Cape Cod Fishing Report- July 20, 2023

Cocktail and gator blues surround the Cape and Islands, stripers feed on mackerel and sand eels in Cape Cod Bay, and Canal action slows despite a buffet of bait.

This week has been hot—uncomfortably hot, and really humid too. Not ideal fishing weather, but at least there’s been some solid wind to keep us shore and surf anglers cool. However, the high winds and resulting treacherous seas have inhibited most from making the trip offshore, but if you’ve got a vessel that can battle some heavy chop, there’s good bottom fishing action for fluke, scup and some decent size sea bass around Cape Cod and the Islands this week. There has also been a boost in activity from schoolie stripers in shallow water with an influx of rain bait on the south side of Cape Cod up into Buzzards Bay. Small topwater plugs like Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows, Tsunami Talkin’ Poppers and Heddon Spooks have been responsible for duping surface-crashing stripers in the salt ponds and rivers around sunrise and sunset. Keep in mind that the water temperatures have drastically increased, so if the stripers are playing ball, get them in quickly and minimize their time out of the water to your best ability.

With the warming water temperatures, fluke fishing has improved too. They’re spitting up a lot of the same rain bait that schoolie stripers seem to be crashing on. Personally, I’ve done well with Gulp and bucktails this past week, and I’ve even taken some time to experiment with different jig styles on my fluke rigs. Rather than the standard Gulp-tipped jighead or bucktail with a teaser above it, I opted for tying on small tins like Tsunami Slimwave jigs, Hopkins Shortys and small Sea Striker casting jigs with the gold or silver prism pattern. The Gulp-tipped teaser remained 16 inches or so above the main jig, but the fluke continued to prefer the teaser despite my efforts to better imitate the small, silvery forage that’s been packing in around Upper Cape. No complaints here though. Last Friday I reeled in three 21-inch fluke that all smoked the teaser, and a handful of 17 to 18 inchers that hit a 1/4-ounce, Gulp-tipped Al Gags jighead with ferocity. Fluke are biting well out by the Vineyard too, with some local charters reporting a healthy mix of 19 and 20 inchers taking their sea bass rigs.

One of three sizable fluke that crushed the bucktail teaser on Friday.

The rips have quieted down in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, but there are plenty of bass to the east. Outer Cape beaches continue to receive sporadic showings of stripers on sand eels, with a majority of the activity happening around the early evening into dusk on pencil poppers. Some nights, the action continues well after dark as bass hammer minnow plugs and soft plastic stickbaits, and other nights, the seals are crashing the party. It has been difficult to find a pattern for the Outer Cape beach bite, but onshore winds seem to push the sand eels in close, leaving the bass cruising within short casting distance. Keep an eye on wind and weather conditions to align your outings with onshore winds from the northeast or southeast.

Around Provincetown and Cape Cod Bay, jumbo bluefish continue to crush large topwater plugs such as the Doc, JoeBaggs Skipper and the Daddy Mac RD Bomb. It’s good to know there are still some gators hanging around out that way, because the south side of Cape from Mashpee to Monomoy has received intermittent waves of cocktail blues in the 4- to 6-pound range. They’re plenty of fun on topwater and tins, but if you’re throwing soft plastics or fluke rigs from the beaches, they’re an absolute nuisance—especially because sometimes they’re too quick to get a hook into. Often times, they’re making surgical strikes, nipping soft plastic tails off just behind the hook. If you’re surfcasting on the south side, bring out the metals and resin jigs, because with all that small bait (which I’ve yet to identify) cruising in and out of the bays and estuaries, the blues are waiting just off the beach. There are also some blues hunkered down around the Elizabeth Islands.

Back on the Bay side, night shift surfcasters are still finding over- and under-slot stripers in places like Barnstable and Wellfleet Harbors, with needlefish and minnow plugs responsible for most of action. There have been sand eels in shallow and mackerel off the beaches closer to Sandwich, though most of the macks are around 7 to 8 inches—the perfect length to match the profile of a green mack SP Minnow or Rapala X Rap Long Cast.

And last but certainly not least, shark fishing has taken off. A drive down any Nantucket or Vineyard facing beach after dusk will reveal trucks backed up to the sand, and beach campouts made visible by the unmistakable neon gleam of glow sticks hanging from eel- or bluefish-baited rods. It’s a fun way to spend the night—hanging out on the beach and waiting to see a glow stick drop or hear a drag sing.

 

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I hope to do some of that this weekend or over the course of the next week. As long as you’ve got a quality 10- to 11-foot surf rod and a decent reel in the 8000 to 10000 size range, you can enjoy this late night beach bite. Just don’t forget the bug spray! Additionally, be sure to bring a good pair of pliers, a pistol-grip style dehooker, and headlamps so you can see what you’re doing. Remember to keep the sharks off of dry sand and close enough to the water that they’re still in the wash, getting water over their gills. I use my Canal setup for shark fishing and it works just fine.

