Cape Cod Canal - Fundamental Information [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Cape Cod Canal - Fundamental Information

03-17-2009, 09:21 AM
Here are two posts from John Basser (jfbasser) (probably the Forum's most experience man at this location) on cape cod canal fundamental information which was posted in the 2009 spring clave sign on thread. I am unable to pull a post from a thread as a separate sticky so have entered into a new thread. The admins can edit where necessary and make the thread from John directly.

1)In the spirit of not driving by fish to find fish a few of us get together to fish the canal early on Friday morning before Clave weekend. Some fish conventional tackle and some fly fish. The fly fishing is limited because of backcast room and the ability to land a fish in the strong current as the angler is pretty immobile on the rocks. The canal is one of the only spots with deep water close to shore and is a major migration route for Striped Bass to Cape Cod Bay. Fishing reports for that morning are always posted on the site prior to Friday evening to get the Clave blood flowing. Usually a few decent fish are caught in a few hours time if the tides are right. It also gives folks a chance to try out their Spey or Skagit rods.

2)Canal fishing in general centers around what is known as "breaking tides". These are the tides when fish usually break into mini surface blitzes just after sunrise. Turns out that they occur near or at the full or new moons which produces a low tide at our Latitude at daybreak (quite convenient...a current change at daybreak at times with the highest current flow (or best tides)). The current in the canal turns East about an hour before low tide, so if there is an East turn at 3 am it signals the begining of a round of possibly up to a week with breaking tides. The earlier the East turn the further East folks usually fish and as the turn moves toward 7 am for example folks will tend to gather nearer the West End.

Fish tend to move in close to the bank in fly range in rips a few hours after the current turn. The bait must move in at that time and the chunk bait fisherman and the short casters will start catching more fish than the long casters. These are general principles and the presence of an abundance of bait such as mackerel or squid or sea herring can override the norm and cause the events you can read about. Those events are impossible to predict.

Parking should be done in an area that is central and controlled by the Corps of Engineers rather than sticking a vehicle in the woods. Use a bike to get around the canal. No side is better than the other other if you fish the Cape side the sun is not as bothersome and the prevailing wind is at your back. Even conventional casters need help with distance now and again.

Wind is an interesting point. There are times that I have been more frustrated by wind with heavy tackle rather than fly. Working a plug in a current with a cross wind blowing braided line in a big loop is not enjoyable.


03-17-2009, 04:47 PM
Wow! What an epiphany. I always wondered about the tide change at daylight, and which way was best for the bite. Thank you John Basser, and John Morin for providing the info. I gotta linkup at the clave, or whenever to experience the real bite in the canal.

05-11-2010, 10:32 AM
When John was embarking on his first extended stay in the hospital for treatment a friend suggested he write an essay while passing the time. The following is a first draft of that piece. I don't know if there's a second or third draft. I think it's been posted on a couple of other sites. Anyhow, I think it's appropriate to post this here given the pending pre-clave Canalyakker event.

FlyRodding for Big Fish while keeping friends at the Cape Cod Canal
JF Basser (aka John Furze, aka canalyakker)

