The Complete Guide to Cape Cod Fishing
Apr 21, 2021 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Stretching 65 miles out from the mainland into the sea, it’s hardly a surprise that Cape Cod’s fishing scene is up there with the best in the country. Heck – it even has a fish species in its name! This peninsula boasts centuries of angling tradition that some even say go back as far as the Vikings. So without further ado, let’s get started. 

A map of Cape Cod and its main towns

You’ll need to cross a productive fishery just to get onto Cape Cod – the Cape Cod Canal. Then, a whole world of fishing opens up. You’ll find prized fish on all sides of this stunning cape, with thousands of anglers getting out on the water daily. There’s even the addition of some freshwater fishing grounds, as you can see above. 

What fish can I catch in Cape Cod?

The list of fish you can catch in Cape Cod is almost endless. Hit the sounds, bays, flats, and even head out to the heart of the Atlantic, and you’re sure to catch what you want. Some of the most delicious fish on the East Coast and plenty of prized game fish call these waters home, so prepare to get your fish on!

Cod and Haddock

A group of anglers at the dock holding their catch of Haddock after a successful Cape Cod fishing adventure

There was no way we could start a section on Cape Cod’s fishing targets without mentioning its eponymous fish. Cod, along with its just-as-tasty cousin Haddock, can be found aplenty off the shores of the Massachusetts coast. However, you’ll be restricted in the north of the Cape from catching Cod most of the year.

From Nova Scotia to Norway, these are two of the most sought-after creatures in the North Atlantic, and for good reason too. Their white meat makes for all kinds of delicious seafood dishes. The best part about targeting them in Cape Cod, however, is that you can go after them year-round. Head offshore from January through December and get your fill of fish to take home. 

Striped Bass

A man holding a Striped Bass caught while fishing in Cape Cod

Just as we couldn’t leave out Cod, Striped Bass is another must-have on the list of Cape Cod fishing prizes. This East Coast favorite is the state saltwater fish of all of Massachusetts’ neighboring states, and it remains a number one target for most anglers, even in “The Bay State.”

Despite falling victim to overfishing in the mid-20th century, this population has been recovering thanks to strict regulations in recent years. Most anglers prefer to catch and release them for that purpose, but you can still take one home to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Come May through October to target these beauties in Cape Cod, with the bays and the canal offering plenty of angling opportunities. Whether slow trolling in the deeper waters or fly fishing from shore, you’re in for an incredible fight!

Bluefish

A Bluefish being held on the water after being caught in Cape Cod

The Bluefish is often overlooked in favor of some more common table fare. But, thankfully, Cape Cod fishing pros appreciate this hungry critter for exactly what it is. While they may not require as much skill to land as some of their more skeptical friends, Bluefish will bite at anything. 

Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first catch, or a keen angler hoping to test your skills, few other fish are as versatile. Hit the shallow waters of the flats and bays from May through October, and you’re sure to come across plenty of these beauties alongside Striped Bass, Flounder, and Scup.

Bluefin Tuna

A man sat aboard a boat holding a Bluefin Tuna caught while fishing out of Cape Cod

If Cod and Haddock are the most popular fish in the North Atlantic, then Tuna must be the most popular worldwide. These creatures are sought-after in every ocean and they offer up more than just award-winning expensive meat. Come to Cape Cod in summer and get your fill!

Get ready for action, adrenaline, and incredible rewards when you target Bluefin, the largest Tuna species. These warm-blooded fish thrive in Cape Cod’s chilly waters, and you can sometimes find them just off the tip of the cape in summer. Settle in for the fight of your life, as you jig deep down to entice the bite, and almost get thrown overboard when the Bluefin takes your bait to the deep. 

Sharks

A man smoking a pipe holds a Shark atop an ice box caught while fishing out of Cape Cod

While a Tuna fight will stay in the mind forever, nothing quite compares to battling it out with a Shark. The ocean’s biggest predator is tougher than anything you’ve ever read about, and you’re sure to get the pulses racing if you hook one of these beasts. 

There are plenty of Cape Cod fishing enthusiasts who are happy to show you the ropes of fishing for Sharks, thanks to the numerous species that come by throughout the year. Target Porbeagle Sharks nearshore whenever you want, while Threshers come close from June through October. However, if you’re looking for the catch of a lifetime, peak summer is the time to go after perilous Mako and Blue Sharks. 

