Cape Cod Fishing Report- January 4, 2024

There's spotty action for brown and rainbow trout in the kettle lakes, and bass and pickerel take suspending jerkbaits and finesse soft plastics in the ponds.

Cape Cod Fishing Report

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe and happy start to 2024. A new year means new fishing goals, new species, or new techniques to check off the bucket list. The first week of January has brought some ice-cold weather to Cape Cod, but there’s still plenty of open water, so freshwater fishing continues (for this week)! Some anglers are waiting until air temperatures are more comfortable (or bearable) to make that first cast of the season, but with the way our ponds are fishing, there’s no reason to wait til the spring to brush the dust off the sweetwater rods.

Some anglers were setting the tone for the new year before it even started by ending 2023 on the right foot. That’s what Neal Larsson did on December 31st with his buddies from the fishing club, “Fishing the East”, and their kids. Neal and friends went trout fishing in an Outer Cape kettle pond and equipped each of the kids with a classic bobber and worm rig. The kids caught about a half dozen trout a piece, which is some pretty consistent buzzer-beater action to end the 2023 fishing season. Even a white perch—which Neal said they could see schooling in shallow—was pulled from the pond during their outing.

Nolan Leduco with a nice brown trout he caught on New Year’s Eve from an outer cape pond. (Photo courtesy of Neal Larsson)

The experienced anglers of the group tried casting lures while the kids fished live worms, but nightcrawlers prevailed as the bait of choice. The subtle wriggle of a live worm suspended beneath bobber is a great way to entice trout into biting when they aren’t willing to chase down lures.

Neal Larsson caught this healthy rainbow trout on a classic bobber-and-worm rig on New Year’s Eve.

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

I ended 2023 chasing brook trout in the mountain streams behind my parent’s ski home in southern Vermont, but came up empty handed. However, on January 1, I arrived home to a sunny afternoon on Cape Cod and promptly grabbed my bass fishing gear to head to a local pond. When I pulled up, OTW’s Jimmy Fee was already in the water, and Anthony DeiCicchi was halfway into strapping on his waders. I guess we all had the same exact idea.

The water was ice cold, but there was a slight breeze and the sun had been shining on the pond all day, so we were hopeful for some late-afternoon action. Anthony and Jimmy threw suspending jerkbaits and tied into a couple of decent pickerel to secure their first fish of the season. I opted for my trout rod to start, which was rigged with the always reliable 1/4-ounce gold Kastmaster. It took only a few casts before I felt some resistance towards the end of my retrieve; it felt like my hooks had caught some weeds, which is a regular occurrence at this spot. When I reeled down to try and pop free of the snag, my line started moving frantically. Fish on! It looked like a pickerel would be my first fish of 2024 until a decent little 2-pound largemouth gave a leaping head shake right in front of me. That was a really nice surprise, and a welcome start to the 2024 fishing season.

This chunky winter largemouth delicately tapped my spoon as I dragged it over a shallow weed line. (Photo by Jimmy Fee)

Surprisingly, despite the cold weather, the bass and pickerel fishing has been more productive than trout fishing. At least that’s been my experience. My mornings have been spent pond hopping around Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich and Marstons Mills without a trout to show for it. So, yesterday I made a few casts for some bass during my lunch break after a little care package from Tackle Direct came in the mail. It was loaded with suspending jerkbaits— a shipment I desperately needed. A handful of Shimano World Minnows, a few Megabass Vision 110s and a Rapala Mavrik 110 should be enough to revamp my dwindling jerkbait collection. I tied on a yellow-perch patterned Megabass Vision 110+1 and a few casts in, a decent pickerel took a swing at it. Even though the lure is armed with three treble hooks, the rear treble barely caught the tip of its jaw.

Chain pickerel love to eat yellow perch, so a perch-patterned jerkbait is a safe go-to for most ponds where the two coexist.

Talk about a delicate tap. I noticed the same thing in my bass fishing last week. In the wintertime, the fish are undoubtedly more hesitant to eat, and as a result, most of the fish I’m catching are just barely hooked somewhere on the outer lip. This 20-inch pickerel was no different.

