Striped Bass and Bluefishing Outer Gloucester Harbor in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Anglers looking for striped bass along the coast of Massachusetts have a long list of places and gear to look at: the bucktails and tube-and-worms of Boston Harbor and the South Shore, the shads-and-jigheads of Duxbury, Plymouth and Marshfield, the wire-line and hoochies of Cape Cod from Orleans to Eastham.
One recently emerging trend in gear is the so-called Cape Cod rig: a seaworm, willow leaf spinner and barrel weight trolled close to shore slowly enough that the bait follows the contours of the shoreline at a depth of between twenty four and thirty six inches.
The results can be impressive: tiny gear on large bass, especially during the fall run and at night or at dusk, when larger bass press in to feed close to the shore. The rig is less expensive than tubes-and-worms and lead core and yields a lively fight on non keeper-sized fish.
One area with consistent underpressured, high water-column striper fishing, a good place to try the rig, and with good access for small boats, are the western shores of outer Gloucester Harbor from Stacy Boulevard to Norman's Woe.
With free parking at the boulevard and an asphalt ramp behind Gloucester High School on the Annisquam River and a deep variety of structure that includes rocks, boulders and ledges, the area is largely overlooked.
The area's two distinct coves– Freshwater, at the base of the former Cardinal Cushing villa, and Norman's, at the base of Hammond Castle — are especially productive and offer proximity to open water past the dogbar breakwater. The area is also productive on bluefish.
Large rocks out jut from these shores, as do numerous underwater trenches and deep drop-offs from steep-sloping ledges. Collectively the area presents a highly irregular, rocky coast whose features change every dozen yards or so. The place is good striped bass territory; trolling it offers the kind of low-key, nearshore trolling many anglers relish: peace and quiet only occasionally intruded upon by the sound of a lobsterman's engine or the thrum of a Gloucester partyboat or whale watching boat making its way to Stellwaggen Bank or Caches Ledge.
Outer Gloucester harbor's eastern shores, in short, are a fine place to take your first crack at trolling for stripers with a Cape Cod rig and to get the nearshore fishing grounds that extend from Eastern Point to Kettle Cove, off Magnolia.
The area is good not only for the consistency of its catch but also because it rarely sees sea conditions kicked up into much more than a gentle swell, at the mouth of the harbor, so long as the wind isn't hard from the east or south.
To get to the area's three access points, Stacy Boulevard, Stage Fort Park, and the Dun Fudgin' trailer ramp, take route 128 north to the West Gloucester Route 133 exit. Follow 133 east, to the end. When you see Gloucester Harbor open up in front of you, take a left to use the kayak and carry-in boat put in at the end of Stacy Boulevard. Or, alternatively, take a left onto 127 and follow it a quarter mile to take a left into Stage Fort Park where the parking (seasonal) and put-in (a longer carry) are a little trickier.
If you're a powerboater, take a left onto Stacy Boulevard at the end of 133, then an almost immediate left, at the drawbridge. Gloucester High School and the Dun Fudgin' boat ramp lie about a quarter mile down the road on the left.
You may find that small human-powered boats are the best bet with a trolled Cape Cod rig. For example a kayak's shallow draw (6") lets you troll much closer to the shoreline, in water shallow enough that, if you're wearing polarized sunglasses, you'll see the fish you're about to catch.
The striped bass fishing here is most productive in late May and early to mid-October, especially in the early morning and at dusk, when larger striped bass prowl these shores in search of forage. And that these waters lie a scant three miles from the well-known commercial striped bass area off Eastern Point's groaner buoy render your chances of catching a striped bass 36"-plus that much greater. This is, in short, a shoreline fine to learn to troll for stripers along structured waters that are near to parking, relatively mild, and very much overlooked.