Cape Cod Fishing Report- November 16, 2023

Schoolie stripers blitz on top in the Canal as a wave of migrators head south around Outer Cape, and tautog fishing continues to improve in Buzzards Bay.

Cape Cod Fishing Report

Just when it seemed like the striper season was about to hit a wall, Cape Cod anglers began finding late migrators harassing schools of adult bunker out east. According to OTW’s Robbie Tartaglia, the fish haven’t been close enough for surfcasters to get in on the action—at least not in the daylight. But with big bait and big bass heading south, the action could bleed into the outer Cape surf under the cover of night. Robbie enjoyed some topwater action this past weekend, catching bass pushing 20 pounds on Docs beneath diving birds. The recent new moon on the 13th came with strong tides, prompting these bass to head south; but as of now, there’s no telling whether they’ll hug the shoreline, or head for open water, along the Islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, bypassing the rest of southern New England as they make a break for Montauk point. If you’re an islander, ready the surf rods because there is potential for some big, mid-November beach bass on the horizon.

OTW’s Robbie Tartaglia enjoyed some late-season topwater action off the outer Cape as bass blitzed on adult bunker. (@508bass)

In other striper news, the Cape Cod Canal has been fishing well, with breaking tides bringing fish to the surface and diving birds cluing anglers in to the presence of bait when the fish won’t show. Bottleneck-style poppers and pencils have been responsible for most of the surface-caught bass, which, according to my friend Hunter Thayer, have been in the 20 to 24-inch range. Mid-November topwater action is always a nice surprise, especially when the south side of Cape and Buzzards Bay have been quiet (with the exception of sub-20-inch schoolies on rain bait in Nantucket Sound). Otherwise, most anglers are turning their attention to the rivers, the salt ponds, or tautog and sweetwater species.

In the salt ponds and rivers, soon-to-be winter holdovers are fattening up on any remaining late-season forage, mudminnows, silversides and crabs, which makes for a challenging bite at times. Small soft plastics are your best friend this time of year, as are flies like Clousers and small Deceivers.

And while the striper bite continues to taper off with dropping temperatures, tautog action has been heating up. Green crabs and white leggers, when you can get them, are catching tautog in the 5-pound range with regularity in portions of Vineyard Sound along the Elizabeths, and in deeper water of 60+ feet in Buzzards Bay. OTW’s Chris Megan and Kevin Blinkoff were out on Buzzards Bay yesterday, and they were able to manage a few keepers in shallow depths of around 25 to 30 feet before the wind shifted and blew them off the water. Plenty of shorts kept them entertained, but the lack of big fish in shallow left them wondering if fishing deeper would have served them better, or if the strong, post-new-moon currents made the fishing more challenging.

Meanwhile in our local ponds, bass, trout and everyones favorite—the chain pickerel— have been a safe fallback for struggles in the salt. OTW’s Anthony DeiCicchi got out on the bass raider with his son and stuck a few Larrys with a suspending jerkbait—a coldwater killer for wary bass. I managed a couple of small largemouth on spoons and soft plastics in a herring run pond, but nothing of size. A few swipes at my lures from curious, or just plain irritated chain pickerel, indicated that they’re putting on the feed bag as temperatures drop. In another month or so, chain pickerel will become one of my main target species. They’re feisty and toothy and a pain to handle, but they put up a great fight on light tackle and keep the rod bent throughout the winter months. Don’t overlook the slimy “snot rockets” as a feasible target when the going gets tough. Also, it’s just a nice change of pace to stand in a glass-calm pond with a light rod after months of exhausting fall run fishing.

But before throwing in the towel on the saltwater season entirely, I think there’s another tog trip or two on the horizon, and if nothing else, a couple mornings down at the ditch.

From the Cape Cod Canal, East End Eddie Doherty shares his final report of the season:

“The Canal has slowed down, but mostly 21 to 26-inch schoolies, an occasional slot and some bigger are still being caught along the 7-mile stretch. A lot of surfcasters have stowed their gear for the winter including most of the Boys of Summer who don’t want to be the Boys of Winter, but some diehards are still wetting a line, like Canal legend Bob “Bull” MacKinnon, who intercepted the migration of several fish including a hefty 22-pound striper that hit his Wally’s wonderbread pencil. I just returned from Disney World where our grandkids enjoyed the rides and I appreciated The Hall of Presidents, including memorabilia from some of our nation’s chief executives. A powerful, large fishing reel is on display that belonged to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid angler. It’s obvious that he was targeting some big sport fish with that heavy-duty hardware. That’s it for me, thanks for reading. Have a safe winter and a happy holiday season. See you in the spring, God willing.”

