9/22/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
Fishing in the Big Ditch has been pretty consistent this week, with a wide range of sizes amongst the bass being caught, while albies continue to entertain and frustrate anglers and the bluefish numbers haven’t been as prolific.
Jeff Miller from Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore believes that the fish are feeding a good amount of time on small to medium squid, making white offerings productive, including the Canal Bait Bullet Pencil in white. A loaded pencil popper, this plug can be worked at various depths as well as on the top, based on the current speed and how long and what retrieve someone uses. Of course, white paddletails are working as well along with green mackerel – if you already have them because the word is that they are tough to come by.
Along with schoolies up to slot fish, some really big bass showed up on the AM dying west tide and turn to the east yesterday at the west end. Some 40-pound fish were caught; in fact, one guy managed a cow on one cast and then the next fish he hooked was what Jeff called “a dink,” a term saved for a really small schoolie. Jeff emphasized that while the morning tides get plenty of attention, there has been some solid activity in the late afternoon/evening as well.
I made my morning visit to Bell Road today and there were a fair number of folks hoping for shots at the albies “that have been blowing through with the tide,” Jeff told me. Pink and Echix (pink and chartreuse) have been producing a good number of the little tunny that people have managed to hook up with; landing them has been another matter given the combination of the speed of the current in the Big Ditch and the long runs these fish make, which often produce significant slack in the line and the hook popping free.
One of the challenges anywhere you target Fat Alberts – and bonito, for that matter – is they can be finicky as all get out when they are feeding on small bait. On numerous occasions, Capt. Mike has extolled the virtues of the Pop-and-Fly rig which is a clear Hogy Charter Grade Popper with the hooks removed, a two foot or so shot of light fluorocarbon leader material tied to the tail loop, and a fly like the Hogy Protail Fly. This gives you added distance and the popper produces commotion that grabs the fish’s attention where it sees an offering that matches the hatch.
I did see a couple of folks using casting eggs with trailer flies and even some opting to trade a hookless Epoxy Jig for the popping plug. Add in a fly angler who was just rollcasting a bug close to shore and it was an interesting crowd. If you are a practitioner of the long wand, I did hear that some albies have been caught by flyrodders and light tackle casters who have waded out onto the mud flats when the tide allows, giving them shots at the drop off that albies love to run; I even heard one story that the little tunny actually went onto the flats around high water this week.
Finally, you won’t find a better place to target tautog if you’re a shore angler than the Ditch; the Maritime Academy is always a popular tog spot, but you will find them on pretty much any hard structure. Shops are selling plenty of crabs, with both traditional rigs with a bank or dipsey sinker for weight or the tautog jigs tipped with a crab working well. And just a reminder: the bag limit at the moment is three fish per day per angler and on October 15 it jumps to five fish. No matter the number of tog you can legally keep, only “one fish may exceed 21” as stated in the DMF regulations.
9/15/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
The action in the Canal has been end-to-end the last several days with bass, blues, and a charge of albies and even some bonito getting plenty of attention from anglers, said Bruce Miller from Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore. There have been some larger bass around the Stone Church, with the largest fish Bruce heard of this morning measured 45-inches. Everything from pencil poppers to paddletails, both in white and pink, have been working as there has been a push of smaller squid in the Ditch, along with some schools of peanut bunker and a few mackerel.
Although it has been pretty common for the funny fish to latch onto a larger lure intended for the bass, Bruce emphasized that the E-Chix Hogy Epoxy Jig has been the top choice for many anglers who are targeting albies and bonito.
Although the word for the boat crew in Buzzards Bay and the sounds is that smaller EJ’s have been needed since the funnies have often been feeding on tiny bay anchovies or silversides, which are often called “snot bait” due to their size and translucent coloration that reminds people of – well, you get the picture – in the Canal you will need larger Epoxies mainly for the required casting distance, from 1.25 to 2-ounce; in extreme situations where you have to reach fish that are staying way out, you could even upsize to the Tuna Rigged version which is 4-ounces, but is still relatively small at 6-inches.
Albies also love squid, including the smaller ones that Bruce M. mentioned earlier as well as cephalods in the four to six-inch range; over the years, a number of winning bonito have been caught by folks livelining spike mackerel, and although the general consensus is that there aren’t a ton of mackerel of any size around in the Ditch at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise me that the bones have found them.
