There’s no question that Massachusetts is one of the most striper-frenzied states on the East Coast.
With more than 1,500 miles of coastline, Bay State residents could easily make the case that Massachusetts has the best fishing for striped bass in the Northeast. And it would be difficult to argue. But how to find them? We took that huge coastline and boiled it down to the three essential spots you need to know to go shore fishing for stripers.
In the last 60 years, two fish weighing more than 70 pounds have come from Massachusetts. That’s a weight that is virtually unheard of when it comes to stripers. The world-record fish, caught in Connecticut, weighed 81.88 pounds.
The wide variety of different habitats that exist within this one state is part of what makes Massachusetts such a striper-friendly environment.
You can find striped bass in numbers on the flats of Brewster on Cape Cod, the North Shore and its rocky coastline, and the Cape Cod Canal. In one place or another, Massachusetts has everything striped bass are looking for along their migratory route.
As these fish swim south from Maine and New Hampshire in the fall, the first spot they’ll hit in Massachusetts is the North Shore.
Best Times To Catch MA Stripers
In the spring, striped bass will return to the south side of Cape Cod by late April or early May. They will be in Massachusetts near-shore waters in full force by mid-to-late May.
The month of June is consistently one of the best times for striped bass fishing in the Bay State.
However, by July the fish typically have pushed offshore or farther north. Surfcasters can still have some success at night, but it’s much more difficult to find big schools of feeding fish once water temperatures rise in the summer months.
The timing of the fall run will vary every year depending on weather patterns and ocean temperatures. However, with some reliability, the North Shore area of Massachusetts will see stripers starting to come through en masse in early October.
This southward migration often will pick up through the month toward its fall peak. Then it’s likely to slow down going through November toward Thanksgiving, with the biggest schools of fish already having passed to the south by the time that turkey timer pops.
Having that said, annual conditions vary and the run can always be earlier or later than it was in years prior, depending largely on weather and water conditions. Your best bet is always to keep an eye on local reports and if possible, check your favorite beaches for diving birds and signs of blitzing fish.
Best Striped Bass Fishing in MA
If you plan to catch stripers in Massachusetts, you need to know all about the following three striped bass fishing hot spots in the Bay State.
Plum Island is one of the most famous surfcasting spots in the Bay State.
Named for the beach plum shrubs that grow in the dunes, Plum Island is north of Boston and Salem and near the New Hampshire border. Its 11 miles of sandy beach offer a large target for surfcasters looking to intercept the fall migration.
It’s best to check out local guidelines and regulations for up-to-date parking information.
One of the most popular and productive parts of Plum Island can be the mouth of the Merrimack River, which flows out of Newburyport, just on the New Hampshire border.
There is beach access right in front of Surfland Bait and Tackle, in an area just north of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s tough to top fishing for stripers with live or fresh bait anywhere in the surf, and the North Shore is no exception. Chunked mackerel is an especially popular option north of Cape Cod.
The best way to fish a mackerel chunk is to put a sliding sinker either between two barrel swivels, or at least above a single swivel. You’ll then tie a fluorocarbon leader between 18 and 24 inches below the barrel swivel.
At the end of your leader, you’ll tie on a circle hook (state law) and thread on your mackerel chunk. Whole frozen mackerel are usually available at bait shops but opt for fresh mackerel if you can find it.
Chunks of menhaden, or pogies, are another viable option and can be fished the same way. A third option is a live clam, a more popular bait in New Jersey but still effective in Massachusetts.
Because you’re primarily dealing with open beaches here, facing the North Atlantic, a longer rod and larger reel will often come in handy.
A surf rod of at least 10 feet will give you the greatest chance of reaching feeding fish that might be 50 or 100 yards off the beach.
Sometimes a shorter rod will work fine, especially when schools of stripers push bait fish right into the wash, but you can’t always count on this.
Finding the Best Fishing Spots
Your best bet when fishing an open beach like Plum Island is using an app, or Google Maps, to find areas where drop-offs are slightly steeper than they are along other stretches of beach.
