Cape Cod Fishing Report- December 7, 2023

Anglers ply the backwaters for holdover stripers, mackerel are stacked in the Canal's east end, and largemouth bass and trout provide spotty action in the ponds amid frigid temps.

Cape Cod Fishing Report

It’s 26 degrees outside as I sit down to write this week’s fishing report. Freshwater fishing activity has taken a noticeable dive this week, as many of the smaller ponds are locked up (or beginning to freeze over) due to the sub-freezing temperatures. One thing is for sure though, local anglers are looking to the rivers and salt ponds in search of winter holdover striped bass, and the bass have obliged.

Earlier this week, my buddy Ryan pulled a solid 28-inch bass from the river near his home in central Cape. It didn’t come easy, though. Ryan said he was crawling a 3-inch No Live Bait Needed paddletail along a stretch of shallow bottom when he noticed a bass take interest, follow his lure, and eventually eat it right in front of him. As Ryan described it, “it was the laziest striped bass hit I have ever seen”. Other anglers have been sharing their night-fishing endeavors to Instagram, keeping their whereabouts tight-lipped, and rightfully so. These small, delicate winter populations of stripers are hard to come by, and if it wasn’t so tough to say goodbye to stripers, I’d probably leave them alone all winter. Last winter, my striper endeavors were all fruitless, but I’m hoping to break that pattern (starting this weekend). If you’re looking to check December stripers off of your bucket list, start in skinny backwaters and search for deep pockets with some current or moving water. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

Before some of my favorite largemouth bass ponds started to ice over—and before some parts of Cape received an inch or two of snow—I bared the cold for a few hours with a bucket of shiners, Kastmasters and suspending jerkbaits. The bass wouldn’t touch anything but live bait, and even with shiners, the fishing was slow. I managed to stick a handful of small bass in almost 3 hours before ending with a decent 2- to 2.5-pound larry and nearly frost-bitten toes.

The biggest bass of the bunch that swiped at my final, and fattest shiner of the morning.

Note to self (and anyone reading this): if you’re going to be wading, double up the socks or use wool ski socks this time of year; especially if your waders inevitably leak no matter how many times you patch them, like mine.

Despite the frigid weather this week, the weekend looks relatively mild for December, so look to the bass ponds and the larger, deeper kettle lakes for the most reliable action. If you’re up for a bit more of a challenge, scout a couple of spots to look for holdover stripers, or promising signs of their presence. Any baitfish you can find, whether mudminnows, herring fry or glass minnows (silversides), should be a good indicator of bass in the area. Try to “match the hatch” with small soft plastics, bucktails or flies. Low and slow is the name of the game. Then again, I have yet to catch my first Cape Cod holdover striper, so admittedly, there’s not much merit to back my suggestions. In any case, with 50-degree temperatures forecasted for Saturday, it’ll be a good day to wet a line.

Rainbow trout that were stocked in the fall are providing some decent action on those larger kettle lakes. I frequent the ponds in Mashpee, Falmouth, Sandwich and Marstons Mills, and the rainbows have been pretty aggressive when I’ve been able to find them. However, another winter challenge of mine is to find a big holdover brown trout. I’m not above fishing live bait, but I’d like to get one to eat a Rapala or something of the sort. We’ll see what happens this weekend!

Spoons tend to be the most productive lure in my arsenal when it comes to producing a trout bite. But I’d like to get better with fishing soft plastics for trout as well.

Unbelievably, we’re in early December and I still am yet to have a run-in with a gator pickerel, or any chain pickerel at that. Not complaining (yet). I’m kind of looking forward to the unmistakable weight and head shakes of a 2- to 3-pound slime dart. If we’re talking most reliable winter species, trout and pickerel duke it out for the number #1 spot on the list. I’ll be throwing more spoons and spinners this week in hopes of enticing a pickerel. They may look unpleasant, but any fish that will give you a decent battle on 6- to 8-pound test in 30-something-degree water is well worth the time and effort.

Connor at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay told me that the east end of the Canal is fully loaded with mackerel right now. George from the shop was out there yesterday and said that they couldn’t stop catching them, and customers have even been sending Connor pictures of their easy 20-fish limits. Basic sabiki rigs were getting the job done, you just have to adjust your sinker weight according to the speed of the current. Besides mackerel though, it would seem the fishing in the ditch has died off for the year. Connor and the Red Top team have not heard of nor seen any action down there since late last week, when shop employee, Bull, caught himself an 18-pounder on a pencil popper on Friday morning after tying into a 20-pounder the day prior. Not a bad way to end the season on the Canal.

Evan at Eastman’s Sport and Tackle in Falmouth said the he has been selling almost exclusively shellfishing gear, but there have been a few customers coming in for shiners and freshwater gear too. He said above all, waders have been very popular, along with rakes, baskets and gloves. Evan said that oystering in West Falmouth is great right now, and there’s plenty of quahogs worth digging for over there too. He noted that the town does a tremendous job seeding the oysters and gave a nod to the helpful volunteers that join in the process. A few customers came in for some shiners (myself included) this past week to use for largemouth bass and trout. One of his regulars is a young, hardcore angler who frequently picks up shiner and rides his bike to a pond in downtown Falmouth where he regularly catches quality largemouth bass, but not many people have come in with trout fishing interest, or trout reports as of late.

Amy at Sports Port Bait and Tackle in Hyannis said the opposite. She told me that pretty much all of their recent customers have been fishing for trout, picking up the standard gold spoons, floating Rapalas, PowerBait, nightcrawlers and some shiners. She did note that they have been selling a lot more nightcrawlers than shiners recently. It could be because fish are just be hugging the bottom with the recent drop in temperatures, so hook up some nightcrawlers on a bottom rig and put some on a bobber rig to see what works best.

Cape Cod Fishing Forecast

This weekend, any ponds that got skim ice this week will quickly thaw with highs in the 50’s on both Saturday and Sunday. Anglers rejoice! Freshwater fish should all be putting on the feed bag with these mild temperatures, so pack up some spoons, jerkbaits, spinners and finesse-style soft plastics (i.e. ned rigs, drop shots). Heck, I may even put the kayak in the water on Sunday and try to jig up some smallmouth bass on blade baits. A couple years back, Jimmy Fee and I went out for smalls on December 31st and did pretty well with soft plastics and blades over a hump in around 30 to 40 feet of water. I’d like to replicate that day, since I haven’t caught a smallmouth since the summer.

It seems like most reliable fishing this weekend will be for either trout in the many stocked kettle ponds around Cape, or for mackerel in the Canal. If you’re looking to bend a rod, pick up a couple lures or sabiki rigs (depending on your quarry) at your local tackle shop. If you’re up for a challenge though, it’ll be worth checking out some potential holdover striper spots this weekend too. I’m hoping that by next week, I can report back with a successful tale of December stripers on Cape.

Wherever you find yourself on the water this weekend, be safe, respect your surroundings and other anglers, and most importantly, just enjoy the act of fishing. Thanks for reading along; may your fishing lines be tight this week.

If you’d like to contribute to our weekly fishing reports this winter, email me ( with a brief report of your day on the water and what you caught, or message me on Instagram @matthaeffner.

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