Finally, the blues in the Canal are definitely showing a preference for soft plastics at times as opposed to hard baits like plugs that are far more resistant to their dentures, leading to some cursing about “yellow eyed devils” amongst the anglers while local tackle shop owners are more than willing to help folks restock their supplies of “rubbers” since a paddletail without a paddle is a sorry lure, indeed.
There can be little argument that the Canal is one of the most challenging places to learn how to fish; in fact, unlike the internet heroes who are only too happy to post videos when the fish are blitzing and herding bait right along the riprap, there is a limited number of regulars who can find fish and catch them consistently throughout the season. That’s why it was cool to talk with Gary Engblom who was down fishing the moon tides at the Canal this week; he is such a humble guy, more than willing to mention how much he has learned about fishing the Ditch from folks who have been fishing it for years. In fact, somebody suggested that Gary get his hands on a few of Jeff Miller’s Canal Bait loaded pencil poppers in white, part of his Dirk series. When he did, Gary went right to the water and began to work on learning this plug’s nuances and was planning on putting it to use, although he had caught fish earlier in the week on other offerings, including a just overslot 31.5-inch bass on a soft plastic paddletail.
9/8/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
According to Jeff Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore, a large percentage of the folks fishing the Big Ditch this week have been heading to the west end, especially around the railroad bridge. The morning bite has been good with white soft plastic paddletails producing lots of fish, from schoolies to an increasing number of bigger bass. It’s always interesting to see folks come into shops that specialize in the Canal and ask for green mackerel or perhaps wacky mackerel and then walk out if there aren’t any available; meanwhile, white paddles, whether they have more of the detailed mackerel configuration of Jeff’s Canal Bait series as well as another manufacturer; more of a sand eel, narrow design; or even the fuller body, internally weighted versions that some would argue started the whole paddletail craze, are catching plenty of fish.
If for some reason you believe that the fish won’t take a plain white lure that doesn’t have the characteristic vermiculations of a mackerel, it just takes a little work with a black permanent marker to add your own. You can even add these to loaded plastic plugs if you need to, but Jeff emphasized that his white, three-ounce pencils and spooks have been doing well without any doctoring at all. While his Dirk series can be worked to the top during the retrieve, at the moment a subsurface approach has been better, especially if you are targeting on larger fish.
Of course, if crowds aren’t your thing – and things can get downright hairy around the west end when the bite is on – there are also bass to be had around the east end, especially from the power plant to the bulkhead.
8/26/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
For shore fishing, the Big Ditch definitely remains your number one bet for bass on foot, which is really nothing new over the last I couldn’t say how long. I can say it has to do with seals and beach closures, but I suppose I should do some research to add that piece of Cape fishing history to my memory bank – or at least my laptop, since the old gray matter isn’t what it used to be.
Fish movement is certainly an often discussed and theorized about subject and there’s no inshore area where that is truer than the land cut. According to Bruce Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore, yesterday there was a very good topwater bite during the morning mid current portion of the west tide. The stretch from High Bank to the iron works gave up a lot of 40+-inch fish to white or yellow, 3 to 3.5-ounce pencil poppers, matching the small whiting that the fish were feeding on.
Plenty of people still throw traditional style pencils harkening back to the inventor of this style of plug, Stan Gibbs, but over the last who-knows-how-long, a newer generation of what can best be described as a grenade style pencil has really caught on. Plenty of people have claimed to be the inventor of this design, but like pretty much everything in fishing, things that are often referred to a groundbreaking are either only tweaks to an old lure or even a direct copy of something from back in the day that folks forgot about or didn’t know about before they came across it, from that point forward claiming it as their own.
Just like pencils, the grenade style plug allows for plenty of variation within body shape and I imagine this must result in differences in casting quality and the ease of getting it to work on the surface. I have never cast one since I fish from a boat most of the time, so distance isn’t as critical.
Jeff Miller has his own Canal Bait line of grenade pencils, but I what I appreciate is that he also carries those from other folks, including some small batch custom builders. And knowing the Millers’, they would never hesitate to recommend someone else’s plug if it meant helping you catch fish.
