Cape Cod Fishing Report- May 18, 2023

Stripers chase pogies, mackerel, squid and herring, bruiser blues gorge on bunker, scup fishing is on fire and sea bass season opens this Saturday.

What a week it’s been. The Cape Cod Canal continues to erupt on breaking tides with fish from 25 inches to almost 50 pounds. Cape Cod Bay is seeing some great fishing around mackerel schools, while Buzzards Bay remains loaded with stripers and scattered bunker schools, and some big blues too. Plus, sea bass season opens Saturday. But it’s not all roses…

While fishing along the south side of Falmouth this week, I noticed a repulsive stench of rotting fish that wafted to the parking area from the water. As I approached the shoreline, I noticed several dead stripers were scattered along the beach. Most were schoolie size, some were pushing 28 inches, and all of them had either bloated bellies or stomachs.

Later that day, I got a couple messages on Instagram from concerned anglers who had come across the same scene. Stripers scattered along the shorelines of salt ponds with bloated bellies. Not on the front facing beaches either… just inside of the salt ponds and bays. Aside from their abnormally large guts, there appeared to be nothing visibly wrong with the fish. Back in the office, Andy Nabreski reported seeing more of the same: dead schoolies with bursting stomachs.

Curious and concerned, Andy reached out to the Falmouth harbormaster who had been in touch with Mass DMF about the random fish kill. Mass DMF ran tests on the fish to determine cause of death, and speculated it had to do with feeding heavily on cinder worms.

(Photo by Mike Cosmo Carlson, @mikecosmomedia)
(Photo by Mike Cosmo Carlson, @mikecosmomedia)
(Photo shared by Patrick Washburn, @pwashy84)
(Photo shared by Patrick Washburn, @pwashy84)

On a lighter note, bluefish are in and they are big and mean, per usual. These aren’t the racer blues we get a push of later in the month—these blues are thick and burly, and have been gorging on bunker in the bay. Late last week I joined Robbie Tartaglia and Matt Foley, on an early morning trip in Buzzards Bay where we found finning blues and some of the pickiest 25-pound class stripers I have ever seen. While I pulled one of the blues boat side, I noticed it spit up a full adult bunker. We opted for large spooks like the Doc, Junior Doc and Game On X-Walk to mimic those wounded bunker.

I sight-fished this gator from a small group of finning blues with the Game On X-Walk. (Photo by Robbie Tartaglia, @508bass)

When we found the blues, they were willing to play ball; the stripers however, would hesitantly swirl and swipe at the plugs, occasionally committing to an eat. They were on our lures as soon as they landed, and we watched them nose behind the plug all the way to the boat on nearly every cast for several hours. Robbie landed a couple on the Doc while Matt had a couple half-hearted eats on the fly, and regardless of their finicky nature, it was beyond cool to see stripers moseying around, finning like bluefish in 20 feet of water. Robbie and Matt went back out after dropping me at the dock. The tide had switched, the wind picked up, and that was all the bass were waiting for… Later that day I heard from Robbie that Matt stuck a near 30 pounder.


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The big bass have stuck around as evidenced by the Cape Cod Canal activity and the amount of bait around Cape and the Islands. It’s possible that some of these larger fish will linger in and around Buzzards Bay until the mighty new moon tides help them through the Canal this Friday and over weekend.

And while some of these big bass enjoy the Buzzards Bay buffet, another body of fish is currently moving around the South Side. This time last year, there were squid and minuscule sand eels about the size of my fingertip fueling the fish off of Chatham, which made for a challenging bite without a fly rod. The squid hang in the deeper rips while the sand eels come right up on the beach, bringing picky little diaper stripers in close. I’d imagine with the new moon coming, there will be a lot of movement around the Outer Cape from striped bass of all sizes.  I’m also anticipating the arrival of what’s quite literally a wall of bluefish that left Long Island this week. Our Field Editor Tim Regan (a.k.a. @southforksalt), recorded a miles-long “daisy chain” of east-bound bluefish this past week, which seemed to stretch from Bridgehampton all the way out to Montauk point. My hope is that they’ll make it to Buzzards Bay and the south side of Cape Cod by Friday, if not sooner, to terrorize bunker schools and squid.

