Fishing is all about expectations. As we pulled away from the Gurnet to steam across the Bay, false dawn still hanging heavy in the air, with an empty livewell, my expectations were low.
My low expectations for the day, it turned out, would end up being wildly wrong.
The striper season has been hit-or-miss so far in our young season. We’ve found some great action in local Bay spots–even if the mackerel have been tough to come by.
But the cows, the 25, 30, 35 pounders that generally hang around Cape Cod Bay this time of year, just seemed to be missing.
I got an encouraging text from a member on a fishing forum, Chris G, a fishing buddy I had never met, but who is sporting a brand new center console and an appetite for catching large similar to mine.
“Got a confirmed report of 30 pounders at (location emitted) the past few days,” the text read. This was Friday, and with an early pre-dawn trip set for the following morning, it didn’t seem like I’d be getting any work done that day. The phrase “Christmas Eve” may have been thrown around a few times.
But just as I was running the mental image of casting to 30-pound stripers through my head for the sixteenth time, I received another text–this time from Ron, a member on that same forum. He was fishing that morning in P-Town.
“Tons of bait, birds, but very slow. Disappointing!” Ron said. “Can’t figure. Would have done better staying in Plymouth but that’s fishing.”
And with this, my expectations crashed. Had the fish moved out to deeper water? South of the backside? Had they vanished? These thoughts ran through my head as I convinced myself I’d wake up at 2:30am the next morning, cruise across the Bay only to get skunked after promising my buddies that we “would absolutely catch cows.” This was going to suck.
The Report: Finicky fish, but fish nonetheless
Flash forward to dawn, Saturday morning. We arrived at Race Point and was met with birds, boats (a small fleet, turning into a larger and larger fleet every half hour that passed) and juvenile sand eels dimpling the surface.
Out past the lobster pot line, we were able to fill up the livewell quickly with all sizes of mackerel–tinkers up to “hoss” mackerel.
In Herring Cove, we began marking small schools of fish and set three mackerel out.
I can’t explain to you how comforting the first ‘zzzzzzzzzzzzz’ of a baitrunner sounded that morning.
After a relatively short fight, Sean pulled a healthy 32″ striper, dark-lined, covered in sealice, out of the water. And just like that, the skunk was off, and the confidence on the Mal de Mer soared.
The next hour of the incoming tide, we picked up four more fish in this exact size range on live mackerel. They would not touch a single artificial. As the tide slackened and turned, I got a text from Chris:
“Blitzing. Amazing action. Get here.”
I started the engine and had the boat in gear and wide open before mackerel were in the boat. We made the turn around the point and headed for the fleet off in the distance.
This is when it got really fun.
Cows crashing the surface
When we arrived, we immediately began marking schools of big fish in 120′ of water. We dropped mackerel, and both were picked up before the bail was closed. I dropped a Bill Hurley Sand Eel and it got crushed on the drop. We were tripled up.
One at a time, we landed the fish, maneuvering around the boat. These were different size class fish than the ones from earlier in the day. These fish were all 36″+ and FAT. The cows were here.
We chased small pods of birds and found vicious surface action everywhere we looked. Mackerel and herring were being batted out of the water and chased in circles. Big broom tales slapped the surface.
We made the switch to surface plugs. 30 yards from the bow, I saw panicked mackerel swimming on the surface, followed closely by a big dorsal fin. I threw a guppy into its path and the striper veered away from chase and smashed the plug.
I moved to the back of the boat to fight the fish, where it took huge amounts of drag and made it’s heading straight toward the bottom.
Sean–who hadn’t quite experienced the thrill that is topwater fishing–moved to the bow and threw a Lil’ Doc into the fray and began walking the dog.
It got hit. “Come on, hit it again!” he was screaming. The plug got whacked again. “Come and get it!” The bass erupted around the plug and it disappeared. His rod arched into a U and the drag screamed. Sean let out a yell and fought the fish like he had been using plugs to catch cows his whole life. Both fish were at least 25 pounds.
A true cow
We continued chasing the schools, and Ryan dropped one of our last mackerel off the back of the boat. After a few minutes, I heard what sounded like a hundred newspapers being shredded, as the rod in the holder arched and the reel screamed. Ryan picked up the rod and could do nothing, as the fishing continued taking line. The amount of line this fish took on the first run was unfathomable.
It finally slowed, and Ryan was able to pump the rod back and gain line. The fish took another run, taking more line.
“Either this fish is really big or I’m really weak,” Ryan said. And with Ryan not being a weak man, we decided the former was the correct assumption.
He fought the fish for ten minutes and it finally surfaced, monstrous mouth agape.
We struggled to lift her up, got a few pictures, and took a quick weight. 34 pounds.
I revived her and she bit down on my thumb and I let her go kicking off into the darkness.
The sun rose higher in the sky and the bite died off. The ride home was smooth.