The Angler’s Guide to Cape Cod Canal Etiquette

Mind your manners when fishing the Ditch this season.

Cape Cod Canal

In 2018, the crowds at the Cape Cod Canal reached all-time highs while etiquette reached all-time lows. Rumored indiscretions included crossed lines (rude!), double-parking at Gallo’s Skating Rink (ill-mannered!), and pulling a gun on a fellow angler (discourteous!).

Before your Canal cotillion, learn how to comport yourself in the manner Mr. August Belmont Jr. envisioned when he began digging the Ditch more than 100 years ago. What follows will be your guide to proper decorum along the 7-mile waterway that connects Buzzards and Cape Cod bays.

Be Punctual

The Cape Cod Canal has an international reputation for its fishing. On any given sunrise, you may be fishing next to a fisherman from Falmouth, Massachusetts, or Falmouth, United Kingdom. Therefore, during the prime times and tides, crowds are an inevitability.

Early-waking fishermen stake claims to the rocks hours before sunrise, and have earned their spots. If you slept in and find your favorite spot occupied, you’ll have to keep moving. Set your alarm earlier the following day if you want better odds of securing that spot.

If you woke up early and claimed your favorite rip-line or point, it’s up to you to stay there. Jamming a rod in the rocks does not sufficiently save your spot if you leave to go to Dunkin’ or scout other areas.

And, regardless of when you wake up and where you end up, don’t be discouraged. While some parts of the Canal seem to hold bait and bass longer, on many mornings the bass move through with the tide, and everyone gets a shot at the fish.

Mind Your Table Manners

When taking your place along the rocks, be sure to leave a respectful distance between yourself and any nearby anglers. Keep in mind that “respectful distance” is inversely proportional to the size of the crowd. On an empty Canal at 2 a.m., 100 feet (roughly the distance between two of the telephone poles that line the service road) is too close. One hundred yards can be too close in that situation.

At sunrise during the week of the full moon, when fishermen are lined up shoulder to shoulder for as far as you can see, a 20-foot opening can work. Just be sure to ask the fishermen who were already there if it’s okay if you join them. If they say “No,” you can be sure you didn’t want to fish around them anyhow.

When joining a crowd, remember that the fishermen who were there first have the “right of way.” That is, it’s up to you to fall into their rotation of casting. Watch for a couple minutes and then make your cast just after the angler immediately down-current of you has casted. This routine allows everyone to keep their lures in the water as much as possible.

Engage in Polite Conversation

Communication is key to a pleasant experience along the Cape Cod Canal. A friendly “Good morning,” to those near your location can start things off on the right foot, especially when fishing in tight quarters on a weekend.

When you hook a fish that heads down-current past several other fishermen, let them know with a “Fish on!” or “Coming down!” Assuming they’re men of taste and breeding, they will refrain from casting while you fight your fish. You’ll be expected to do the same for anyone up-current of you. Once you have your fish under control, let your down-current fishermen know it’s okay for them to resume fishing.

Should someone’s hooked fish tangle your line before you have a chance to clear it (it happens), keep the slack out of your line and work your way to the fisherman you’ve crossed. Allow him to deal with his catch, then set about untangling the lines.

Wear Proper Attire

While attire may seem to have little to do with etiquette, it does matter when it extends to footwear. The Canal is lined with slick, weed-covered rocks, and navigating them safely requires studded soles. Anglers without them may feel unsafe climbing down the rocks and will therefore be tempted to cast from the service road (uncouth!).

Casting from the service road is acceptable only when there are no other fishermen nearby, and even then, it is rough on the lures and fish that end up being dragged across the rocks. Always watch for bikers, joggers, and dogwalkers when casting from or near the service road.

The Canal is known for its strong currents and heavy fish—when fishing there, bring tackle that is able to handle those conditions. Tackle that is too light in the Canal will lead to drawn-out battles that take the fishermen down-current of you out of the game and will make your fish less likely to survive release. If you want to fish lighter tackle, make sure there is no one fishing down-current; otherwise, expect crossed lines during your prolonged fights.

Never Kiss and Tell

Refrain from immediately posting your Canal catches online. For every “like,” a few lurkers will be plotting their assault on your spot. Crowds are a reality at the Canal, but there’s no need to add to them with live videos and same-day reporting of the action. By all means, call your friends in on the action, but don’t invite the entire internet fishing community.

Regarding calling in friends: tipping off your buddies on where to meet you the following day is perfectly fine. Calling them to your exact pole number in the middle of a bite depends on how many fishermen are around you. Adding more anglers to an already crowded spot will be no fun for anyone involved, including you and your friends. Enjoy the fishing and leave your cell phone in your pocket until it’s time to take a picture.