All these subtle eats got me thinking about the minor tweaks we make to our tackle or our approach—these tweaks are often the difference makers between being skunked or catching. If you’re relentlessly casting lures and not getting bit (like me, on the trout ponds), try these winter fishing suggestions:

  • Cover more water
  • Use lighter or lower-diameter leader/line
  • try different retrieves
  • fish smaller baits
  • try the same lure in a different color
  • fish the deep, and don’t overlook depth transition areas
  • fish areas of changing bottom composition (i.e. weeds to sand/gravel, grass to mud etc.)

Taking a step back to observe my own approach to trout fishing was necessary to find a bite this week. So I took to an upper Cape pond that I rarely visit and started casting with…you guessed it, a 1/4-ounce gold spoon. I hiked to some new-to-me water and found small schools of yellow perch chasing baitfish that looked like banded killifish in shallow water. All morning I cast spoons, spinners, hair jigs and soft plastics hoping for a bite before ultimately switching back to a silver 1/4-ounce Kastmaster. “Maybe the difference in color will change something,” I thought. As I walked back toward the car, I made several casts over a weed bed that drops off a flat into the middle of the pond, retrieving the spoon a bit faster than usual with a few twitches here and there. After one twitch I felt the line go taught and set the hook on a whim, and moments later, a beautiful brown trout (and what I think is my largest brown from shore) came into view.

This brown trout was a nice surprise after several tough outings and expecting to catch rainbow trout, if anything.

Whatever the difference maker was—lure color, lure size, retrieve speed, retrieve depth etc.—that fish made my week. For Neal Larsson and friends, the difference maker was live bait. That’s winter fishing for you; trying it all and putting in extra effort in uncomfortable conditions for small, occasional victories.

Connor at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay said it’s been quiet this week with people getting back in the swing of things after the holidays. He had a young angler in the shop who was catching trout in Sandwich this week using little Rapala J7 jerkbaits, but that’s the only freshwater activity Connor had heard of. He said that the mackerel bite finally died off in the Canal, but they’re hearing of some of the best pollock and haddock fishing in years going on up north of Cape. George, their resident bottom fishing expert at the shop, said it’s been crazy fast action for big fish, and that hey were hooking up using baited rigs and jigs on every drop.

Christian at Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis said freshwater fishing is still going strong, with trout being the most popular target. The shop just got a whole new order of bass and trout lures, so swing by to grab first dibs. Christian said that their customers are fishing the ponds in Marstons Mills and Sandwich, catching brown and rainbow trout on bait, lures and flies. He pointed out that there was a small midge and stonefly hatch this week that made things easier for the fly guys. I’m not as in tune with the fly scene, so I was surprised to learn of winter hatches. Christian said that any flies imitating small insects— around size 14 to size 16— are doing the most damage, but anglers can also tie on big streamers to entice a bite if small midges aren’t getting noticed.

Captain Cam Faria of Cambo Charters has been busy with commercial trips recently, and today, he went out pollock fishing north of Cape and found stellar action from the first drop. Big pollock were hitting the deck one after another, hammering their jigs as soon as they hit bottom. He plans to go out again this weekend for round 2!

A reminder: Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth is on winter hours, so they’ll be closed for the month of January.

Cape Cod Fishing Forecast

The weekend weather looks particularly cold and unfavorable for fishing, with low temperatures dipping into the 20s and a rain storm forecasted for Sunday. The next week looks like much of the same temperatures, so we may experience some skim ice forming on the ponds overnight into the mornings. It’s unlikely that it will be cold enough for safe ice, but only time will tell.

If you can sneak out for some fishing this week, the best options are for pickerel and trout, and maybe some white perch in the salt ponds. Before this storm rolls in on Sunday, it might be worth making a few casts for holdover stripers, too. The change in pressure can drive fish to feed before a new front moves in, so plan ahead and strategically time your outings whenever possible. Pick up some bait or a few new lures at your local tackle shop and get down to your favorite pond to see what’s eatin’. Fishing conditions may not be warm or comfortable, but when you tie into a new PB or discover a killer trout bite, it’ll be that much more rewarding.

Thanks for reading and until next week, tight lines to all.

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

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