2022 In Review: A Season On The Ditch - The Fisherman

2022 In Review: A Season On The Ditch

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Photo by John Doble

A breakdown of the bass fishing on the Canal by a guy who was there almost every day.

Making fresh leaders for the approaching Canal season always helps to take some of the chill off of winter. I had just cut a 3-foot length of fluorocarbon purchased at Maco’s in Buzzards Bay as our 5-year-old grandson Big Joe walked by, practicing for his ring bearer duty in our cousin Brendan, and his beautiful bride Sabrina’s wedding.

Joe held a small pillow to simulate his moment on the big day, but we needed something for substitute wedding bands so I went to my tackle box and graced the pillow with a couple of large split rings! One can only tie so many leaders before the mind begins to drift to the past season and also to speculations about the one to come; 2022 proved to be another unique and interesting season on the Ditch.

Spring

The first cast of the season is always a momentous occasion and I immediately felt a rush of welcome relief as my lure sailed through the salt air and splashed down into the fierce currents of the Big Ditch. Cold water temps, rain and strong NE winds put a damper on early spring striped bass fishing with the first stretch of nice weather not starting until May 13. Still a few fish showed; Jack Barton caught his first slot of the season in early May near the railroad bridge. The satisfied Canal Rat quipped, “It’s so nice to feel a real tug on my rod after a five-month hiatus!”

The Canal got progressively better with sporadic reports of 20-, 30- and 40-pounders during short bursts of activity as schools of striped bass entered the west end on the east tide from Buzzards Bay. Timing was essential to success as it seemed that the fish were mostly swimming straight through to Cape Cod Bay, but one 48-pound monster snuck by a bevy of lures on the west end to make it as far as the Bourne Bridge before swallowing a soft plastic jig on the bottom.

Better fishing came with the full moon, I caught a 21-pound bass on an early morning blind cast with my green mack Guppy JoBo, Jr. on an east dropping tide a couple of days after that moon. One surfcaster brought in seven linesiders in an hour that were all at least 30 pounds with a white Magic Swimmer and some other above slots were landed at the Herring Run a few days later. It seemed one school of big fish chased bunker for 7 miles all the way from the Railroad Bridge out to Scusset Beach while riding an east tide.

Kenny Nevins kicked off June with a 40-incher on a pearl blue Savage Gear Sand Eel around this time the only fish being caught were down deep. Jeff Miller from Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore emphasized that soft plastic jigs were the key to success, “you have to be on the bottom or you’re not hooking up.” Some Canal Rats rated the beginning of the season as good, then the action died down toward the end of spring, but with plenty of bait around, we were optimistic for summer.

Summer

Summer officially kicked off on June 21, but it wasn’t your average strawberry moon month in Massachusetts. The water temperatures were cooler than usual and a pattern never seemed to develop. Steve Ferreira’s large bluefish was the only fish caught at the Falmouth Fishermen’s Association & Buzzards Bay Anglers Club annual cookout on June 30 at Aptucxet. Most of the second half of June produced hit-or-miss fishing, but some nice fish were logged by the regulars. Jack Barton had a 42-inch bass on a Jeck’s pink bucktail, Bill “On the Grill” Prodouz reeled in a 40-incher that fell for a white bucktail and Alex Correia landed a 46-inch bass during a terrific blitz. Dom Piccuito from Red Top reported a hefty 35-pounder on a dropping afternoon tide in the west end with a green FishLab and Don “Hawkeye” Willis caught a couple of slots during some topwater action with his yellow Guppy JoBo, Jr. Professional photographer, legendary surfcaster and retired Bourne Police Detective John Doble reported a good hit of slot bass one July morning but an extended bite never came together; it seemed that every time things started to come together, the bite would just die down to the extent that the constant refrain from disappointed Canal Rats was that the ditch was dead!

There had been lulls in fishing in the past, but that usually meant that striped bass were hard to find everywhere. It became frustrating for those riding the service roads every morning when the news of large stripers continued to trickle in from seemingly everywhere but the Canal! The only optimism came from Doble who smiled and kept saying, “The fish will be here any day now!” Everyone was hoping JD was right or there would soon be a run on scheduling psychiatric appointments!

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Bob Weir with his awesome 35-pounder landed at Pip’s Rip.

Editor Dave Anderson cautioned, during his weekly video broadcast, not to give up on the Canal. He knew through extensive Canal experience that the action should change for the better soon with some good tides approaching. Some bass were starting to show in the hole near the railroad bridge with one day’s total reaching 15 for the brave souls casting in the Combat Zone. Bob Weir had a nice 4th of July catching a 29-pound striper off the bottom from that productive pit. Even though Bob’s lure was a mackerel imitation, macks had not made a consistent appearance all season as squid, silversides and pogies had been the primary trio of baitfish. Bob scored big again from the same spot in mid-July with a 33-pounder that fell for a pink Al Gags soft plastic jig. Bluefish raided for a few days and everyone was catching them, this typist fought a 9.9-pound blue that charged up with my white Bill Hurley Canal Killer in its mouth to do a dance on the surface like a talented tarpon. If it had eaten a little more for breakfast I would have had a 10-pounder!

