Along the Water
Every summer, millions of migratory fish make their way through the Cape Cod Canal, chasing their next meal.
In hot pursuit, thousands of fishermen from around the region descend upon the 100-year-old waterway and cast their lines from April to November, when the striped bass run. Anglers may hook anything in the canal, from a bluefish to a tautog, but a striped bass is the big enchilada.
A.J. Coots of Red Top Sporting Goods on Main Street in Buzzards Bay, says he enjoys the abundance of fishing locations along the canal. “It’s all public access,” says Coots. “There’s no real spot that’s better than every other.” As fishermen say: fish have tails. They are always on the move. And with a bike ride along canal paths, so are you.
Today, a century after its construction, millions visit the Cape Cod Canal each year to enjoy recreational opportunities provided by the waterway—from camping to cycling, cruising, dining, and fishing.
If you want to try fishing for the coveted stripers, keep in mind that they are opportunistic predators. To ambush their prey, bass like to hang in slow moving water, behind rocks, structures, or bridge abutments, waiting for baitfish to be swept through, caught in the powerful currents. Fishermen who cast in these areas increase their chances at reeling in a good-size fish. Recreational fishermen may keep up to two stripers per day and the minimum size for a “keeper” is 28 inches. Massachusetts requires that anglers obtain a saltwater permit available at tackle shops and at www.mass.gov/saltwaterpermit. (An alternative site is www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dmf/recreational-fishing/recreational-saltwater-permits.htm.)
Another popular, if less visible, kind of fishing along the canal is recreational lobstering. This requires a separate permit, but permit-holders can fish ten recreational traps. Some lobstermen even have custom trailers mounted to their cruiser bikes so they can haul a few traps at a time. They plunk the pots in the water and wait. Bluefish is a popular bait, as are mackerel and pogies. The older and stinkier the bait, the better—lobsters are bottom feeders and not fussy eaters. Coots has eaten lobster pulled from the canal and says, “they’re delicious.”
Another way to enjoy the canal is to take a cruise. Hy-Line cruises has been running iconic harbor tours in Hyannis since the years of JFK’s presidency, and also offers scenic and music trips along the canal today.
The cruises get underway in June and depart from the company’s dock in Onset. Every Friday and Saturday from 8 to 10:30 p.m., guests 21 and over enjoy live music cruises. Jazz trips are held on Sundays, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Guitarist Dan Lyons of Marstons Mills has performed on the canal cruises since the late 1990s, first with his band, The High Kings, and in recent years, with another Cape band favorite, 57 Heavy. “The atmosphere is great,” Lyons says of the boat shows. “You have the natural beauty of the Cape, the sunset, sailing under the bridges; it’s beautiful.” Lyons is a veteran entertainer who has played in venues from Vermont, to Florida, to California, and has opened for the Jerry Garcia Band and the J. Geils Band along the way. Lyons says the boat crowd is generally less inhibited than those in a typical nightclub scene. “They’re out on a boat,” he says. “The evening feels more like an event—they’re ready to dance! People loosen up quicker.”
Tickets for the music cruises cost $19. For 2014, scheduled acts include blues with the George Gritzbach Band, The Goat Roper Band playing country, and Harry French, a one-man act who blends hits from the ’50s to today. Groovy Afternoon plays dance songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s and Hy-Line has at least one show booked with a DJ who’ll be playing Jimmy Buffett music for the cruise ship’s Parrot Head Night.