look for wind, moving water, mussel beds, and avoid fishing the incoming tide if possible. The incoming tides bring fresh cold water into the rivers and salt ponds, which is more likely to shut down any existing bite.
Let’s hear from the local shops to get a better idea of what else is happening on the water this week:
A.J. Coots of Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay reports:
“Super cold weather and high winds kept a lot of guys off the water most of the week, but in the past couple days we’ve been selling a ton of shiners for trout fishermen, so they’re definitely still chewing well. For a couple of days there we had some nearly safe ice before it melted off, with one customer reporting 3- to 4-inches on a pond local to Buzzard’s Bay. However, he said the fishing was very slow. We just sold the last of our shiners, so call the shop ahead of time if you plan to come in looking for bait this weekend.”
Evan at Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth reports:
“Shellfishing is still good, and oystering in West Falmouth has been particularly phenomenal. White perch are biting well in Upper Cape brackish ponds, and curly-tail grubs seem to be the number one producer of fish on that front. I just returned from a trade show so I haven’t fished this week, but it sounds like there has also been some steady trout fishing going on in the local ponds for guys throwing spoons and in-line spinners. We still have plenty of shellfishing gear, so as long as you’re licensed, come on down to get all you need for diggin’ up some fresh shellfish.”
Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis reports:
“We had a customer come in and grab some gear to go shore fishing for winter flounder, and he caught a handful of keeper size fish! He came in yesterday to grab some gear and give it a whirl. He had clams and a hi-lo rig with 3/0 circle hooks and a 1- or 2-ounce bank sinker. Trout fishing is more of the same as last week. The water is low which makes for easy wading so anglers are able to cover plenty of shoreline. Spoons, night crawlers and shiners are mostly catching rainbows, but there are rumblings of bigger browns biting further east on the Cape.”
Want to get in on the bite? Find an OTW-approved Charter Fishing Captain around Cape Cod and the Islands!
Cape Cod Fishing Forecast
If you’re going trout fishing, bring a variety of spoons in different weights and colors, as well as a few inline spinners like Mepps or Panther Martins. Trout fishing with bait will produce some good catches too, namely when shiners are live-lined.
White perch prove to have an appetite for larger baits, so if they aren’t biting on the usual lures, cast out a small jerkbait or a floating Rapala to test the appetites of the perch. You might be surprised!
Largemouth and smallmouth bass will be more likely catches for anglers reaching deeper water via kayak or Jon boat. Smallmouth bass will linger in large groups around humps and deep pockets, often more than 40-feet down. Largemouth will be more likely to hang around weed beds and tall grasses, or stage in deeper water around ledges that lead to more shallow feeding grounds.
Lastly, if you’ve got it in you, it might actually be worth wetting a line for some winter flounder. Tying up a hi-lo rig is pretty easy, but you can always stop in to one of the shops to look for a few pre-tied rigs if you’re heading in for bait anyway.
Wherever fishing finds you this week, be safe, respect each other, respect the water, and fish hard. Catch you next week!