And it’s worth noting, stripers will feed in the wake of bluefish blitzes to pick up scraps of shredded cephalopods and bunker as they continue their march up the coast.

Real quick, I’d like to touch on the freshwater fishing on Cape Cod as well. With big bass preparing to bed for the spawn, they are active and on the move. My buddy Jack has been out there almost daily finding fish from 3 to 4 pounds regularly. He says that even when throwing big swimbaits at night, the bites are coming much closer to the shore than they have all spring, indicating that the bass are staging around shallow flats and transition areas to feed at night. What is a transition area? Any change in structure or bottom contour; it could be a well-defined weed line that begins on the end of a sandy flat 50 feet from shore, or it could be a steep ledge that bass use as an ambush point for any bait passing by. Bottom line is, while there is plenty of good saltwater fishing to be had right now, there is also a high likelihood for sticking a personal best largemouth (or smallmouth) with swimbaits, wake baits and glide baits this time of year.

Spawned-out yellow perch in shallow water make an easy meal for big bass at night. (@jack.renfrew.37)
There’s good bass fishing in most of the Cape’s ponds right now, especially in ponds that received a herring run or have stocked trout. (@jack.renfrew.37)

There are so many crazy exciting options on the water this time of year, it’s giving me sensory overload. Some days, I don’t know which way to turn; do I hit the Canal early morning? Do I hit the surf for bluefish after work? Maybe I should wait until nightfall and target stripers up in the estuaries with a fall-back plan of wake bait fishing for largemouth bass, just to beat the skunk. Even scup are in shallow right now, providing an easy (and tasty) meal if you know how to work a fillet knife around those small bones.

If you’re like me, sometimes you need someone to point you in the right direction for no other reason than there’s so much good fishing to be had. Here’s what the local shops and charters have to say this week:

Connor at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay reports:

“If the word isn’t out yet, the stripers are here. With plenty of mackerel in the Canal, fish are being caught consistently on topwater in the early morning, as well as jigs. The key to finding these fish is to chase the tide and find the bait. Whatever way the tide is running, get to that end, wait for bait, and the stripers will quickly flow in from the middle of the Canal, or push in from one of the bays. There are rumors of bluefish in the east end, but I cannot yet confirm this. Fish are also being caught out in the surf in both Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. With pogies being the primary bait in Buzzards, at night, stick to larger profile baits if you want to target the bigger fish cruising the flats. I hope everyone has a great week, and check back Friday on the Red Top website for another report. Tight lines everyone!”

Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis reports:

“Stripers are on both the north and south shores hitting topwater plugs and paddletail swim shads. There are lots of fish just below slot size biting squid in Vineyard Sound too. We’re selling tons of squid right now and the occasional pogies, some customers have even come in for eels. Bluefish are biting persistently in Cape Cod Bay right now, and there are plenty of high slot stripers in the mix with them. There’s also lots of excitement for black sea bass season, which starts this Saturday 5/20. There will be plenty of scup in the bycatch for sea bass, as they’re around in numbers too. There are small schools of scup congregating around jetties, and big platter-sized porgies in Vineyard Sound. Freshwater fishing has been good, too for rainbow trout and brown trout, yellow perch and largemouth bass. Wacky rigs and buzz baits are working well for largemouth, but they aren’t hitting topwater during the day just yet.”

Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore reports:

“Big striped bass have moved into the Canal. Mackerel are in the East end of the Canal, and bunker are in the West. There are Herring around too, and squid are just starting to trickle into the Canal at night. The early season is in full swing. Topwater action has been good in the morning. Canal Attack Shads and FishLab Shad Soft Plastic lures have been producing bass as well.”

Captain Ross of Cape Cod Charter Guys in Bourne reports some fantastic striper fishing so far this season. Typically, he’ll wait for the sea bass season opener to take charters, but the fish are here, and the demand is there. This week, OTW’s Zack Zeytoonjian and I got out with Captain Ross for a great morning on the water chasing stripers on the surface. We were exclusively throwing Game On X-Walks and the fish were cart-wheeling out of the water in pursuit of our lures!

