The Monomoy Shoals encompass a unique topography made up of pebbles and cobblestones and shifting sands at the southern most tip of Monomoy Island. The shifting and constant changing of the area is embodied by the term Monomoy Island itself. Throughout history, there have been times where the ‘island’ has been connected to the mainland itself and others where Monomoy is disconnected and is a true island.
In late spring and summer, the tip of Monomoy offers what I believe to be a truly unique fishing experience where the fishing can be intense and there is something for everyone. I typically launch my own boat at Barn Hill Road in Chatham and I typically will launch just before sunrise. When I launch there is no shortage of variety. I personally bring spinning gear, trolling outfits, and fluke setups. There is a guide with a flats boat who brings customers with their flyfishing gear looking for blues and stripers as well as bonito and albies later in the summer. From another part of stage harbor a larger down east charter boat comes in behind us and he has on board wire line with jigs or umbrella rig setups. If you can dream up a way to fish, it is very likely, there is a technique that you can employ out on the shoals.
In this writeup I want to focus on some of the specific techniques unique to Monomoy where the position of your boat and your position on the rip is critical to success.
Monomoy acts as a dividing line between the shallower, generally warm waters of Nantucket Sound and much colder, deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Your first encounter of this ‘barrier’ will be when you ride out to the shoals and the temperature will drop 20 degrees on any given day. On many days, the ride out will be a t-shirt and when the point is reached a sweatshirt is required. The abrupt meeting of these waters and temperatures also results in massive fog at times, and that is a very big factor for sure for boaters.
The shoals have names and over the radio and in tackle shops the specific areas of the shoals are simply spoken of in the first person. The primary shoals are as follows:
1. Handkerchief – Nantucket Sound Side
2. Bearses – Atlantic Side
3. Stonehorse – Atlantic Side
The above shoals are within the Federal three mile line where stripers can be targeted. The shoals below are beyond the federal line and care should be taken fishing here as it is illegal beyond the federal line to target stripers.
4. Pollock Rip
5. Little Round
6. Great Round
On the subject of geography, I also think its important to note a few things about topography.
The shoals above are not all uniform in their makeup. Handkerchief Shoal may be predominantly comprised of shifting sands. Bearses and Pollock Rips are a mix of sand, pebbles, and cobblestones. This mix of structure gives Bearses the appearance of being terraced and it also contributes to the various bowls and pockets that are known to occur at Bearses. Stonehorse Shoal has a portion that looks on a chart to be a formation carved out of rock. Stonehorse is actually a shoal that holds fluke and black sea bass and perhaps that will be the subject of a future writeup.
The point in bringing this up about the topography is that there is a misconception that all the shoals are just sand and that they constantly shift. There are other points or ridgelines that do not change and you can use them as start points for your fishing excursions. No doubt portions change every year. I have tracks on my chart plotter coming around the point from ten years ago that in today’s physical world would be driving across the beach instead of water. I have depths on my chart that register a depth of 40’ that today may be 20’.
For those new to Monomoy and are going out there in a boat for the first time, I would recommend going with someone. My father-in-law who had explored Monomoy on his 18’ whaler came with me on many of my early excursions and showed me the basics. At the time I wasen’t aware of how useful his instruction was and after fifteen or so years of fishing the area, I still find some of the things he told me useful.
From the Nantucket Sound side, the approach to the point is to Handkerchief Shoal and specifically Point Rip. Handkerchief is a shallower set of Rips and Point Rip itself is where the current of the Atlantic curls around the tip of the island and meets the waters of Nantucket Sound. On most days, Point Rip has breaking water and the Rip waves might be a couple feet tall and very manageable. When the tide and wind conditions conspire, Point Rip can be downright dangerous. If you head further east to avoid Point Rip and pass through the main body of Handkerchief, the waters seem more tame, but at low tide, these areas are also extremely shallow and boaters should take caution.
Rounding the corner to the Atlantic on most days results in calmer water on most days with a southwest wind in the mornings. When the wind changes directions or when there are big rollers on the Atlantic, Bearses Shoal can also be pretty daunting in appearance. With some practice navigating the rip lines can become pretty simple. Know your boat and be honest about your capabilities and if you have doubts about exploring an area, there are plenty of other acres of shoal that are safe on any given day.
Now to the fishing……..
RIPS FISHING - CASTING TECHNIQUE 1
I liken this first technique to surfcasting from your boat back into breaking waves.
The boat is positioned on the calm side of the rip. There are two ways to do this. You can motor from the rough side across the rip to the calm side and back off on the throttle or you can navigate on the calm side, turn your transom towards the rip, back off the throttle and slowly drift back towards the rip and then engage the again to a point where you are holding position. I will generally choose the second method because it disrupts the fish less but on some days you may not have a choice
For this method to work, I recommend having someone at the helm at all times. The boat is in gear but depending on the current the boat position may vary relative to the rip line. If you find yourself drifting too far back, its important the give more throttle and stay ahead. The rips are not always parallel to your transom. The direction of the boat needs to continuously be adjusted relative to the rips.
