The lack of pogies compared to recent years has leveled the playing field. No longer can boaters power into a pod, pelt the school with snag trebles and expect to instantaneously come tight to a cow. Not everyone is happy, but in some cases those who are have something in common with Mid-Atlantic anglers who refer to striped bass as – rockfish!
First I’d like to give a shout out to two buddies of mine who have been crushing it in the Striper Cup! Steve Langton of Melrose racked up the highest length total of any three fish submitted in week 7 with a whopping 148 inches. This week, Marco Ciccerano of Somerville took the top category with 146! While we often refer to each other as “fishing brothers”, I’m going to give those two a wide berth next week; I have a feeling that the sibling rivalry is going to get intense. The code that they have cracked which leaves boaters in the lurch is that they are finding those huge fish at night and in tight to the rocks of Greater Boston beaches in water as shallow as 3’! With less pogies in residence than we have been used to, in some cases bass are spending less time hunting in open water and instead are nosing around boulders, bubbleweed and other types of structure looking for a lobster dinner.
Other types of structure to consider are offshore ledge and islands which border known concentrations of mackerel and harbor pollock. While their feeding window will dramatically widen in the fall, as of now, those bass will stage among structure close to a major bait source and right now among much of Massachusetts that bait is – mackerel!
Massachusetts South Shore/South Coast Fishing Report
“Well, I had it all to myself!”, was the comment from Captain Mark Rowell of Legit Fish Charters when we spoke this week. The “it” he was referring to was a major mass of big bass – up to 50” – that had been parked off Scituate and through Hull for days! Word spread quickly and soon there was nary a parking spot available at public launches. While there is evidence that some of those stripers have moved northward, this is still a place worth considering. Ledges not far from known aggregates of mackerel are where the action is. Minot Ledge and Harding’s Ledge had been two of the hottest. Captain Mark also said that the tuna bite off the edge of Stellwagen is outstanding. With sand eels among the most populous forage, RonZs have been a killer of a lure. His tip is to look for the “froth” as in the roiled water where current meets up with drop-offs. Ledge is holding good cod but haddock are few and far between. What you will see out there is no shortage of draggers; with so few haddock and cod largely off the table it’s anyone’s guess what the target is.
Pete from Belsan Bait and Tackle in Scituate texted me the other day that Rapala X-Raps are hard to keep in stock. Ordinarily that’s indicative of a toothy presence and while that’s partly true, big bass have been hitting those plugs as well. Pete even said that high school kids in the area have picked up commercial striped bass licenses and aren’t shy about flashing pictures of 50” fish which are part of their bounty. And to think back in my day, kids would pick up a paper route for some extra spending cash!
“My charters love this!”, explained Captain Jason Colby as I readied the net for a keeper fluke he hooked out of Westport on Monday. Fluke fishing is nothing if not fun, but when stripped down to minimalist, light tackle spinning gear it is much more so. The Little Sister Charters skipper employs methods few if any charter captains in the Bay State use and one of them is how he fishes for fluke. While most everyone drifts for them, he prefers casting! When outfitted with gear more typical of freshwater bass fishing than the salt along with 3/4 or 1 ounce offerings, hooking and playing out a fluke is infinitely more fun and surprisingly very effective. The key is to find current, the edge of a bar or shelf and of course bait. Fluke are nothing like their blackback cousins in that they will actively follow bait schools. Look for working terns, a sure indication of fluke-sized bait, among a mudflat or sandbar and start casting jigs with squid strips, fish belly strips, silversides, killifish or Gulp Swimming Mullets. Prior to having our way with fluke, we limited out on black sea bass in an hour with a self-imposed minimum size of 18”. For the black sea bass we drifted and jigged over wrecks and humps within a few miles of the Westport River.
Greater Boston Fishing Report
Without a significant presence of pogies, big striped bass will only push as far north as needed to find an adequate bait source and nearby structure from which to stage and launch occasional feeding forays. Captain Brian Coombs of Get Tight Sportfishing is finding big bass in areas which check off all those previously mentioned boxes with one other factor – those spots are near open water! When found, he’s trolling pogies that he bridles with a circle hook through the nose. When pogies aren’t not available he’s reaching in his livewell and deploying mackerel. One look at his rod holders and you know he’s ready to launch artificial artillery at a moments notice should an aggressive aggregate of bass be found. Snapped on an ready to go are Doc spooks, Al Gag’s Skirted Whip-it-Fish and flutter spoons. He has been into blues running from 10-17 pounds but, again, without a pile of pogies in residence those packs of choppers are in here-today, gone-tomorrow mode.
