With freshly stocked kettle ponds all across the Cape, there’s no time like the present to cast a line and get the first bite of the season.
The Cape’s waters are famous for saltwater fishing, from fighting ferocious blues in the surf to landing lunker stripers into the boat. But tucked behind curtains of pine trees in the Cape’s interior are waters that are equally rewarding for fishermen, although these quiet, often unknown places offer very different fishing from the open ocean.
The freshwater kettle ponds of the inner Cape are trout and bass-filled glacial waters. There are more than 360 of these landlocked ponds throughout the Cape. Ponds larger than 10 acres are called great ponds. Though not highly publicized, many of these seldom-fished ponds have public access.
“The ponds are a secret fishery that don’t get a lot of attention,” says Scott Dietrich, president of Cape Cod Trout Unlimited. “It’s a completely different experience from saltwater fishing, and the ponds are fishable pretty much year-round.”
In April, freshwater fishing for bass is a favorite as well as going for trout and salmon in kettle ponds stocked by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At Peter’s Pond in Sandwich and Sheep’s Pond and Cliff Pond in Brewster, fishermen try to land big salmon. Anglers savor the timeless return of herring to Cape Cod streams and lakes. In May, blue-wing olives, hex flies, mayflies, and caddisflies hatch out, which again bring trout to the surface.
“You can go for warm-water bass and cool-water trout in the same pond,” Dietrich says. “It’s quiet, still, and secluded on the ponds, and the fishing is a lot more subtle.”
Cape Cod was carved into its 412-square-mile, bicep-flexing form by glaciers during the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. As the glaciers receded, chunks of ice broke off and were surrounded by sediment. The ice melted into self-made holes, and the ponds were formed. Today, the acidic pH of any decaying organic matter in the water is offset by the basic pH of the sandy lime soil, leaving the water clear and healthy for a number of fish species. The sandy pond bottoms are relatively free of algae and hook-snagging vegetation, thanks in part to environmental measures that limit phosphorus discharge and water-quality checks by towns. These kettle ponds, as their name implies, are kettle-shaped, sloping from banks to deep depressions in the middle.
Due to a gradual slope toward a deep middle, the ponds support a diverse mix of both warm- and cold-water fish. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch, pickerel and sunfish prefer the warmer water near the shore, especially under the cover of plants and tree branches. The rainbow, brown, and tiger trout that are stocked in spring and fall in many ponds like to stay further down in the cooler, deeper water during summer, and come closer to the surface during chillier months.
Dry flies work well for trout in cooler temperatures. During the warmer months, weights or a sinking line are recommended to get your fly down to the cooler water of the 20-foot depth zone, where streamers, wooley buggers, and nymph patterns are a good choice. Bass can be played year-round with poppers, clousters, and wooley buggers. Warm-water fish can be found schooling 10 or so feet from the shore, especially around partially submerged trees and brush. Docks, diving platforms, and other structures are also great places to cast flies to schooling fish.
“The seals are pushing fish farther out in the saltwater, so it’s getting harder to fish from the saltwater beaches,” says Steve Kean of Cape Cod Fishing Expeditions. “The ponds are a blast to fish, and there’s hardly ever anyone on them. With the warm weather we’ve been having the past couple of seasons, the ponds are fishable year-round.”
The ponds of Nickerson State Park in Brewster—offering easy access, good parking, camping sites, and bike trails—are probably the best place to begin freshwater fly fishing on the Cape. Eight ponds lie within the park’s 1,900 acres, including the Cape’s second largest pond, 204-acre Big Cliff Pond. Big Cliff Pond is the most heavily stocked pond on the Cape, with brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout introduced in the spring and fall.
Broodstock Atlantic salmon have been stocked in the past. The pond has 2.6 miles of shoreline, but most of it is hard to reach because of trees and cliffs. There is a nice sandy beach and swimming area at Big Cliff, perfect for the non-anglers in the family. The bank slopes gradually toward the center, and you can wade 10 or so feet out from shore, where the water averages five feet deep.
Because of Big Cliff’s depth—88 feet at its maximum—trout are able to survive the warmer temperatures of summer, producing some lunker trout (the record is a 32-inch brown pulled from here in 1954). In addition to trout, smallmouth bass patrol the top water, enjoying the cover of trees and lily pads. Yellow poppers, wooley buggers, and deceivers work well played through the cover.
“My favorite time to fish the ponds is at dusk, when the big browns hunt minnows in close to shore,” says Chris Kokorda of Fishing the Cape in West Harwich. “If you play streamers or any flashy minnow pattern through the cover, you can catch some big fish that put up a pretty good fight.”
One reason Cape ponds have big large mouth bass and holdover trout is that herring and other bait fish are able to swim into many of the Cape ponds.
“That’s unique to the Cape, the fact that we have these great freshwater ponds with saltwater access through marshes,” says Kokorda. “There’s a great food supply for freshwater game fish here, and the depths of the ponds mean the trout can survive the warm weather.”
Chatham’s 38-acre Goose Pond is stocked in the spring and fall with brook, brown, and rainbow trout, and holdovers run deep in the warm months. Adult smallmouths were stocked here in 1980 and 1981, and that population has remained healthy.
Twenty-three-acre Schoolhouse Pond and White Pond in Chatham, Great Pond in Eastham, 716-acre Long Pond and Sheep Pond in Harwich, Hamblin Pond in Barnstable, and Peter’s Pond in Sandwich are other great fisheries to explore.
Whichever location you choose, you’re guaranteed a great day discovering the Cape’s hidden freshwater ponds, a boon for fishermen—and for anyone who wants to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Cape’s ecology.
Cape Cod ponds are stocked in the fall and in the spring, with weekly stockings in March. For more information, go to mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/ which includes a list of all stocked Cape ponds.
Steve Larese is a travel journalist who spends as much time as he can at his family’s home in Chatham.
For More Information
Nickerson State Park: Take Route 6 to Exit 12 in Orleans, turn left off the ramp onto Route 6A West towards Brewster. Continue for about two miles. Park entrance is on left. There is no entrance fee. 508-896-3491, mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/nick.htm.
Fishing the Cape: Town Line Plaza, 16 Route 28, West Harwich. 508-432-1200. fishingthecape.com
Goose Hummock Shop: 15 Route 6A, Orleans, 508-255-0455. goose.com
Classes and Guides: Trout Unlimited Cape Cod (capecodtu.org) offers fly-fishing classes the third weekend in May at Spectacle Pond in Sandwich. Classes are $249 for adults, $329 for a parent and teen. Guides like Scott Dietrich (greatmarshkayaktours.com/fly_fishing_tour.htm) and Steve Kean (508-561-7102, capecodfishingexpeditions.com) will organize freshwater and saltwater fishing trips. Fishing the Cape and Goose Hummock can recommend guide services as well.