Connor Swartz at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay told me that there are bass feeding on top in the Canal, but the action is slightly scattered. He said most of the activity has been reserved to the East End, but with those bass heading south, the West End should be productive this weekend. He added that the best tautog fishing right now is in deep water in Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound. Try depths around 40 feet to start, and if there’s lots of short life, move to 60 feet or more. The shop is also carrying a ton of freshwater gear, including a new shipment of suspending jerkbaits, which are killer for largemouth and smallmouth this time of year. They’re carrying live shiners as well, so stop in before your last few Canal trips or for your freshwater needs this weekend.

Evan at Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth said that fishing has really slowed down locally, but there is semi-reliable fishing for schoolies in the salt ponds and some sporadic blitzes from either small bass or bluefish just off of Falmouth. He said tog fishing has been good in Buzzards Bay, and he plans to keep his boat in for another week or so to get a couple more tog trips in, and maybe stick a few more stripers before calling it a season. Evan is starting to sell more freshwater gear and tackle too. This week he sold some shiners and nightcrawlers to some customers who were going out for trout, pickerel and largemouth bass, which are all putting on the feed bag with the dropping water temperatures. Swing by the shop for crabs or live bait for freshwater!

Captain Cam Faria of Cambo Charters has some tog charters booked for the weeks ahead, which is his favorite time to go tog fishing. Cam finds that the better fishing tends to be in deep water, and there’s nothing like pulling a bulldog of a tog from deep structure. Come December 1 though, he will be chasing giant bluefin to try and end the commercial season on a high note. Give him a call to get in on the tog bite in Buzzards Bay!

Captain Kurt Freund of Fishsticks Charters on Martha’s Vineyard is calling it a season after a great week of mid-November fishing. On Friday, he had a charter with Hugh Reynolds and his 10-year-old son Cole, and they had steady action from tog and sea bass in less than ideal conditions. The captain said they could have easily filled a boat limit of tog, but they opted to release most of the fish, including a 22-inch, 8-pound-plus brute of a tog. Come Sunday, Kurt was joined by Blue Cullen and they returned to the same spot to find the tog were still thick and still hungry. The biggest of the bunch landed around 19 inches and again, they kept a few and played catch and release rather than keeping their boat limit. Then on Wednesday, Kurt and David Amaral had yet another stellar day of tog fishing with fish up to 19 inches and stopped one fish short of a boat limit. He said the day started out breezy and slightly choppy, but by mid-afternoon, it was much calmer, warm and sunny. The skipper closed his report with: “Days like today make it hard to make the decision to end the season, but this is probably my last trip of the year. I’m going to have the boat hauled before I end up cracking ice out of the bottom of my dinghy, as I have done in seasons past.” Kurt plans to put the boat back in around May 1 next year, so give him a call to get in some dates for next season!

Hugh and Cole Reynolds with a thick 22-inch, 8-pound tautog that was released after a quick photo.

Christian at Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis told me that the saltwater scene has really taken a dive this week. Lots of surfcasters are hanging it up and boats are out of the water, so they’ve started to see an influx in customers looking for freshwater gear. They’re selling shiners and nightcrawlers for trout and bass, which will become the main targets for year-round anglers going forward. Stop in for your freshwater bait and tackle before the rush of antsy anglers in the next couple weeks!

Cape Cod Fishing Forecast

If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a very tough time of year when trying to decide where your efforts are best suited on the water. One thing is for sure though: tautog fishing is great right now. The most reliable and productive fishing lies in deep water of 60 or so feet, if not more, while short life is abundant in shallow water. Buzzards Bay is fishing well, the Elizabeths are fishing well, and if you know where to look in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, there’s plenty of quality tautog for the taking. Still, I struggle with making weekend fishing plans. Do I spend the morning at the Canal and try for a few buzzer-beater schoolies on top? Or do I throw in the towel on the surf fishing season and hop on a charter to get some fillets for dinner?

The good news is tautog aren’t going anywhere just yet, but the tail end of the fall migration is upon us in the Canal, and I think that’s where I’ll focus my final efforts for stripers (with the exception of our resident fish in the salt ponds and rivers). Luckily, I am also a fan of freshwater bass fishing, and trout—though not my favorite fish to catch—are a worthy target species this time of year. If nothing else, use the weekend to keep your 2024 angling season alive with some largemouth, smallmouth, chain pickerel or stocked trout. Live bait works great, as do suspending jerkbaits, spoons, spinners and PowerBait. Enjoy a relaxing outing on your local pond, where tides, current and all the other variables that impact our saltwater fishing fall by the wayside; as I stated earlier, it’s a great way to wind down after being riled up for the past two months of the fall striper migration.

Have a great week and thanks for reading along.

If you’d like to contribute to our weekly fishing reports this winter, email me ( with a brief report of your day on the water and what you caught, or message me on Instagram @matthaeffner.

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