Thank Your Host

Lure packaging, Dunkin’ cups, and Monster Energy empties all adorned the rocks after last year’s biggest bites in the Canal. Though man-made, it is still a strikingly wild place, complete with minks, herons, ospreys, seals, sea turtles, and, of course, striped bass. Bring your trash out with you, and for extra points, leave the Canal cleaner than you found it by grabbing the litter left behind by other, less-refined fishermen.

To learn more about fishing the Cape Cod Canal click here: Cape Cod Canal Cheat Sheet

24 on “The Angler’s Guide to Cape Cod Canal Etiquette

  1. Jack long

    This is the article I’ve been looking to see from someone big like otw too many people do the things that are outlined not to do in this article. if you don’t know how to follow a rotation you should not be fishing around the people that are or learn to be disciplined in ur casting and make accurate casts.

  2. Mad Trapper

    Don’t forget the shopping bag full of stale doughnuts!

    When there no action on either side and the bite is dead, toss in the doughnuts.

    The birds will start diving like there is a blitz going on and you can laugh as the anglers on the other side pull up their lines and scurry over the bridge to get in on the “action”.

    When they arrive, tell them about all the guys that just left, with 40 Lbers…….then the bite just died?

  3. Peter moore

    The irony of not kissing and telling and otw literally spot burning all the time is overwhelming

    1. GregW

      SPOT BURNING the Canal (REALY). Block island has big fish “was that spot burning”??
      I know your dad and his dad were famous sport fisherman that passed down secret spots just to you.
      Common now!

  4. Alex Glenn

    You can post everything you want about CCC Ettiquette, how about you stop blowing it up in every single report every week? It was in last weeks report as a place to catch fish. We don’t really have any fish up here yet? Sure there are schoolies, but you’re blowing it up on May 2nd?! What is August going to look like? Please for the love of god, do us all a favor that live down there, exlude it from your reports – stop posting about it

    1. Surfcat

      Saying “there are fish in the canal” is the equivalent of saying “there are fish in the ocean” like no crap dude, if you’re this hurt about OTW reporting on the canal bite, you seriously need some alternative fishing spots. Maybe you’re too lazy to find your own so you choose the biggest bottleneck in the entire migratory route of the striped population?

      1. Alex Glenn

        You’re a loser – they don’t say there are fish in the canal, they post pictures, mention landmarks and everything else. Coward

      2. Andrew Tenney

        Wow I guess you love reading the reports and joining the mob who relies on other people to tell them when to fish. But why do they even have to say anything about it? Honestly, they’re always fish in the canal, you’re right it’s a great spot! But any spot that has the potential to become ruined with crowds should be kept as hush hush as possible, that’s just the way good things are supposed to work if people want them to stay good.

      3. Surfcat

        You wanna resort to personal attacks fine. But the reality of it is the canal is highly transient. Just because one spot has fish on one ride doesn’t mean it will stay that way. And yes I do enjoy reading the reports but they don’t affect my fishing locations. I also do not fish the canal. I have my spots that produce consistently so I don’t need a report to tell me where to go. The canal is no secret -its glaringly obvious parking areas near popular spots and the fact that it has been written about in Striper fishing books for years gave it away as a fishing spot long before OTW began penning their weekly reports. You guys act like the canal was the best kept secret in Striper fishing before OTW began writing about it but it wasn’t. It has never been the secret spot you wish it was. It has literally all the elements any half-brained fisherman knows to look for when choosing where to fish.

      4. Surfcat

        Show me these reports where they are specifically telling you where to fish to within a couple hundred yards and I’ll shut up. No, East End/RR Bridge/West End/Herring Run do not count as OTW ‘blowing up the spot’ – those areas are massive and are akin to OTW saying ‘There are fish off the beach in Barnstable’

  5. Roy Tolliver

    I travel every year to Yellowstone park, wich are my old stomping grounds from my youth, and I hike in from 4 to 12 miles and I fish. I see nobody. The fish are plentiful and the a-holes are non existent, and that is why I don’t fish the canal. I Love to fish and I hate a-holes.I use the same logic on the Cape.

  6. Knot Local

    Sad to say the canal has turned into a zoo the last few years, and the animals have taken over!!! From the entitled clowns that think they own the place and the idiots with hand lines trying to work a plug. No more respect one break in the water and the animals swarm from service road casting behind people down below, it’s sickening even the regulars that should know better, but it’s do what I say not what I do. All to prove on social media groups that they are real fisherman

  7. dj6972

    Just for all my fellow anglers, beware, it is ILLEGAL to carry a firearm on any property maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It is my understanding that the Army Corps of Engineers maintains everything from the waters of the canal up to and beyond the access roads.