Any variation in bottom structure will draw schools of game fish to feed on smaller baitfish. Larger game fish, including striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore, look for underwater points that allow them to corner their prey and feed more easily than in the open ocean.
So if you can find, for example, an area of the beach where it drops suddenly from 5 feet to 15, you’ll have found an underwater shelf where stripers might be cornering sand eels, peanut bunker (juvenile menhaden), or any number of baitfish.
Survey Beach Structure
It’s always a good idea to walk the beach you plan to fish at dead low tide to search for this structure. When the water is the farthest out, you’ll notice near-shore structure more easily than you will at high tide.
Note places where the beach drops suddenly, where a sand bar might rise within 100 yards (casting distance) of the high-water mark, or where another structural irregularity sets a stretch of beach apart. Those are the types of places that give predatory fish like stripers the ability to corner schools of baitfish.
When the tide comes in and submerges those structures, you’ll know just where to hit the beach with your surf rod six hours later.
Cape Cod Canal
One of Massachusetts’s most popular destinations for striper fishermen is the Cape Cod Canal, a couple of hours south of the North Shore.
The canal is an artificial waterway that separates Cape Cod from the rest of the state, built to allow a shortcut for passing ships. However, stripers also discovered the shortcut, and it has become a central point of their spring and fall migrations.
It warrants noting that, even for seasoned surfcasters, fishing the canal is entirely different from casting into the surf.
The canal features a rocky bottom and swift currents compared to geographically close surf spots. Therefore, having the correct gear and etiquette when fishing the canal is essential.
As tides rise and fall, tremendous amounts of water push through this relatively narrow channel. The canal current can at times be incredibly strong, moving as fast as four knots
The canal water level will drop on a west (or ebb) tide. On an incoming tide (east), as water flows into Cape Cod Bay, the canal will be rising.
Any given day, the roughly four-week span from mid-May through mid-June has the potential to see big schools of striped bass moving through the canal during the spring season.
In the fall, those fish are turning back southward and can pass through the canal in fishable numbers anytime between late September and the middle of November. Much of October has potential.
For the most part, you want a rod capable of handling lures up to 5 ounces. At times, throwing a heavy lure can be necessary to reach the bottom in the strong current. These heavy lures can include bucktail jigs, soft-plastic baits like a Hogy on a jighead, or similar bait.
You will want a reel that retrieves a lot of line for every crank of the handle. For example, Shimano Stellas, a popular but expensive saltwater reel, can retrieve as much as five or six inches of line for every turn of the handle.
This high gear ratio offers several significant advantages. For example, it will ensure that you can move a lure quickly to keep it from hanging up on the bottom, or get you out of the way should you find yourself in a crowd of anglers amidst a blitz, or more easily turn and move a fish that’s got the current behind it.
A rod between 9.5 and 12 feet paired with a reel at least as large as your typical 4000-sized spinning reel is necessary for fishing the canal. Often size 5000 and 6000 reel models are preferable.
Many popular baits can work well when large schools of stripers are passing through, but three lures have become canal angler staples.
The first is perhaps the most iconic and successful striper lure of all time, the bucktail jig. A bucktail, tipped with a teaser (a piece of specifically colored rubber or plastic, often scented), might be the simplest but most effective striper lure you can tie on. Entire books cover fishing a bucktail, and for good reason.
Bright chartreuse, red-and-white, or all-white bucktails can be tough to beat during daylight hours. However, consider switching to a purple or black bucktail during low-light conditions or at night. Darker lures stand out against a lighter night sky when viewed from an attacking striper below.
The difficulty anglers can run into when fishing a bucktail in bodies of water with rocky bottom like the canal is getting hung up. Learning to “swim” the lure above the bottom to avoid this is a relatively simple matter of trial and error.