And More!

A man holding a Black Seabass caught while fishing in Cape Cod

If that hasn’t whetted your appetite for a Cape Cod fishing adventure, you’ll be glad to know that the list is far from over. There were plenty of other contenders for our shortlist above, but we simply couldn’t fit them all. 

The summer and winter Flounder population means that you can pretty much target these tasty creatures year-round, while Black Seabass, Tautog, and Scup are all also available inshore. Meanwhile, Pollock and Atlantic Mackerel add to the ever-growing menu of fish you can find offshore in Cape Cod, with Mahi Mahi and Wahoo showing up in the deep, too!

Cape Cod Fishing: How and Where 

With so many creatures on offer, the next question is, “How to catch them?” Fortunately, there are plenty of experienced guides to take you out, along with a range of hotspots for you to seek out on your own. 

Shore Fishing

A man fishing from shore in Dana Point. He is standing on a rocky outcrop and casting towards a kelp bed near the shoreline

When most people think of fishing, the first thing they imagine is sitting by the water with a lunchbox and wiling away the day. Well, if that sounds right up your street, then Cape Cod’s fishing opportunities won’t disappoint. 

Cape Cod Canal is the most popular shore fishing destination on the peninsula. This narrow body of water is ideal for casting into from shore, with plenty of prized fish passing through as they make their way from northside to south (and vice-versa). While Sandwich’s Scusset Harbor, located at the northern mouth of the canal, is always crowded with anglers, there are plenty of other spots along the canal, too. 

And that’s not it! All around the cape, you’ll find a range of beaches, inlets, and jetties that are ideal for setting up camp for the day. Hit Dowses Beach for the best-kept Scup fishing grounds, or Wellfleet’s White Crest Beach where you’ll find the breeding Stripers and plenty of Bluefish, too. Of course, you could also join the sun-seeking tourists on Old Silver Beach, and combine your angling trip with some bathing.

Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing in the waters of Marathon, Florida

Fishing from a kayak is an ever-growing fad all around the world, and Massachusetts is no exception. A Cape Cod kayak fishing adventure can prove to be very fruitful, not to mention incredibly fun. Get ready for a workout before you even think about fishing, as you use nothing but your strength to get to the sweet spots, before casting away.

In fact, a kayak can be the best mode of transport, depending on where you want to go. These light vessels will keep you afloat in even the shallowest of waters, so they’re ideal for getting you to the flats and rocky bottoms – which is where the fish like to hide! Hire one or bring your own, and set off in search of Seabass, Tautog, Scup, and even Bass, as you find out the true meaning of “working up an appetite.”

Party Boat Fishing

A picture of a downeast part boat cutting across the waves of a bay on the East Coast

If you’re on a budget or are alone and fancy some company, Cape Cod party boat fishing is a great way to get into it. In all major port towns, from Provincetown to Falmouth, you’ll find some large vessels ready to take you out to the bays. These boats come fully equipped with everything you need for a productive day, so all you need to do is settle in and enjoy the ride.

Popular in all the East Coast’s bays, party boat fishing offers something for everyone. Captains and tour guides can run trips that include some sightseeing or whale watching for the kids, with others focused on getting the most out of the water. Whatever you decide on, you’ll be sharing your experience with like-minded individuals. Who knows? You might even make a friend!

Charter Fishing

A group of anglers returning to the dock in Dennis, Massachusetts, having aught some Striped Bass

There’s no better way to discover saltwater fishing than by boat, and charter fishing on Cape Cod will get you to the spots that you simply can’t access on your own or by kayak. They’ll even take you further than any party boat could manage! Not only that, but a private charter will see you live the high life, as you head off to sea with just your nearest and dearest, and the open ocean at your mercy.

Your experienced captain will know exactly where to go to find the fish, and you’ll be able to mix it up and go after a range of different creatures. If you’re looking to fish the heart of the Cape Cod Bay in the north, or the beautiful Vineyard Sound in the south – a charter is the only way. 

It goes without saying that you’ll need a charter for a Cape Cod deep sea fishing adventure. Head to the deep waters at the Stellwagen Bank or even further offshore, and get your hands on delicious Cod and Halibut, along with the biggest creatures the ocean has to offer.