  8. Sandy Neck

    Amen to Knot Local!
    Things have gotten completely out of control. I’ve been fishing the canal for over 40 years and have never seen it so bad. I’ve staked out a location and fished there alone for hours, only to have the entitled animals try to drive me out when they descended in and declare the site to be theirs. The’re like motorcycle gangs on bicycles. They shout, curse, provoke and threaten. They cast from less than five feet away and create a situation where there is bound to be trouble. As Knot Local said, they think that they own the place. Several friends have also told me of unprovoked confrontations in recent years. It’s a scary situation to be outnumbered in a remote area where everyone is carrying knives (at the least), especially in the dark at night. Jeez, it’s fishing and is suposed to be relaxing, but it’s turning into exactly what I go there to avoid. Those patrolling the service road seem more interested in harassing the innocent people than protecting them. Mark my words: it’s a matter of time before someone gets hurt. And when it happens, they will probably have deserved it.

  9. Chuck

    Having growing in up in sandwich and riding my bike with pole in hand every chance I had,at age 7 I started to learn the water,the canal has always been hotspot for fisherman especially when the candy store is open to stripers….rarely do I ever fish it,I find same fish different areas.between self proclaimed local pros and snide looks and remarks to people with no common sense,ie one casts from above you from service road one sharp knife and quick zip on line will end that ..I’m not getting hooked cuz of someone’s stupidity…I love showing up with ratty jeans T-shirt and beat up gear and out fishing guy who has all the fancy stuff the way you look not gonna catch fish,everyone refers to seven miles when actually there’s 14 ..if you learn to read the water you should be able to find spot to ones self without bs and actually enjoy yourself…just because you can catch fish in one area a lot of the time doesn’t make anyone a pro,read the water and catch fish anywhere,anytime,any state…always have fun !!!!!!! Keep em tight

  10. Biff

    This needs to be posted conspicuously at the Canal. In several different languages. And Braille, too

  11. Scusset Jetty

    Not disagreeing with dj6972 here, and I’m not trying to turn this into a debate on gun control, but here is some food for thought…

    The USACE firearms prohibition was challenged successfully on Second Amendment grounds in ‘Morris vs USACE’ where the ban was found to be unconstitutional. I believe that ruling only applies officially in the state where the case was adjudicated (ID) for now, but could well be a basis to expand it elsewhere, including here.

    Furthermore, the presently pending H.R.664 ‘Recreational Lands Self-Defense Act of 2019’ proposes to officially lift the ban, and the USACE itself presently has declared ‘The Army Corps of Engineers is reconsidering the firearms policy’. Technically, someone legally transporting a firearm over either of the bridges in their vehicle could be considered in violation of present USACE regulations, since those bridges are under the Corps control. The regulation appears to be on rather precarious legal footing at this time.

    Lastly, I also read some shooters forums where I’ve seen more than a few comments indicating that people are simply disregarding the regulation. They seem to weigh a perceived significant risk of violence toward themselves, agaist the unlikely chances of getting caught violating the policy, and minimal punishment if they ever do get caught.

    Remember also that there are other types of weapons beyond firearms – e.g. knives, pepper spray, stun guns, etc. which people commonly carry.

    Bottom line is that the canal is potentially a dangerous place – remote, poorly lit and lightly patrolled. There have been violent crimes committed there in the past. My fellow anglers, or those intent upon threatening others, would be very mistaken to assume that no one is armed along the canal. Just something to keep in mind before starting trouble.

    Happy Fishing and Please Behave!

  12. Stretch

    With all the pissing contests goin on here I am definitely headed your way soon gentlemen. Ill be the tall dude in the aussie hat studying your techniques. And if I catch anything itll be photographed and sent back to sea. As a second year fisherman I am inexperienced and look for all the help I can scrounge. Be it good spots and or bait/rigs. I apologize in advance and thank you in the same breath…

  13. Marco

    Seems like everyone in this forum only fishes the Canal. The entire coastline of MA is productive.

    With social media pointing out locations, the Genie is out of the bottle. There’s no more secret spots. And with easy access along the Canal, it’s not going to get less busy. If you fish the Canal (newbie or veteran Ditch-caster), set your expectations that fishing etiquette won’t be followed. If you don’t like the crowds, fish elsewhere.

    For the past 20 yrs, I’ve landed 40+” stripers every year from shore. None were from the Canal. Honestly guys, there are other places to fish.

  14. Rl

    You can always tell the newbies when they’re dressed like they’re going to the moon. A mob of ten guys with Hip boots, vests, back packs, polarized sun glasses and checking gps coordinates on there iPhone. Basically guys from New Jersey and New York.

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