First mate J.J. of Cape Cod Charter Guys was tossing the 1-ounce X-Walk by Game On Lures with good success. (@capecodcharterguys)

The morning started off choppy and cold, and there was a thin layer of ice on the deck when we boarded. Soon after departing, the sun showed itself, the wind died and the tide flipped and we enjoyed a solid topwater bite after working really hard for the fish early on. If you’re looking for a focused and friendly charter that will work hard to find fish, take a trip with this father/son-captain/mate duo.

Captain Ross of Cape Cod Charter Guys doubled-up with OTW’s Zack Zeytoonjian during our trip this week. (@capecodcharterguys / @zackz1)

Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth reports:

“There are big bass on the south side and in Buzzards Bay right now, and more often than not, bass are busting on the surface whether they’re chasing squid or bunker. A few topwater spooks or poppers will work wonders when the bass are up. The squid are around, but squid fishing has not been great, with some days better than others. Tautog fishing is still on fire in Buzzards Bay and scup fishing is picking up by the hour, with plenty of fish around for the taking. Up in the Canal, there are fish in the 40- to 52-inch range! Some guys are saying this is the best fishing in the Canal since 2017. The fish are feeding on everything from mackerel and pogies to squid and herring, and even some schools of silversides are being pressed up onto the rocks.”

From the Canal, East End Eddie Doherty reports:

“Canal surfcasting continues to be outstanding at all levels of the water column with an assortment of lures! Bunker, mackerel, squid and silversides are fueling a striped bass revival throughout the Big Ditch. A common refrain by experienced Canal Rats is, “This is like the good old days”! Bill “On the Grill” Prodouz of Pocasset had multiple heavy fish including another 35 pounder totaling 3 over 30 pounds for him so far! Tim “Hollywood” Petracca of Bourne & Ben “Fish” Faulmino of Sandwich had fish well over 40 inches with high hook honors in that group going to Pocasset’s John “The Chef” Schmidt for his 45-inch monster! Chuck Franks of Buzzards Bay had his white Strike Pro Bullet finding its mark on two huge 46 inch linesiders. Bourne’s John Doble, whose magnificent photography graces the cover of OTW this month, was on the board with several bass including a 20 pounder, and “Jumpin Joe” England of Acushnet had his white SP Minnow working to perfection on a bevy of linesiders including a pair of 35 pounders on the same day! Bill “Costy” Costello of Norwood had been busy reeling in fish next to me when I heard his drag start screaming with a 29 pounder on the end!”

Cape Cod Fishing Forecast

All I can say is you’ve gotta get out there and put your best foot forward to find some action this week. Bottom fishing activity is picking up by the day, with scup providing the most reliable action and tautog a close runner up. Sea bass season opens on Saturday 5/20 so expect a fair amount of traffic on the bottom fishing grounds this weekend, and remember to be responsible around other boaters. Share the water, there’s plenty of it.

The Canal will likely continue to see phenomenal fishing this coming week, as more big bass push up the coast through the Long Island Sound. There are bunker all over Buzzards Bay, and mackerel are stacked in the East end of the Canal. Like Connor from Red Top recommended, figure out which way the tide is moving and head toward that end to find out where the stripers are meeting the bait.

Stock up on Gulp and squid while you can! Sea bass season is possibly one of the best times to take a kid fishing; it’s pretty easy fishing, and they are downright delicious. There’s no better way to get kids into the sport than fast action bottom fishing. UNLESS, you take them bluefishing. That’s a fast track to a lifetime of angling.

Keep in mind, Cape Cod’s Family Fishing Day is still a few weeks out, but it’s another great opportunity to take some young ones out on the water. Learn about surfcasting and all the tools you’ll need to do it yourself at the event in Provincetown. All the information you need can be found below.

We want to hear from you! If you’d like to contribute to our fishing reports, reach out to me via email ( or via Instagram (@hefftyfishing) with a sentence or two reporting your experience on the water, along with any fish photos related to your report.

2 on “Cape Cod Fishing Report- May 18, 2023

  1. Dave

    When fishing at the canal years ago we used to park at the Mass Maritime right at the Canal. Last time we went we were told we can’t part there. Where can we park to fish at MMA?

  2. Dave

    When fishing at the canal years ago we used to park at the Mass Maritime right at the Canal. Last time we went we were told we can’t part there. Where can we park to fish at MMA?

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