The middle of August brought 10 days of tremendous morning blitzes on the early east tide as stripers were slurping peanut bunker off the surface bending rods up and down the Canal. Remy Lobo from Yarmouth racked up dozens of nice fish including a 30-pounder that ate a Band of Anglers bunker imitation. Zak Baker used a white FishLab to score a 23-pounder and Kenny Nevins caught a 29-pounder the next day in the same spot, with the same lure at same time of day! Todd Benedict’s striper that inhaled a loaded blue/silver Cotton Cordell was estimated to be well north of 30 pounds and John Doble got into some topwater action landing a couple of nice slots with his yellow Guppy Jobo and then reeled in a 20-pounder off the bottom with a green mack FishLab.

Fall

Massive amounts of bait stayed put fueling enormous striper and bluefish blitzes that continued into September with less frequent occurrences in October. On one September morning the west end exploded with four distinct blitzes about 10 minutes apart as fish rode the east tide. The last week of October brought miles of busting stripers followed by monster bluefish including the 14.8-pounder landed by Jimmy Kelly on a Canal Bait & Tackle wacky mack. There were bent rods and big smiles all around!

“Jumpin Joe” England bounced his green mack FishLab Mad Eel off the bottom to bring a 20-pound striper to shore, Vinny Rosata landed a 41-inch beauty with his 5-ounce white soft plastic Al Gags jig and Joe “The Reel” McCoy fooled a 40-inch on a topwater bite with his white Cotton Cordell. Paul “The Painter” Gravina, Bill Walsh and “Pistol Pete” Freitas all caught nice fish. Tim “Hollywood” Petracca had a lot of success with his white Ron Arra Strike Pro Special Popper, but reeled in a 43-incher on a Northbar Flying Squid, his third 40-inch bass of the season which contributed to his total of 144 fish just in the month of October!

Rob Stork made a long cast to splash his pink loaded Cotton Cordell next to a breaking school, bringing in a 40-incher near Aptucxet, George Osowick caught a 42-inch linesider on his black bucktail even though he was still recovering from surgery and Bill Jenkinson worked his 4-ounce white Al Gags along the bottom of the water column to catch a 44-incher in the east end. Joe Gray caught several nice fish with a green mack Mad Eel in the west end including a couple in the 30-pound class and Bob Weir landed his share of linesiders including his best of the season 35-pounder at Pip’s Rip on an east tide. Fall fishing also produced the best of the year for Bill “On the Grill” Prodouz with his 31-pound bass that fell for a Striper Gear Rocket on the Cape side of the railroad bridge and there were reliable reports, without specific detail, about a monster linesider over 50 inches long! “Mashpee Mike” LaRaia fought a 40-inch to fruition and legendary surfcaster Charlie Murphy watched a guy battling a fish at Pip’s Rip, then heard somebody yell “43” as the linesider weighed down a Boga.

Jack Barton had to be happy with his biggest summer bass, but I think he was absolutely ecstatic in October when he watched his 7-year-old grandson, James Astle, reel in his very first striper, a 30-inch slot in the east end that fell for a white bucktail with a red Fat Cow trailer. The excited youngster also marked another first that day – a fat bluefish witnessed by an enthusiastic crowd of regulars, tourists and east end campers!

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James Astle (age 7) with his first Canal striper and proud grandfather, Jack Barton, looking on wearing and era-to-ear grin.

Conclusion

There were some nice fish caught this year, but I think most Canal Rats would describe the beginning of the season and most of the summer as disappointing. The end of summer and a good part of October, however, turned frowns upside down as their patience finally paid off with some fantastic fishing that continued to a lesser degree into November. Let’s hope that huge pods of baitfish find their way into the Canal early next year and that the predators follow.

As the bulk of the Canal fishing season came to a close, the Coots family of Red Top Sporting Goods celebrated the first birthday of AJ’s son, John. When the stout, handsome lad came into the world in 2021 he was such a big baby that his grandfather Tom immediately declared, “We’re going to need a bigger boat” and AJ agreed predicting his young son’s future to be, “either in the NFL or third generation Red Top!”

Doherty is a retired Massachusetts District Court clerk-magistrate and the author of “SEVEN MILES AFTER SUNDOWN.” He had surf cast the east end of the Canal so often that other anglers started calling him East End Eddie, thus a nickname became a pen name. He can be reached at [email protected].

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