In just over 2 months the first positive Cape Cod Bay fishing reports will start trickling into bait shops on Cape Cod. One early season Cape Cod Bay fishing spot worth mentioning is the famous Billingsgate Shoal.
Viewed on a chart Billingsgate Shoal is the most noticeable and extensive area of structure inside Cape Cod Bay. The Shoal extends from a few miles north of Dennis’ Sesuit Harbor to northernmost point of Wellfleet.
Back in the 1800′s a small village of houses was located on Billingsgate Island which once sat just outside Wellfleet Harbor. Strong storms and the perpetually shifting Cape Cod tides and sands have since swept the island into the sea. I believe that at extreme minus tides the abutments from some of the homes can be seen poking through the shallow water on top of the Shoal.
Aside from being entrenched in Cape Cod hisotry, Billingsgate Shoal today offers fishermen plenty of phenomenal fishing opportunities for striped bass, bluefish, tuna and even the occasional tautog. The Shoal is a hub for recreational, charter and commercial anglers.
The Spring Time Bite
Over the past few years the Shoal has fished well beginning in late May and continuing right on through June. One of the most popular techniques in the area is jigging bucktails via wire line. A Penn 113 conventional reel loaded with 300 yards of 45 pound wire is a pretty typical setup found on boats fishing the area. Aside from wire line jigging (which can be quite a workout) the tube and worm as well as casting and trolling plugs works well under the right conditions.
In the spring it’s possible to find large schools of striped bass feeding on the surface at Billingsgate. Remember that the area is quite expansive, so keep your eyes open for diving birds or if you have the capabilities, use radar to zone in on the flocks.
We had an incredible top water plugging day on the Shoal a few years back. Gannets lead the way to the feeding and we were lucky to have virtually “stumbled” upon an incredible mass of striped bass. The action lasted for hours and we boated over twenty 15-35 pound stripers on top water plugs cast with light spinning tackle. We finished the trip by trolling up a few 30 pound behemoths on the way in. Of course the fishing is not always this hot at Billingsgate!
When fishing Billingsgate it’s important to gather as much intel as possible before heading out on the water. Remember that the Shoal is huge-there is a ton of water to cover. Having an idea as to where the bite has been happening in recent days can really help to shorten the search time. Some days the bass hold deep in 50 plus feet of water. Other times the stripers push up shallow on top of the Shoal. Knowing which direction to head before launching the boat is a surefire way to improve your odds of finding the biomass.
Because Billingsgate is so huge, anglers have over the years given creative names to certain areas of the Shoal. Names like the Guzzle, the #1 Can, the Path, and the Northern Edge are some of the most popular areas. Under certain conditions during particular times of the year bass will stack up in these spots. The tricky part is pin-pointing exactly what conditions attract the fish to each spot. I’ve been trying for years to figure it out and I still have a long ways to go.
The Shoal is home to large amounts of big bait. Sand eels are the most prevalent, however herring, mackerel and even squid will at times invade the Shoals. In turn larger than average striped bass are often attracted to the area. Certain spots on the Cape offer fast action with loads of small bass. Billingsgate Shoal is not one of these small fish areas. You may have to put your time in, however the pay off will most likely be in the form of a 25 pound plus lineside.
Bluefins at Billingsgate
All this big bait also attracts bluefin tuna to Billingsgate. During 2010 and 2011 tuna in the 100-250 pound class were reported in the deeper water to the west of Billingsgate. The 90-100 foot zone seemed to produce the most tuna sightings. It’s difficult to get an idea of just how many tuna are seen and caught in this area due to the lack of angler effort. Needless to say the fish are there year in and year out. It can be a smart move to have a tuna spinning setup on hand at all times when fishing Billingsgate-just in case.
The deper water of Billingsgate (known by old timers as “The Square”) used to be a giant tuna hotspot during the fantastic Cape Cod Bay bite of years past. According to some sources, this bite was extinguished one or two seiners operating inside Cape Cod Bay during the early 2000′s. Supposedly these seiners literally scooped up the schools of giant tuna that Cape Cod Bay rod and reel anglers depended upon. The giant tuna off Billingsgate may not be as plentiful as in years past, however they too are still present at times in the deeper water west of the Shoal.
Billingsgate is by far one of the top fishing areas on Cape Cod. If you’re interested in big striped bass and a legitimate chance with bluefin tuna, then the Shoal is the spot for you.
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Tight lines and good luck,