And speaking of the Canal, East End Eddie Doherty reports:

“Canal Rats are now favorably comparing this season to the iconic years of 2017-18 with John Doble proclaiming 2023 to be even better! The topwater bite has been phenomenal as stripers of various sizes continue to rip up the surface at all different times, but every level of the water column has also been a gold mine with small sand eels and 7-inch macks the prominent bait! Air Force Staff Sergeant Josh Webster, nephew of Striper Gear owner Mike Webster, was jigging with one of his uncle’s 4.8-ounce Wacky Mack Rockets when he hooked into a monster that measured 54 inches! John “The Chef” Schmidt landed a 48-inch bass and legendary surfcaster “Breakin’ Bob” Weir landed a 37-pound bass that measured out to 46 inches on an old fashioned Magic Swimmer worked through a dropping west tide. Bill “On the Grill” Prodouz didn’t catch a fish until 8:45 a.m., but then it was solid action for 3 hours featuring all sizes with his last few bass all 20 pounds. I was dancing my white Guppy JoBo Jr. on the surface of the water pouring in from Cape Cod Bay. Fish weren’t breaking so my blind cast landed in the right spot as a 31-pound striper attacked my offering with a vengeance. She stopped flopping around just long enough for a measurement of 45 inches.”

The Ditch continues to fish well in the morning hours, and for the few surfcasters creeping the bike paths under the cover of night. The action is not quite what it was on the back end of the July full moon earlier in the month, but there are large bass hunkered down for the summer and Canal regulars are taking full advantage of their presence.

Bull at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay reports:

“There are still fish being caught in Canal but it has been kind of sad. The fish are predominantly under slot and sitting on bottom in the west end, but there are a good amount of small fish topping out at 20 inches in the east end. There’s tons of bait at the east end including big butterfish, average pogies and 6-inch squid, along with schools of mackerel throughout the entire Canal. Despite all the bait, there haven’t been any big resident fish that have moved into the east end, just the small schoolies. P-Town and the harbors from Barnstable all the way up to Plymouth are seeing slot and slightly over-slot fish being caught on both bait and lures, meanwhile down here, Buzzards Bay has been quiet on the bass front. Those fish seem to have finally moved through, but the good news is sea bass, scup and fluke have been biting in Buzzards Bay. They’re not huge fish, but it’s consistent action and big enough for people to bring home to the table.”

Morgan at Macos Bait and Tackle in Buzzards Bay reports:

“Earlier in the week was kind of slow and just way too hot for the bass bite to turn on even in the mornings. This morning (Thursday) was slightly cooler and breezy though, and the fishing improved with an influx of cooler water coming in from Cape Cod Bay. At first we were catching lots of small fish on top on the Doc nearly every cast, then I noticed the bottom loaded with some larger marks indicating bigger fish. We changed up to jigging and tied into some larger bass that were taking Hogy and Savage Gear paddletails. It seems like they were chasing tinker mackerel down deep, because there were occasional blowups on the surface with small macks fleeing fish. The bottom fishing in the bay has been decent too. There’s a lot of smaller bait around which tends to happen this time of year, so there should be some good fluke fishing on the flats in Buzzards Bay, especially if you find small birds like terns working over them.”

Captain Kurt Freund of Fishsticks Charters on Martha’s Vineyard reports:

“In last week’s report, I wrote that fluke had been the focus. That was partly because of the Fluke for Luke tournament and partly because the bluefish had vanished from the spot where I had been consistently catching them for the previous two weeks. So this week, while the fluke fishing continued to be excellent, I was determined to figure out where those bluefish had gone. I’m happy to report that we did some scouting and found bluefish last Thursday and they were still there on Monday after three days of trips cancelled because of the threat of thunderstorms. The bluefish were caught on swimming plugs, cast or trolled, and sliders and the occasional topwater plug. Mixed in with the bluefish were some nice sea bass, which mostly took trolled deep-divers. Tuesday was my first day off since the first of July that wasn’t a weather cancellation, so naturally, I took the opportunity to go offshore with a couple of friends. We went 1 for 2 on bluefin tuna. It was valuable recon for an upcoming tuna charter this Monday. Wednesday it was back to the fluke and sea bass, and fishing was great, with fluke to 6 pounds and sea bass to 3 pounds. We’ve caught surprisingly few sea robins on our recent fluke trips. On the other hand, dogfish have stepped in to fill that gap.

I have plenty of dates available in August. While I’m sure a lot of those days will fill up with inshore trips, I’m hoping to do more offshore charters for tuna and Nantucket Shoals fluke. My biggest fluke, a 12-pounder, was caught on Nantucket Shoals in August a few years ago.”
Aidan Masterson is thrilled with this 24-inch, 6-pound fluke he caught on Fishsticks Charters.