I have been fortunate enough to catch a twenty-five pound striper from shore on a fly. The only aspect of the catch that is befuddling was that it was caught in Rhode Island rather than the Cape Cod Canal. The Rhody catch was a random success, the right place at the right time with the right fly. After a long afternoon fishing a friend encouraged me to continue fishing into the night. I would have preferred to head home to get some sleep, but gave a few more casts after dark in a place where the beach meets the rock, a good choice to be fishing if you want a good Rhody striper.
I love Rhody fishing, but the Canal and I have strong roots. The Canal also is a focal point of many of my fishing network of friends. I am not the type that enjoys fishing solitude, but rather enjoy the moments when five or six anglers are all hooked up with a passing school of bass. Based on my years fishing the canal, I know that the Ditch has many fish in it that can eclipse that Rhody fish. I have caught a few on conventional tackle and have seen uncountable numbers of others caught. But, how to entice one from a passing group to a big fly and then be able to maintain control of its force in a classic Canal rip. This needs to be done with equipment that is not just suitable at Pip’s Rip or the mud flats or some other place with convenient mussel bed and back cast room. What fly rod technique do I need for any location I choose to plant my feet when I dismount my bike next to a rip roiling out from the bank.
At the early age of forty-five I was lectured the Canal basics by one of the best. He was returning to Canal fishing after his long absence from Striper fishing back in the day. He built my first conventional rod and we fished regularly at the West End just east of the Sagamore Bridge. We usually fished the tail end of the West going tide . After a few years, I started to explore on my own and settled in to tossing jigs and plugs at a location on the East End Mainland side. I generally fished it on the days of the classic morning East turn around the moons.
Ten years passed and I decided to initiate an adventure to become a “fly fisherman”. I looked at flyfishing for stripers primarily as a foray into a lighter tackle pursuit rather than being specifically drawn to flyfishing itself. It was just another way to fish to me. Possibly, my brother-in-law also had a bug in my ear about kayak fishing the Slocum River with flypoles. He is always watching ESPN and believes anything they say. In any case, after two or three years of kayaking small productive rivers, and hitting the outer beach front and flats circuit all over Cape Cod I had honed my casting skills to a reasonable level. The flats circuit was getting ho-hum and much too much of a time sink. During this period, I also slid off to Rhody on occasion to fish with another group that fished classic streamer patterns such as Ray’s flies and flatwings. We fished three flies at once often. A technique that is very, very productive. With the same Rhody group I learned to tie big flies using natural materials over the winter months. During this period, I also spent some productive time shore fishing Dartmouth and Westport after learning the methods to subvert the public access trickery in that area. I also made quite a few flyfishing trips from a boat for tuna, albacore, and bonito off Westport and Sakonnet. Found out pretty quickly that fishing from a boat with flies required a whole new set of casting strokes and a different attention to detail that added capability to my quiver. Over a few winters, I took parts of my vacation and did the Bahamas and Keys thing primarily for bonefish and snook.
But, every time I went down cape I motored over the canal and just as it was rediscovered years prior by my original mentor, I was drawn back. The canal never gets ho-hum to fisherman that have truly fished it. It has so much variety buried in a shoreline that looks virtually the same from afar. I wanted to toss flies into that rip that had given up some good fish in years past. The rip that was in close to the bank a few hours after the East turn on the moons. My rip success had included some good fish on Yo-Zuri minnows fished really in close, and now I had the experience and the flies the size necessary to attack that rip with flygear.
I began by sneaking down to the Canal on weekdays in disguise for the early morning tides so that noone that knew me would identify me with my flies and my noble Powell 10 weight rod, an 11 wt Scientific Anglers floating line, and a Scientific Anglers System II reel. I experienced a few hook-ups from good fish that promptly drew my line down over the edge leading to the canal depths. The sharp boulders sheared my flylines. Then there were the attempts at steeple casting with a 12 wt at other locations along the canal which got old quick. The whole approach quickly got inconclusive and I let the idea rest for a time and returned to plugging and participating in the new age conversion from conventional to spinning tackle that swept the canal like a sharp cold front with the advent of the new braided lines. I still dreamed of my fantasy of finding a fly rig that would stop those fish in a rip and allow me to fish side by side with a now even larger group of Canal buddies that I had met through the Stan Gibbs tournament.
I did not need an Acre of Bass but just a few with a high degree of difficulty. The scenario of this pursuit still sat in my head.
It is 6:30 am at the Cape Cod Canal on a day of breaking tides. I and my buddies have done well on the tide. A few good fish on top and a few more on jigs down deep. The line of jigging friends continue to throw slightly shorter casts in anticipation of a good breakfast. A boiling rip is forming close to shore as the water cranks East. I look back on the rocks to lay an eye on the fly rig I brought down this morning. I even have a special bike mount for it that disguises its presence. This is my third try at a rig for this my favorite pole. I think I have it this time, or I am at least getting close. A rig suitable to take a fish or two in the rip and still be invited to breakfast with the boys? What is my choice among all the alternatives ? Can I avoid learned voices that don’t fish.
If you have ever ventured deeply into fishing the Cape Cod Canal you know that it can be real tough on gear and fishing friendships. Fishing friendships are maintained by developing a fishing style and casting ability virtually if not exactly equal to those of your fishing buddies. Fishing cadence is critical when folks are thirty feet apart along the banks of any fishing hole with up to 6 knots of current. Is there a flyrod and technique capable of flinging big flies into the rip, maintain a slot in the cadence, and offer some hope of line control to avoid the myriad of outcroppings and occasional lobster pot. What about fish control if I hook up?
