Targeting and catching striped bass consistently in Plymouth Bay (also called the “Three Bays” when including Kingston and Duxbury) can be tough. Take my word for it. I grew up fishing this area, and only in the past five years began to figure the whole thing out. It took me hundreds of hours of searching, gas burning, Google Map scouting and info prying from the charter guys to be able to catch big fish consistently.
While it may not hold the promise of big fish on every outing like some other popular Cape Cod Bay striper locations, the light tackle and topwater fishing opportunities in the Three Bays are spectacular, even world-class. The bay is dynamic and complex and features almost every type of striper structure that we find in the Northeast. It’s a totally unique location. And most importantly, it holds lots of striped bass.
Want to find and catch more stripers here? These 12 tips should get you well on your way to finding success fishing the Three Bays.
*A note: while this was developed with Plymouth Bay in mind, all of these tips can be utilized along the striper coast. Most of this can be applied to both boat and shore anglers but some of it is specialized, and I’ve clarified which tactic I’m speaking about in the sections.
1. Get out before dawn and fish the Bay in the dark
This one is easy. Set your alarm and do not press snooze. If you want to encounter the first-light topwater action, you need to get out before false-dawn. This will put you into position to find the blitzes before they materialize by scouting out schools of bait or restless terns and gulls. For you shore fishermen especially, fish the night tides. Big bass will come into the troughs and boulder fields in shallow water around the beaches to feed at night. Some monster bass can be had off Long Beach and the Manomet beaches.
2. Boat anglers: Pick a strategy and get really good at it
When fishing from the boat in Plymouth Bay, I generally employ one or a combination of four very broad strategies. These are:
Fishing with live bait
The mackerel will usually show up just outside of the bay before the bass do. On a calm day before the sun comes up, you can usually see them dimpling the surface. Most days, when the wind is up, you’ll need to cruise around with a close eye on your sonar. When you find a school, you can usually load up your livewell quickly. As the season wears on, the mackerel will spread out. Trolling a sabiki is a great way to find mackerel that are dispersed. Look to 40’ – 65’ when attempting to find the schools. Once you’re loaded up, take your mackerel and fish the many structure points inside the Bay. Pogies will also show up around mid summer. Plymouth Harbor, Warrens Cove, Duxbury Harbor, and Powderpoint Bridge will usually hold more than a few schools of Menhaden. Use the snag and drop method or a cast net to load the livewell. Keep searching schools to find the ones that the bass are hounding.
Trolling tube and worm, umbrella rigs, or jigging wire are all productive ways to catch stripers in the Three Bays. Trolling through the rips and channels by Saquish, Clark’s Island, the Cowyard, and Cordage can give you some excellent fishing. But don’t overlook the generally structureless bottom by Warren’s Cove and off Long Beach.
Run and gun topwater
A big outgoing tide at dawn will usually give you a spectacular topwater feed. West wind is a recipe for an all-out blitz. Look to the birds to find the fish. Have a Heddon Super Spook, un-weighted soft bait (like a FishSnax or Hogy), Guppy plug, and an SP Minnow on hand and you’ll be golden.
Similar to the run and gun, you’ll be throwing softbaits, topwaters, plugs, and jigs into structure points. This one is pretty broad. Big bass will hang in rips, just outside of channels, eelgrass beds, flats, and boulder fields. My favorite tactic is to target big bass in skinny water boulderfields with a big plugs like a Guppy Jobo Jr. or a Bigfish Bait Co. Blitzseeker
3. Pay attention to tides
Like the rest of Cape Cod Bay, Plymouth Bay has an 8’ to 10’ tide based on moon phase and other factors. This means that locations will fish drastically different depending on the tidal stage. This also means the fish will be moving quickly. A big school of bass may set up in a rip and disappear seemingly instantaneously. Different locations fish better depending on the tide structure, so make sure to keep a log documenting when and where you’ve had the most success. When targeting rips and flats for example, I’ve always had the most success fishing the outgoing. One of the most important pieces of advice is to find these patterns. The skunk can always happen, but you can make it an exception rather than a rule if you keep good logs and begin to understand the patterns.
Remember, big tides mean lots of moving water, which almost always translates to better fishing. Bass are ambush feeders and wait for prey to be swept out into open water to feed. So whatever you do, fish those big tides.