Captain Ross from Cape Cod Charter Guys in Bourne reports:

“We’ve been getting lots of blues recently, and with them are some fresh pods of stripers which showed up in Cape Cod Bay over the last 3 days. All of them were covered in sea lice, indicating that this was a fresh school of migratory bass. Since we located those schools, we’ve put clients on several over-slot fish each trip and even caught some keepers, along with plenty of shorts. It’s good to see a healthy mix of fresh fish in our area, all in different size classes. Earlier in the week we had a big bluefish on topwater and as it was being reeled in, a bluefin tuna exploded on it, so we had to put the boat in gear and essentially drag the bluefish across the surface to avoid risk of being spooled. We then watched 6 or 7 gator blues flee on the surface in our wake as the tuna chased them around, which was so cool to see up close. We’re fishing 7 days a week and the fishing is good, so message or call us to book a trip!”

Captain Elena Rice of Reel Deal Fishing Charters in Truro reports:

“Even though we are in mid-July with some super humid days, the striped bass and bluefishing continues to offer some great topwater activity! Jeremy and his son Liam traveling here from California enjoyed some light tackle bites on over-slot striped bass during this recent sunrise fishing trip:

Although the afternoon has been good also, as this Reel Deal angler, Jon, battled a large bluefish on the fly for over 15 minutes and landed it. Talk about perfect hook placement!

Go to fishreeldeal.com to learn more about trips and booking info!”

Captain Cam Faria of Cambo Charters reports:

“Striper fishing has gotten better in the rips out east, with some larger fish popping up over the course of the past week. Topwater is the name of the game out there. Back west, sea bass fishing has died off in Buzzards Bay as they have moved a bit offshore, so we’re making trips further from the ramp to places south of the Vineyard and still finding plenty of quality keepers. Wednesday we had a tuna charter and we marked 3 on the Bank but couldn’t get them to eat.”

Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore reports:

“The Canal has slowed down a bit this week. There are still a lot of mackerel in there, but the east end has been full of smaller fish. The action remains relatively consistent on the West End where there have been lots of juvenile whiting in the 5-inch range fueling surface feeds. Otherwise, most of the bass seem to be stuck on bottom taking bright-colored jigs.”

Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth reports:

“I went out east of Chatham for bluefin earlier this week and got into some giants on light spinning tackle. We fought one for hours that finally broke us off very close to the boat, which was probably in the 85- to 90-inch range. Sand eels seemed to be the predominant bait, and there were a ton of whales lunge feeding, which was a spectacle. While there’s no shortage of giants out east, it sounds like there are a lot of rec. sized fish to the south. Smaller bluefin are hitting jigs and trolling setups, and there are even some yellowfin in the mix, too.

Back inshore, bluefish are biting in the rips of Vineyard Sound, though they aren’t gators like we saw in weeks past. The Elizabeths are still holding blues as well, but they are mostly on the Buzzards Bay side. A few anglers are quietly chipping away at decent size bass on eels around the Elizabeths, but it’s tough fishing. Fluke fishing has been good, not great, if you know where to go. However, they seem to be in unexpected places. Some kayak anglers are catching keeper fluke just outside of the inlets on the south side of Cape Cod.”

Cape Cod Fishing Forecast

Bluefish are still everywhere. It has been a stellar season for gator blues, and as summer creeps along, they’re getting slightly smaller. For the best chance at some gator blues this weekend, hit Provincetown or the Elizabeth Islands, and scope out areas like the rips of Vineyard Sound. There may be some smaller cocktail blues around if the big ones aren’t immediately cooperative.

Just outside the harbors of Cape Cod Bay and down by Monomoy are the best places to find striper activity going into the weekend. Cooler water on the bay side could have bass feeding on top. There’s plenty of bait in the east end of the Canal, so the closer you get to the Ditch, the greater the possibility for some spectacular action. If you’re just looking to bend a rod, there are schoolies on the south side that will take topwater plugs around dusk or right after sunrise. The Outer Cape could fish well for surfcasters, though there is no onshore wind forecasted for the Atlantic-facing beaches this weekend, and in weeks past, that’s been the key to a good bite. The Canal could also be fishing well because of the abundant species of baitfish littering both ends, and the mackerel that don’t seem to be going anywhere. The night bite has been good down there due to this week’s warm weather, so if you’re not fishing in the dark, aim for dawn or windows when that cooler Cape Cod Bay water comes in with the east tide.

Fluke, although challenging, are readily available from shore, boat and kayak if you put in the time. They’re inside the bays and even around many of the river mouths, harbors and salt ponds. If you’re noticing an influx in small “rain” bait, tie up a basic bucktail-and-teaser rig with some Gulp and make a few casts. Moving water is key, as is the presence of baitfish. If nothing else, there may be a few decent scup willing to pick up your Gulp instead. I’ll be over here tying up goofy experimental fluke rigs in search of a fish over 21 inches.

Offshore conditions look pretty good this weekend, though there could be some gusty conditions on account of spotty southwest winds. If you head east of Chatham, be prepared to tango with giant bluefin. If you head south of the Vineyard, you may be jigging up a lot of rec. sized fish, or find yourself trolling for yellowfin.

And don’t forget, if things get really tough (or uncomfortably hot), you can fall back on night fishing for sharks or even throw around some wake baits for largemouth bass at a local pond. Wherever your weekend fishing endeavors take you, be safe, respect each other and fish hard. Thanks for reading.

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

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