That aside, what I do know about the grenade style of plug is that its extreme tail weighting allows for better turnover of the plug, which is critical to getting better distance. The worst feature of a casting plug is if wobbles, sails, or flutters in the air – well, I suppose if it doesn’t catch fish, that is even more problematical. Back in the day when pretty much every serious Canal angler using conventional reels, a plug with poor aerodynamic qualities and improper weighting would guarantee a backlash or an aborted cast well short of the target in an attempt to stop a pile of line from forming, which in turn would result in lost fishing time as you tried to pick it out or a snapped off plug. Nowadays, there are conventional reels with electronic controls that prevent overruns – which is the euphemism popular among casters who can’t acknowledge that they, indeed, backlash from time to time. There are still reels that use magnetic or centrifugal brakes to control line flow, both during the cast and at the end, but there is still something magical about picking up a properly tuned and lubricated Squidder and giving it a whirl – although I prefer my Newell’s that have no controls and bearings that absolutely scream.
Of course, all of this talk about conventional reels has been rendering moot by reel makers beefing up spool shafts, gearing, and rotors so that spinning winches are the choice of 99.9% of the people who fish the Canal. Add in super thin, coated braided lines and a well-designed spinner featuring a long cast spool and a properly tuned oscillation system– which improves line lay – and a good coffee grinder outfit can almost match the best conventional rig in the hands of a good caster. I say “almost” because even though braid keeps the line diameter from dropping as quickly as mono does – thereby reducing friction on the lip of the spool – a conventional reel doesn’t suffer from this design limitation.
There is no substitute for casting practice, however; no amount of the best equipment will help you learn to load a rod smoothly and powerfully to aid in plug turnover; this doesn’t mean thrashing about applying force willy nilly. This “style” of cast will result in a lure flying even more out of control.
I was sitting around Bell Road earlier this week watching a couple of folks jigging plastic paddletails; one guy, who was fishing the Ditch for the first time on a visit from Florida to attend a wedding, picked up two bass on a blue plastic. It could have had mackerel markings, but I’m not into going up to someone and grabbing their lure to see what it is. From a distance, however, I could tell it was a mackerel shaped plastic, one that had pretty detailed fins in its molding.
Another angler was using a pink, thinner paddle, more sand eel in shape, but all he managed to do was hook bottom because he clearly didn’t understand the limitations of the arc that you can fish a jig in the Canal before you have to reel pretty darn quickly before you add it to the tons of lead – and now plastic – on the bottom. He kept having his young son wade into the Canal to grab on the line and pull to free the jig, which is never a good idea for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here, and then he kept yanking on his rod and putting a huge bend in it. I can’t imagine that anyone who has jigged this body of water hasn’t donated at least one bucktail or paddle to its bottom, but at some point, you have to break it off and with the new braided line, that’s become more of a challenge. All you can do is walk until your line goes straight to the jig, lock the drag down, and walk straight back, with no bend in the rod; the principles of physics will find the weak spot in the line or leader – usually a knot – and you will break off.
Finally, Bruce is confident that the fish which were caught on Thursday aren’t a new school that moved in from Cape Cod Bay, but the larger fish that had been west and followed the bait from mid to just shy of the Sagamore. Odds are, that as long as there is enough bait to hold them – especially larger stuff – they will ping pong back and forth and ride the currents to their advantage, challenging folks to learn how to do the same. So far, the schools of mackerel and pogies are keeping the big fish happy up around Boston and it should be a couple of weeks at least before they start moving towards the Canal – unless they scoot across the bay and down the backside.
8/18/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
The Big Ditch just might be the both the easiest and most complicated place to fish on Cape Cod. The easy part is that typically, if you have the bait, you are going to have fish; I’m not going to say large or small or what species, but the currents and structure in the land cut make for ideal feeding habitat for many types of fish.
And, according to Bruce and Jeff Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore, the bait part came together earlier this week, with some squid, baby river herring, peanut bunker, silversides, and sand eels calling in the big guns: the mackerel. Fish aren’t stupid; while they will feed heavily on small bait if that is all this is available, if there is big bait around like macks, pogies, adult herring, and adult squid, that is what they are going to feed heavily on as they get the most bang for their buck – in the form of protein – for the effort they have to put in to fill their bellies.