4. Boat anglers: Scout out structure and bottom composition
Plymouth Bay is loaded with all types of geographical formations like flats, guzzles, channels, holes and rips. You’ll also find plenty of eelgrass beds which are havens for cruising stripers. Tidal rips are my favorites spots to find ravenous bass. Set up on top of a fast-moving rip and drift a big fly, softbait or live mackerel through and hold on.
Finding bass holding to structure is a game of feet. If you’re twenty feet off the structure, you might as well be a mile. Big bass are lazy. You need to get your offering right on top of them to get them to eat. Use your sonar, chartplotter, and Google Earth to pinpoint and hold on structure.
5. Shore anglers: search out areas with these three types of fishy structure
You can find surf troughs off Plymouth Beach, Long Beach and Duxbury Beach. These are especially productive night locations. My favorite way to fish them is with weighted soft plastics on jigheads or SP Minnows, or if the surf is calm, a black darter or spook plug. Fish congregate to these areas targeting baitfish swept into the troughs. Fish them accordingly.
Channels can be found all throughout the inner bay. The tough part is finding shore spots where you can cast into these channels. If you have access to a kayak or small boat, it becomes very easy, as you can land on one of the many flats and sandbars at low tide and fish the channels surrounding it. You can find other reachable channel spots on the inside of Plymouth Beach and Duxbury Beach, off Nelson Beach, Stephens Field and by Powderpoint Bridge. Big fish like to hang on the edges, so dragging a bucktail is always a good way to target a bite. Bait guys do very well throwing clams or mackerel into the channels from shore.
You can find boulder fields in Warrens Cove, around Manomet and all the way down the southern shoreline of Plymouth. These boulder fields are best fished during low light conditions around low tide. Big bass will cruise the shallows at night feeding on lobsters, eels and baitfish. Any type of eel pattern will work here, but the best thing to throw will be a live one. Rumor has it there are some monster bass that are caught here well through November. These are also great Spring spots for newly migrated bass.
6. Blowin’ in the Wind
Wind direction is an extremely important factor to consider when fishing in general, but this seems to be magnified when fishing the Three Bays. A light West wind can light the entire bay up, but a North or East wind will kill it almost immediately. Due West, Northwest, or Southwest always seems to produce the best fishing and topwater action.
7. Match Game
The type of forage in the Bay can vary depending on stage of the season. The most common type of bait you’ll find bass feeding on are peanut bunker, silversides, mackerel, herring and adult pogies. Longfin squid also make an appearance during the middle of the season. The arrival of these cephalopods drives the bass bonkers. You’ll know a squid blitz when you see one. Nothing beats seeing a squid jettison completely out of the water to avoid the jaws of a bass. When fishing the flats use flies or lures that represents crabs, shrimp, or small lobsters.
8. Find the birds, find the fish. But if you want a biggin’, target structure around schools
Most days, especially during the early and later parts of the season, you can find some type of topwater action in the Three Bays. These blitzes can last from five minutes to entire tides. If you find diving terns, you’ll find the bait, and subsequently, the bass. However, these tend to be the smaller fish. We have an influx of micro to 20” fish throughout the season. The big bass will be lurking either directly underneath or along the closest channel edge. These blitzes will mostly occur close to the flats, so finding the edge shouldn’t be too difficult.
9. If you don’t find fish at a spot, move on
Like I mentioned before, fish in the Three Bays move quickly, so if you’re not marking any fish, move on. There are hundreds of productive spots in the Bay. If one isn’t producing, go find one that is. Use your sonar to mark fish. Or, use a searching lure or technique to scout out productive spots.
10. Get Skinny
It’s not uncommon to see big keeper bass nosing the bottom along the flats and guzzles in the bay. There are numerous large flats that hold big bass on either side of low tide. On the flats, bass will be eating smaller baitfish, lobsters and crabs. Make sure to tailor your offering to the available bait.
11. Then get fat
But don’t be afraid to try other deeper, seemingly structureless areas (sandy beaches, contour lines). The biggest fish in Plymouth Bay will generally be found in these areas. And the only way to find these fish effectively and consistently is to troll. A great technique is to troll SP Minnows or Magic Swimmers slowly along the contour lines. Tube and worm, umbrella rigs, and jigs on wireline will also pull up the bass.
12. PUT. YOUR. TIME. IN.
Fishing the Three Bays is a unique and humbling experience. Some days, the fishing can be as easy as finding the birds. Other days, a single striper can feel like a win. The only way to guarantee success is to put your time in and take good notes. Eventually, patterns and spots will become much easier to spot. Spend as much time as you can out in the Three Bays, and eventually you’ll begin to figure out a small piece of it.