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By DAVE PEROSIf you go to the DMF website and check the section titled Recreational Finfish Regulations, under winter flounder you will be directed to a chart that will give you a visual reference of where the different regulations apply.One area that holds decent numbers of winter flatties and falls within the “north” designation, from what I have been told, is the Cape Cod Canal. Bruce Miller over at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore said that a few folks have been working the muddy areas of the Big Ditch, such as around the tanker cut and down toward Pip’s Rip, and picking at some flounder. One trick, Bruce said, is to use a heavy sinker and bounce and drag it along the bottom, coaxing the fish out of the mud, where they hang out with the water still really cold, and at the same time stirring up the bottom, uncovering worms and other tasty morsels for the fish to munch on.
Another popular flounder area is up inside Onset, noted Jeff Hopwood from Maco’s in Buzzards Bay and Monument Beach. There are productive, accessible shore spots where folks are using a little trick to increase their catches, Jeff explained. They wade out and cast one rod, returning to the shore to put it in a sand spike, and then cast out a second rod, again securing it in a rod holder. After a couple of minutes, they return to the first rod and reel it in slowly, dragging it along the bottom, stirring it up and bringing their baited hooks to the fish. Once they have reeled the first line in a short distance, they spike that rod and move to the second and use the reel-and-drag technique again. Moving back and forth between the two rods, once they have the lines completely retrieved, they move a short distance and repeat the entire process again.When I mentioned to Jeff that the old brass flounder spreader rigs would have worked great for this bottom dragging, he noted that they aren’t made anymore, but recalling bygone days stirred a memory of his dad, Dick, who used to tie a sash weight, the kind you’d find in old windows, to a line and fling them out into the water before dragging it back in across the bottom. Once he had covered an area, creating his own chum line, Dick would cast out his baited rods—another prime example of Yankee ingenuity.On the tautog front, Buzzards Bay is where most of the action on legal-size fish has been; shops that cater more to anglers who fish the sounds have been selling crabs, but not many folks have been reporting any real success.Jeff H. has spoken to a number of anglers who have been doing well in the usual B-Bay spots, such as Cleveland Ledge; Scraggy and Wing’s Neck; the old canal markers; Bird Island; Dry Ledge; and Southwest Ledge, with the sharpies having their own, lesser-known secret pieces of hard bottom structure. There are more fish being caught at and above the 16-inch recreational minimum, as well as some over 20 inches that tip the scales at five to six pounds. These aren’t the monster Togzillas they catch in other waters, but they provide a worthy tussle and taste just as good.Christian Giardini from Falmouth Bait & Tackle in Teaticket told of a friend who elected to take his boat out before work and eventually ended up around the west entrance to the canal; he didn’t have a great deal of time, but he managed a number of solid fish and said he could have done even better with more time on the water. Christian also heard that there have been some tautog caught in Woods Hole.No matter where you find them, remember that until May 31, the recreational limit for tog is three fish at a minimum of 16 inches per angler per day.As part of a grandfather/grandson mini-fly fishing school, Jon and Jake Kolb joined me up inside Waquoit Bay last Saturday to see if we could scare up a few schoolies. Unfortunately, the winds of the previous few days had apparently stirred things up, and despite finding water temperatures as high as 55 degrees, the only action we enjoyed was casting and seeing one small bass halfheartedly follow the fly.Jim Young from over at Eastman’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street in Falmouth had an interesting observation when I answered his query regarding the size of the bass that showed some interest in Jon’s offering. I couldn’t tell for sure and am aware how viewing a fish from above and through the water can result in a false sense of its size, but it did seem awfully small, leading Jim to suggest that it very well could have been a fresh arrival.
In his experience, holdovers in the Waquoit Bay area are generally in the mid-20-inch range to just shy of the recreational minimum of 28 inches, and I can assure you this schoolie didn’t approach range.Christian G. is convinced that the vast majority of schoolies being caught along the southside are holdovers, especially if they are caught up inside protected waters. He did add that it seems like more people are chasing freshwater bass than those from the salt and I suspect that might be the result of more-enjoyable conditions on a local pond, especially those with plenty of wind cover in the form of trees and even geography when they sit down in a hollow.The other word I received concerning southside stripers came courtesy of Amy Wrightson at the Sports Port in Hyannis; she had word of some schoolies from the Dowses area, just down the road from the Three Bays area, which has historically had good early season fishing as well.I always expect to hear word of schoolies in the typical Buzzards Bay backwater spots and A.J. Coots from Red Top in Buzzards Bay didn’t disappoint, pointing out that anglers are catching small stripers in the Weweantic and Agawam, as well as Buttermilk Bay, Red Brook Harbor, and other early season spots. What seems to be the biggest issue right now, A.J. offered, is the typically fickle spring weather, which has discouraged many striper hunters, as well as boaters hoping to get out and catch some tautog.One report that often indicates we are on the cusp of things breaking wide open came courtesy of Jeff Miller from Canal Bait: folks have been catching schoolies in the canal as well as the protected areas of Buzzards Bay. The fish are generally on the small side, Jeff advised, but he believes there is a chance that some bass approaching or even surpassing the legal minimum will be caught by this weekend. It’s actually pretty impressive to see how even stripers not much larger than alewives or bluebacks are encoded to try and get one down their gullets.Unlike the small bait such as silversides, sand eels, and mummichogs that smaller early-season stripers feed on in more protected waters, it’s river herring heading for the Bournedale run that pretty much get the undivided attention of bass in the Big Ditch. That’s not to say that backwater bass don’t like alewives, whether it’s up inside Popponesset or Cotuit, or Red Brook Harbor, or any number of other spots that feature runs, but given the prevalence of livelining in the canal when it was legal to take herring, the lures used in the land cut at this time of year are typically geared toward imitating these larger baitfish.Jeff is a fan of soft plastic paddletail jigs; at one time, it was most common to pair a favorite jighead with a paddle, but nowadays there are many companies that sell internally weighted, integrated paddletails as well as pre-rigged heads and tails. Although not as broad in profile as their cousins, the menhaden or pogy, river herring are certainly more substantial in girth than a sand eel, yet Jeff says that the Savage Sand Eel style is a top choice in the canal, in the spring and throughout the season. He likes the five-ounce size and recommends either the blue/silver or black/silver combinations, with the latter called, specifically, Dirty Silver.Down Hyannis way, especially in the area of Collier’s Ledge, the squid boats are out working, noted Andy Little from The Powderhorn, but they haven’t been coming up with much, if anything. A few recreational boats have been out at night with their lights, jigging around the weir off Wianno, but it’s been quiet for the most part. Once the squid show up in decent numbers, we should start seeing some larger bass as well as the first bluefish of the season.Largemouth bass fishing remains excellent, with suspending crankbaits and chatterbaits good choices, although it’s tough to be live shiners. Folks are also fishing Senkos and other plastics slowly along the bottom, both wacky-rigged or Texas-rigged.Trout fishing remains really good, with Jeff H. mentioning that a friend of his caught a trio of really nice, three pounds or so brown trout from a Falmouth pond, evidence of the broodstock fish that Scott Dietrich told me about a couple of weeks ago.Speaking of Scott, he was good enough to provide some tips about fishing the Quashnet, which along with Red Brook in Wareham and the Mashpee River are good choices for swinging flies for native brook trout. The Kolbs had hoped to give the Quashnet a shot last Sunday and if they did so, dealing with the rain and wind, they are better men than I. Scott’s recommendation is to fish downstream and swing flies such as the Hornberg, white marabou streamers, or even nymphs into the bends in the pools.
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