Soft Plastic Jerkbaits
Another popular bait in recent years has been the large soft-plastic jerkbait. Jerkbaits, like the Slug-Go, grew famous among largemouth bass fishermen because they can be rigged weedless and have an erratic motion on the fall that mimics a dying baitfish.
The same benefit holds for larger models of jerkbaits, and they’re a fantastic striper lure.
Companies like Hogy make a jerkbait from a more dense plastic, which allows anglers to cast them farther and keep them down in swift currents. A Hogy can be rigged with a weedless offset hook and fished like a topwater bait. Or you can rig it on a jighead, like a bucktail, when fishing the bottom.
Ripping a soft-plastic jerkbait across the surface and watching stripers blow up on it from beneath is one of the most magical moments you’ll experience in saltwater fishing. You can try to keep it away from a school of fish in pursuit, but when you stop it for a second, it disappears in an explosion that’s downright incredible.
A third tremendous option for canal fishing, and perhaps the most fun, is a topwater plug.
Most commonly at first or last light, but occasionally in broad daylight, a school of stripers or bluefish will chase bait (like bunker) to the surface to gorge on them.
This surface blitz is one of the most exciting phenomena in saltwater fishing. It can look like invisible cinderblocks are falling from the sky as bass and bluefish engulf baitfish that have run out of ocean to flee in.
Topwater plugs like the Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper or the Superstrike Little Neck popper are incredible options when fish are pushing bait to the surface.
While it might seem counterintuitive, your best bet with fishing these lures is to try to keep it away from schools of fish in pursuit. A fleeing bunker (Atlantic menhaden) will swim to the surface and create a commotion as it escapes.
The surface action you create with that topwater lure mimics this action, and the faster your reel, the greater the odds you’ll have stripers in pursuit. Then when you stop the bait for a second, hold on.
Cape Cod Salt Ponds
Another excellent option for fall-run striper fishing can be the salt ponds connecting to the Vineyard Sound on the southern side of Cape Cod. If you look at the south side of the Cape, you’ll notice finger-shaped or circular “ponds” that are, in reality, small protected coves and inlets.
These salt ponds can be downright magical places when schools of stripers have forced baitfish into them.
Migratory game fish, because they’re always chasing schools of bait through the open ocean, look for places where they can corner these fish and use a lack of space to their advantage.
The surf up against the many beaches in the Northeast is the most common spot that feeding stripers tend to corner baitfish so they have nowhere to go.
But in unique places like salt ponds, which corner baitfish on three sides, game fish like stripers have an even greater advantage.
These ponds can fish exceptionally well close to sunset and after dark when larger schools of fish are apt to move in.
Ponds like Eel Pond in Falmouth are great examples of protected inlets where stripers can have schools of bait cornered.
As with the canal, stripers will use these ponds to ambush sand eels or Atlantic menhaden both during the spring and again as they pass through on their fall migration.
Anglers can often get away with slightly lighter gear when fishing salt ponds.
You’re not throwing into heavy currents and rarely dealing with crashing surf or high winds up in the ponds. I’ve caught fish exceeding 20 pounds using rods as short as 7.5 feet and 20-pound braided line on salt ponds.
A lighter setup, such as a 7.5- to 9-foot surf rod, preferably medium action, with a size 4000 reel, is ideal for targeting schooling bass in these ponds.
Bucktails and surface plugs will work here, but a soft plastic bait like a Slug-Go or a Hogy rigged weightlessly with an offset hook works incredibly well. Fish soft plastics like topwater baits to mimic a fleeing baitfish, pausing and stopping erratically during the retrieve to solicit strikes.
One note of caution when fishing salt ponds: Make sure you’re accessing a public beach or stretch by legal means. Private property often surrounds salt ponds, so finding public access can be difficult (but not impossible).
Catch More Stripers in the Surf
Check out our full guide to shore fishing for striped bass on the Northeast coastline. We show you the lures and gear you’ll need, how to know when to fish and plenty of tips to finding the best places to go surfcasting for stripers.