I fished a few Spey casting get togethers . Spey rods are two handed soft action fly rods that excel at a long roll cast of a flyline that has a distributed head of 60 to 70 feet or longer. The whole line is rolled out to a current seam and then left to drift slowly with the current. Another issue with Spey style rods is that the rod length tends to grow with rod power. To attain the power close to that necessary to deal with Canal fish and big flies we find ourselves brandishing a 15 to 16 foot rod that gives too much leverage to the fish to lay out those long bellied Spey lines. While the cast is beautiful to behold it is not going to cut it in a crowd along the bank because there is no inherent line management available over the time of the drift. It is the flyfishing version of the guy who lets his drift with a jig get too close to the bank.
I needed a technique where I could put a shorter section of my fly line in “neutral” until I was ready to shoot line on a non-interfering basis into the unoccupied drift lanes of folks alongside.
Through some research and with the help of a few friends more familiar with the two handed flyrod I was led to a relatively new set of casts for the two hander developed in the Pacific NorthWest . They were based on using a short compact head for the business end of the flyline, 27 feet to be exact. These short heads weighed almost as much as a long headed Spey line. A section of sinking or floating line is added to the front of these Skagit heads to make the entire rig of head and tip about three and one half times the length of the rod. I figured that a rod of 11 to 12 feet might be the ticket so I fabricated a sink tip of about ten feet.
The Skagit technique can propel large flies which met one of my key requirements. It is a cast and retrieve technique that only leaves under 40 feet of line out of the tip. It requires less room behind the caster than the Spey technique, almost zero room behind. It requires minimal physical effort and uses a water tension anchor to load the rod.
I purchased a 750 grain Skagit head and coupled it and the tip to a Lami 1L spinning blank. The 1L did not have the right action. I needed more of a tip action so I arranged to try a new rod to the market, a Loomis Beach two-hander matched to the line. The rod is 11 foot 3 inches and is the strongest of the models offered. This outfit seemed to meet my casting needs so I purchased the rod. This is the rod that I am using today. I spooled the flyline and backing line on an old Florida cork drag reel with a large diameter. I use at least a thirty pound leader and probably will go to forty. I have been using forty as a shocker on my canal spinning tackle and it is holding up fine to nicks and abrasions. I can sock the drag down real tight on this drawbar reel and have stopped Albacore dead in their tracks with it. If I get the big fish bite someday this reel will be socked down and my plan is not to allow the fish too much leverage on the rod. I will keep it low and fight the fish off the reel. I may walk back a few yards to gain line on the fish and then reel up line as I walk back towards it. I tried wading in an Albacore once when I was undergunned with an 8 weight and it worked like a charm. Pointed the rod at the fish, turned and put it under my arm, locked the reel with my hand and started walking. We shall see.
Recently, I have fished among friends with this rod while they were using conventional techniques and they still talk to me so the part of my plan to be non interfering is working out. The Skagit style is a cast and retrieve technique, so the running line behind the head is stripped to just outside the rod tip after each cast. The part of the line that is still dangling downrip must be brought in front of the caster to execute the next forward cast or just to kill time. For this we use either the Snap T or the Perry Poke to lift and position the head in front and to the right of the caster. The snap T is an up, out and a quick accelerated down to the left motion with the rod that essentially rolls the line up rip. Thing of beauty. The Perry Poke is a lift of the rod to vertical while keeping it close to the body to pickup the line that is down rip and a then a drop of the rod rather than a snap to leave the head in a crumpled pile slightly to the casters right. The final cast is executed by sweeping the rod outside the body then turning the rod over to make a true overhead casting stroke. These casts apply to those conditions with wind to the left and the rips running right to left. Perfect for the cape side with southwest wind and a west running tide. The tail end of the West. A lovely tide. On the mainland with an East running rip the same casts can be executed cack-handed or as above early in the morning on breaking tides when there is little or no wind from the right.
There is a great way to idle this combination to kill time as someone fishes out their conventional drift. It is called the Wombat cast. The Wombat is a specialized Skagit cast using a snap T to bring the line in the water parallel to the bank in front of you. The line is then Perry poked into a pile using a slight outward cast. The pile then flows down rip while its postion relative to the bank can be controlled with in and out and up and down rod movements. This combination can be repeated as necessary and when an opening in the drift of others appears a cast can be made from the Perry Poke pile using 80% lower hand and 20% upper hand to accelerate the two handed rod to a stop shooting running line to gain distance. Then work that big fly slowly through the rip to jump your trophy Striper on a fly caught at the Cape Cod Canal. If you don’t get the fish of your dreams at least you will still be among friends.

Head : The thick forwardweighted portion of a flyline
Skagit: short compact head (27feet) flyline for the two-hander. Shoots line into the cast with large flies a
Snap T: A flyline maneuver that brings the Skagit head parallel to the bank and in front of the caster
Perry Poke: A flyline maneuver that dumps the head to the pre-casting position in the water. The squigglier the dump the better for the waterborne anchor that loads the rod on the backcast
Running Line: The thin flyline behind the head. Has good shooting properties
East End: The portion of the canal East of the Sagamore Bridge
Tail end of the West: The last 2 to 3 hours of the West running tide. The water level is dropping
East running tide: Tide that runs from Buzzards Bay to Cape Cod Bay. The water level starts rising about an hour after the turn from West.

05-11-2010, 10:45 AM
Great stuff Fred.
Many thanks JF Basser RIP.

05-11-2010, 11:49 AM
Spot on! Nothing to add here, that ladies and gentlemen ,boys and girls is how it's done. Reason enough to call it canalyaker day. Miss ya John

05-11-2010, 11:58 AM
Thanks Fred. I'll be thinking of our old friend on Friday 21st.

I think about him and smile every time I cross the bridge ...,