Freshwater Fishing

An aerial view of Cape Cod's freshwater ponds and greenery

While Cape Cod’s fishing highlights undoubtedly lie in its access to the sea, there’s still the chance for some freshwater favorites, too. Spanning 339 square miles, the area lends itself to all kinds of wildlife, with ponds and streams offering plenty to the freshwater angler.

When Striper season is over, many saltwater anglers head over to the ponds and lakes to get their hands on some other Bass species. These underdeveloped fishing grounds provide an escape to nature, with Nickerson State Park offering up some of the best spots.

Hit up Higgins and Cliff Ponds for Smallmouth Bass, along with Brook, Brown, and Rainbow Trout. Meanwhile, Flax Pond will offer up some stunning Tiger Trout for your consumption too. 

When’s the best time for a Cape Cod fishing adventure?

We’ve already let you know that summer is the best time to come fishing on Cape Cod, with most fish on offer from May through September. However, there’s never really a bad time to come. The year-round Haddock and Cod population means that, if you’re able to find a dry, calm day, you can even experience a fruitful fishing trip in winter. 

But, if you’re thinking of bringing the family along, why not combine your vacation with some other popular activities? Come in the following months and take advantage of a range of festivals, displays, and much more:

  • June: While Stripers fill up the canal, Sandwichfest lights up its northern mouth, with food and drink, music, and arts and crafts. Meanwhile. Dennis’ Clambake and Wellfleet’s Restaurant Week will light up your pallet.
  • August: With the kids off school, the beaches of Cape Cod are calling your name. Combine a fishing trip with the Naukabout Music Festival or the Provincetown Carnival for some color. 
  • October: The Indian Summer that’s now becoming more and more common in Cape Cod calls for time to celebrate. Join the Wellfleet Oyster Festival to add to the fun!
  • December: ‘Tis the season, so why not make the most of it? Brave the cold and enjoy Falmouth’s Holiday by the Sea or Chatham’s Christmas Stroll, along with a trip to land some warming meat.

Anything else?

Yes! Before embarking on your Cape Cod fishing frenzy, you’ll want to make sure you’re up to date on the latest rules and regulations. If you’re saltwater fishing from a charter or a party boat – you won’t need a license. Fish from shore, a kayak, or your own vessel, though, and every angler over the age of 16 will need a license. Grab yours online, while those of you over 60 will be able to apply for a free permit. 

There is some good news, however, for anglers from neighboring states. If you hold a New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Connecticut saltwater fishing license, then you can fish these waters for free!

For freshwater anglers, you’ll need a license whichever way you intend on fishing. This time, all anglers over the age of 15 will need to buy a permit – although MA residents aged 15–17, or over 70, can get a free license. Get yours here!

As always, there are plenty of size and bag limits that are constantly in flux. Cape Cod’s fishing regulations are so complex that there are even different regulations for north and south Cape Cod. Keep an eye on MA’s latest limits here, and make sure you’re fishing within the law. 

Why Cape Cod?

A view of Princetown looking towards the sea from the Pilgrim Monument

Cape Cod is undoubtedly one of the gems of the whole East Coast. With history dating back to colonial times, breathtaking coastlines, and incredible fishing, why would you want to be anywhere else? Come fishing on this little piece of paradise and not only will you get your hands on some trophy fish, but you’ll head home with much more.

Have you ever been fishing here? How was your Cape Cod fishing experience? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments (13)
  • carl Thorpe Thorpe

    May 19, 2021

    I have fishing trip planned on June 9th and 10th. Do you know any place the cleans your daily catch? I getting charter boat at Oyster Place Road Cotuit, MA. I have 9 hour drive. I like to get catch package before traveling home.

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      Rhys

      May 19, 2021

      Hi Carl,

      Thanks for reading and for your good question. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any cleaning stations near Cotuit. In fact, it seems that many anglers seem to complain about the lack of available stations around the whole of Cape Cod, with most people having to rely on doing it themselves. I’d suggest you bring plenty of ice to keep your fish fresh, if you go down this route. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

      Tight lines,

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  • George Chan

    Apr 14, 2021

    Hi, great article. We and the 3 kids are all newbies, and have only used spincast poles, and caught plenty of bluegill and small trout on-shore in Boston suburbs last year. Any suggestions for where on the lower Cape we would have the best chance of success next week (April 18th)? Would also be interested in an instructor to get us started on the best foot for Cape Cod shore fishing… thanks!