So it only makes sense that green mackerel paddletail jigs are flying out of local shops, both those that cater to the Canal Rats and those from a distance away that still have a good network that can fill them in on the pulse of what is going on in the Ditch. In fact, when I was visiting Canal Bait yesterday, Bruce and Jeff were busy replacing tips on rods, re-spooling line, and even showing folks how to tie the correct knots to rig up, so I struck up a conversation with Paul Seriac, a shop regular and owner of Freddie, the most adorable, personable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who greets everyone with a smile and a wag – and she even dances when Paul asks her to, with a cookie to follow. Paul said that Jeff’s stock of Canal Bait design paddletails – especially the 5.5-ounce size – in green mack was dangerously low, with folks grabbing them a half dozen or more at a time.
Paul added that with an increased number of bluefish around, it makes sense to choose jigs that can be re-rigged with new tails – and that’s a feature of Jeff’s paddletail leadheads that he made sure to include, as well as ordering a healthy supply of replacement tails.
Now, I am pretty blasé when it comes to lure colors, still opting for the most basic offerings even with so many incredible paint jobs on both wooden and plastic plugs, and the folks who spend all of their non-work hours fishing the Canal swear that at times one color is killing it and the fish are turning their noses up at anything else. Along with green, wacky mackerel combines pretty much all of the hues that mackerel paddletails can come in and Bruce is a big fan of that coloration. I have even heard that the actual color of mackerel change based on their size, with larger ones tending towards dark blue or almost black and smaller, juvenile ones light green/chartreuse or almost white.
When it comes to the complicated part, there are a number of books written about fishing the Ditch and you can read all of them and still not catch fish consistently. Wind direction can influence whether the bait is concentrated on the Cape or off Cape side; the moon impacts the strength of the currents, as does wind direction; certain rips and holes shape up for only a brief time during any tide cycle; and so on. I had the pleasure of talking with a young man named Donovan and his mom who have been up here this week from the Chesapeake area and it has been a tough go for him. Mac over at Riverview Bait & Tackle in South Yarmouth did a great job of setting him up an outfit that wouldn’t break the bank and that he could use back home: a sturdy ten-foot rod that can handle four ounce jigs with a Daiwa BG reel of appropriate size to match, along with an assortment of proven Canal paddletails. Donovan has hooked up, but the key was helping him understand where he wanted to be – again, in general – based on the direction and stage of the current.
Oh, and while Donovan was visiting Canal Bait, Jeff noticed that the ceramic ring had popped out of his tip top and changed it out right there. Try getting that kind of service online or a big box store.
8/12/23 by Capt. Dave Peros
Right now we are in the weaker stages of the moon cycle, with the new moon coming up on August 16; these slower periods of current movement often coincide with equally stagnant fishing, but Jeff Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore said there are still fish around, but you have to work for them.
What is a pretty good indication that any larger fish are being caught jigging some form of heavy soft plastic paddletail or pig-and-jig, especially early in the morning and again at night. There are plenty of different color soft plastic tails that feature mackerel markings, but green is always a good place to start. But if you happen to run into a feed where the fish will only take one color and you aren’t carrying it, well, you are in for some major frustration.
I do have to admit to some confusion over the absolute belief that one color will trump another mainly because in the days when bucktailing ruled the Big Ditch, you basically had white . . . and then more white and some black as well for the nighttime. Now, it is possible that today’s striped bass have been far more selective in terms of what they will take, but over the last week or so, I have taken some time to study the body and paddle configurations of the most popular soft plastic leadheads out there, as well as the density and “feel” of the plastic that folks use in their baits.
All of this has to impact rate of descent, as well as what angle a leadhead takes as it sinks – such as tail down or head down or perfectly horizontail – as well as what it does when it is jigged or swum. Jeff even showed me how he designed the head on his paddletail to sit and bounce a certain way on the bottom, similar to the way true Canal legends like Stan Gibbs, Stan Kuzia, Bunny DiPietro, and others used to create their own leadhead and eelskin rig configurations, as well as carve prototype plugs to see how their ideas would work in reality.
There are some bluefish in the land cut, especially at the west end, and that will drive anglers crazy and manufacturers thrilled; as Capt. Mike once joked, “Bluefish are his best business partners.” If they are prevalent, then carrying a design with interchangeable/replaceable tails, such as the new Hogy Thumper series, is a wise way to go.