Always a cut-up, Pete Santini of Fishing FINatics in Everett had me in stitches when we spoke as he imitated some who are miserable because the mob of menhaden that we’ve grown accustomed to is just not there. All is not for naught however as plenty are catching cows using methods which have worked for eons whether there are pogies available or not. By shore or by sea you can catch well by using these methods. As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, a moniker for striped bass used often by our counterparts down south is “rockfish” which aptly describes our favorite fish. If you find stretches of beaches or embayments with ledge, rockpiles, boulder fields and assorted other interesting bottom structure than you are going to find areas which will hold bass as well as bait. That structure is even more valuable if there’s a more plentiful bait source nearby such as squid, harbor pollock and of course mackerel. In addition to area beaches never neglect the harbor islands especially the terrific trifecta of Green Island, Little Calf and Calf Islands. Many years ago I was shown how effective those islands can be when harbor pollock are trolled alongside of them. Big bass would always be bunched up near those islands with the sweet spot tending to be Pope’s Rock, it was an eye-opening experience to say the least and I almost forgot about them until Pete brought it up. An inshore spot which remains a solid bet where slots and bigger are in play is by the casino. While the bulk of blueback herring have moved on from the Mystics, “fallbacks” will still move onto the harbor in starts and stops through the second week of July. Those famished, fatigued river herring make for an easy meal for striped bass and as long as the bluebacks are present so will the bass. A red or honey mustard Santini tube with a a couple of seaworms trailing along will catch most everything that swims equally in those inshore and offshore locations!
Lisa from Fore River Fishing Tackle in Quincy told me that mackerel can be easily found outside of Boston Light, near Martin’s Ledge, Thieves Ledge and Three-and-One-half Fathom Ledge. Some anglers are doing well fishing the bait on location while others are doing better up tight to Boston Light as well as Nantasket Beach, Point Allerton and Toddy Rocks. Drifting through Hull Gut is resulting in solid striper action as well as a black sea bass bite with 2/3 ounce bucktails spiced with squid strips accounting for both species. A few fluke have been caught off Wessagusset Beach.
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Massachusetts North Shore Fishing Report
Just in on Thursday morning from Tomo of Tomo’s Tackle was news of a big bluefish blitz outside of Marblehead Harbor, ready the topwaters for those toothies! The North Shore just might be the current honey hole for schools of pogies as well. In spite of the recent pogy kill in Salem Harbor, enough have survived and are in tight to the mooring field hand with bass in the vicinity. There have also been pogy schools in Marblehead Harbor, Beverly Harbor and Manchester Harbor. Finding the bait is the hard part, once found the big Bass acquisition is a lot easier. Some are doing well trolling mackerel as well as 9er Lures Umbrella Rigs. Not many are fishing for them any longer but the few who are, are still catching a few flounder off the Lynn Pier, Heritage Park and off the pier of Fisherman’s Beach. There’s no word on North Shore fluke yet with that fishery usually taking off in July.
TJ from Three Lantern Marine in Gloucester told me that the harbor had been hot prior to the recent Fiesta celebration and he expects it to begin where it left off prior to the fanfare. Anglers trolling a tube-and-worm throughout Gloucester Harbor had been catching well as have been fishers using live mackerel. Finally it looks as if winter flounder have moved off to deeper water making for the end of a remarkable season with many fishing for them! Anglers trolling Rapala CD18s and X-Raps have been catching bass and blues off Coffin’s Beach and Halibut Point. There have been pogies present outside of the harbor and through Ipswich Bay and big stripers have taken notice. School through medium tuna have moved onto Jeffrey’s Ledge with good groundfishing taking place on the bottom. Anglers dropping a sabiki rig below should find plenty of mackerel, sea herring and whiting for bait.
When Liz from Surfland Bait and Tackle in Newburyport has to make an eel run mid-week than you know the fishing is good off Plum Island! Keeping one eye on how the commercial anglers are faring helps determine how and where the big bass are and they are spending a lot of time fishing at night between Joppa Flats and the mouth of the Merrimack River. Some anglers are doing very well by crossing the border into New Hampshire and taking advantage of decent pogy schools in the Isles of Shoals area. The Magic Swimmer, especially the fast sinking version, has been the hottest lure there. Pogies off Plum Island are a tough go but mackerel have made an appearance off Breaking Rocks. Of course the shop is called Surfland for a reason with Sandy Point, Parking Lot 1 and the jetty all fishing well. One of the better surf sharpies simply wades the ocean front casting eels and he’s been having plenty of action. While the appeal of the eel is built in, he claims that by varying the retrieve on a nightly basis he’s been doing better than just casting it out and cranking.
Massachusetts Fishing Forecast
The South Shore has been sizzling hot for big bass with established ledges from Scituate through Cohasset and out to Hull among the better spots. What’s driving those big bass is mackerel but keep one eye out for the sporadic schools of pogies for a surer bet. For a diversion from bass madness, fluke and black sea bass fishing in the Westport side of Buzzards Bay has been productive with casting and jigging every bit as effective as sitting and baiting. Old school techniques in Boston Harbor are saving the day for many with big schools of pogies a thing of the past. Try trolling mackerel or harbor pollock among the outer islands of the harbor or how about a tube-and-worm in tight to the inner islands or from the Amelia Earhart Dam out through the Alford Street Bridge? While not historically high, pogy schools are most prevalent on the North Shore and finding them is a slam-dunk that quality stripers will not be far off. Other options are eels off the Plum Island Beach, the Merrimack River or over the border near the Isles of Shoals. That latter spot is also fishing well with lures, one especially which is pure – “magic”!