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      Rhys

      Apr 14, 2021

      Hi George,

      Thanks for reading and for your good question. April is the real start of Striped Bass season, so you’re in for a treat when you visit next weekend. Not only will the estuaries and rivers be full of these ferocious fish, but they’ll also be within reach just a stone’s throw from the beaches on the south of the cape. You can find a charter and captain to take you and your family out here, and I’d suggest you look for those who offer half day trips that may best suit your needs. I hope this helps.

      Tight lines,

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  • WG Davis

    Mar 28, 2021

    Some of my best memories of the Cape involve fishing. I bought my first boat ( an 18ft Boston Whaler ) in the late 80’s and set out to land my my first trophy…a striped bass.At the time, “keepers” had to be 36″. Time passed and a second boat was purchased. This time a 24ft Whaler. My wife and I were at lunch in Orleans and I suggested we stop at Nauset Marine to just “take a look”. My cover was blown when the salesman told my wife I had had him on speed dial for months ! She laughed, agreed to the upgrade, but with one condition…I had to keep the smaller Whaler ! NOTHING could have surprised me more. She anticipated that I would tire of the larger boat because of it’s trailering limitations and additional maintenance costs…and she was right. Three years later I sold it and set out trailering my 18 footer anywhere and everywhere in search of landing my unrealized dream of landing a 600lb.tuna ! My wife would send me off on each “tuna wishing” adventure with a dismissive eye-roll and the admonishment that I needed a bigger boat. One of my best friends and fishing buddies and I realized that dream several years later in Cape Cod Bay ! Our prize…a 180 lb bluefin tuna ! It gave us a fight that was exhausting, exhilarating, and exciting, and the challenge of getting a fish that size into a boat that was not much bigger than the fish itself. The Cape provides so many opportunities for good old fashioned family fun that it cannot be rivaled by anything else I have ever experienced .I just received a video of our 5 year old grandson learning to cast in a large puddle on a dirt road near our Cape home. His technique is impressive, and I can’t wait to return and “show him how it’s done.”

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      Rhys

      Mar 29, 2021

      Hi WG Davies,

      Thanks for reading and for your fascinating comment. It’s always great to hear stories of your experiences and the 180 lb Tuna sounds absolutely incredible. I look forward to hearing about the next adventure with your grandson!

      Tight lines,

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  • Spigottish

    Mar 20, 2021

    “On” Cape Cod. Not “In” Cape Cod

    Otherwise spot on!

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      Rhys

      Mar 22, 2021

      Hi,

      Thanks for reading and you’re kind words! You’re absolutely right, sorry for the couple of typos that read “in Cape Cod.” I’ve amended them as per your suggestion.

      Tight lines,

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      Rickster

      Mar 29, 2021

      If u n New York u say “I’m n New York” …..you folks up here have a real particular way of talking. Lol

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      Rhys

      Mar 30, 2021

      Hi Rickster,

      Thanks for reading and your humorous comment! I think the difference comes when you talk about a cape, coast, or something similar, where you’d say you’re “on” it, rather than “in” it like a city. Although I think we’re all nitpicking a little bit! I hope you enjoyed the article, anyway.

      Tight lines,

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  • Michael Miner

    Jun 9, 2020

    No doubt about it, I have seen them feed like clockwork along with solunar times. New moon phase has always treated me right. And I have always seemed to do my best nite fishing along with full moon phases.
    I like to be on my best “feeding” spots along with the solunar tables times. That’s how phases & times pay off!

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      Rhys

      Jun 9, 2020

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for reading and for your insightful comments. It’s always a good bet to head out at night under a full moon, and having a solunar table definitely helps get the most out of the water. Good luck for the rest of the season this year!

      Tight lines,

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      Edward. Cullers

      Jan 11, 2021

      I. Would. Like. To. Come. And. 🐟 fish. Whit. You. Guys. Im. In. Pueble. Co. 81003. Thank. You. From. The. Mountains thank you again

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