Hotspot: The Combat Zone - The Fisherman

Hotspot: The Combat Zone

The Combat Zone is the area east of the Railroad Bridge that spans the west end of the Cape Cod Canal, the size of the zone is defined by length of the lineup of anglers fishing there.

Depending on who you talk to, some might consider the entire Cape Cod Canal to be a “combat zone,” but, for the hardcore canal angler, there really is only one. The funny thing about it is, that of all the famous spots along the Canal with names known throughout generations, the Combat Zone hasn’t even carried its infamous moniker for a decade. Up until about 7 or 8 years ago, this stretch would have been designated by calling it, ‘Railroad Bridge, mainland side’. For the uninitiated, the banks of the Canal are designated into two sides “Cape side” and “mainland side”.

But sometime over the last 7 or 8 years, a new pattern has emerged (or perhaps a known pattern kept secret by a few regulars was “leaked to the public”), but during the spring migration (and well into the summer) schools of large stripers hang in the Canal channel outside the land cut and then periodically push into the Canal, chasing bait. This usually happens starting at the very tail end of the west tide and can carry on for hours during the east. These blitzes can happen any time of day or night, but the best fishing tends to happen mornings, evenings and through the night.

The daytime action can be epic with massive blitzes of breaking fish, many of them 20 to 40 pounds and every year a few fish eclipsing the magic 50-pound mark are logged here. Magic Swimmers, pencil poppers and heavy lead-headed paddletails do most of the damage here, but when the fish are blasting bait, they will hit almost anything. After dark, it’s usually all about bouncing bottom with heavy jigs like the 5-ounce Savage or the East End Lure Co Boss Mack. Some nights though, will see action on Magic Swimmers or other upper-column swimmers that can handle current.

Canal regular, Jami Price, with a solid Combat Zone striper, notice the crowd in the background.

The Combat Zone gets its name from the clash of crowds and stripers that collide there. Etiquette is pretty much a four-letter word here, with ample parking in the massive Buzzards Bay Park parking area, quick access to the Canal and awesome fishing, there will be dozens to hundreds of anglers lining the bank from the bridge all the way back to the old bridge abutment almost ¾-mile from the lot, and if the action has been hot and heavy, the numbers of anglers might blow your mind! On less crowded nighttime west tides, some of the rocky outcroppings along this stretch can be very productive for drifting live eels; especially from mid-July through early-October.

In the fall, the striper action becomes less predictable but another species of obsession becomes prevalent. False albacore make runs into the Big Ditch, following a similar pattern to the summer stripers. Pushing bait balls up into the neck of the Canal and then rushing in with the bait as the east tide pulls it in. Anglers hoping to hook into ‘Canalbies’ should up their tackle from the 7-footers used from boats and jetties to light, but stout, 9-footers with 5K class reels that hold plenty of line and feature a smooth, reliable drag. You think an albie puts on a show out in open water? Just wait until you tie into one in the Ditch!

The Combat Zone is famous for exceptional fishing, mind-numbing crowds, tangled lines, loudmouths and even the occasional physical altercation; but if you pay attention to those around you and pick your days, you’ll enjoy some amazing action with the chance of landing the striper (or albie) of a lifetime.



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