Once your boat is in a position you want to fish, top water offerings or small jigs can be cast back into the breaking waves and twitched in place. Your lure is either surfing the waves or tumbling through them. With the twitching rod action you are trying to mimic a squid or baitfish struggling in the current or fleeing from the rip. It’s not uncommon during the squid run to see squid releasing ink into the water as they flee from stripers. It’s not uncommon to see fish in the face of the breaking waves attacking bait on the surface. It’s these visuals that make fishing the rips of Monomoy so interesting in my view. The rods and reels are relatively light in this situation. 7’ medium action rods and smaller reels in the 4000 class are fine. Savage Gear Sandeels, Magic Swimmers, Daiwa Minnows, Hogy Squid Plugs, Resin Jigs, various Spook type lures will all work. If you want to step back in time a bit, you can utilize a Rip squid which is a squid shell rigged to float on top of the waves and surf on top. Some of the local Chatham tackle shops have these types of rigged squid shells.
Once hooked up, fighting the fish also involves fighting the current. A smaller fish can be slowly steered out of the current into the calmer water and towards the boat. If a larger fish is hooked up, the person at the helm may want o give a bit of throttle and take the fish out of the rips into the shallow water. If you find yourself far forward in the calm water, you may elect to cut the throttle down and drift back towards the fish. Know that when you drift back, communication back and forth to the angler is important because once the throttle is cut and you are drifting back, your tension on the line can decrease and the angler has to reel quickly to take up the line and maintain tension.
RIPS FISHING - CASTING TECHNIQUE 2
I see this technique employed by fly anglers. All the boating position points from technique 1 apply here, but the difference is in the presentation. Rather than holding the lure back behind the boat in the rips, the angler(s) are casting perpendicular to the boat and allowing the bait to drift through the shallow water and the rough water. In this technique you can utilize surface offerings or subsurface offerings that can drift back. The strikes generally come as the lure crosses from the rough to the smooth water which is where the depth changes.
Once hooked up, the same situation with the boat being in and out of gear to land the fish apply. I personally enjoy using this method with any type of weighted sinking plastic or resin coated lure that simulates a fleeing baitfish. Resin jigs and other jigs of its type work very well. Darters and bottle shaped lures also work very well with this technique.
RIPS FISHING - DRIFTING TECHNIQUE
There are portions of the rips where the depths are greater than 15’, approaching even up to 40’. You may be exploring different areas of the rips and your sonar may detect pockets of fish in the deeper areas. The surface action may not be there and may not work because the fish are holding down low.
If you elected you could target these fish with wire line and jigs or perhaps even trolling a deep diver, but you can also target them with weighted jig heads, weighted soft baits or other more finessed methods of fishing and this technique applies.
After marking these areas on your plotter you approach the zone on the slick side and cut your engine. You will begin drifting back and you may begin marking fish on your sonar at which point the anglers on the back of the boat who have let their baits down can begin jigging the baits through the strike zone.
The strikes generally occur just as the boat and your vertically presented bait cross the edge of the formed rip. This technique is great for lighter tackle. After hooking up to a fish, the person at the helm needs to maintain directional and throttle control at that point to safely be able to land the fish.
With this technique its very important for those fishing and the individual at the helm to evaluate the relative opportunities and safety of the drift. The waves will be crashing the back of your transom and again, the conditions may dictate that a drift is abandoned or cut short.
RIPS FISHING - TROLLING TECHNIQUE
There are those who associate trolling with boring, mindless fishing and that it basically lacks a certain finesse. I would argue that trolling along a rip line utilizes the conditions and the boat as tools in helping to get the fish to bite.
At Monomoy, when I troll, I am usually trolling subsurface swimming plugs or the tube and worm. During the course of any trip to the rips I am noticing sections of the rip with diving birds that are moving from area to area. I keep a mental track of the areas that the birds have hit and by connecting the dots, it may form a track of dots of a certain length along an edge or along a bowl of the rip and these areas make ideal area to troll.
A second consideration is traffic. You can only set up to troll an edge of a rip if there is sufficient access and room to troll. You may have to break away and troll away from some of the traffic. Once finding a section to troll I will start again on the calm side of the rip and let out either the lures or the tubes. Begin trolling parallel to the rip line. You will quickly notice, particularly with the tube and work that he tubes will not track completely behind the boat. The tubes will start drifting towards the rip even though you are crawling forward. The tubes will swing through the turbulent portion of the rip and give a very natural presentation.
The reason I enjoy this technique so much is first for the presentation and second for the ability to control the lures. There are times where I will push the throttle forward a bit and pull the tubes out of the turbulence and then present them again through the rip or there are times where I may reduce the throttle and allow the lures and the boat to drift back basically presenting the lures back to the fish. Finally, there are situations where I may see fish breaking ahead in the calm water and I will at that point accelerate a bit and pull the lures through the calm water and this will produce a strike.
Trolling through the rips allows a lot of creativity and experimentation. I like using lead core for this technique for the tube and work because I can control the amount of line out. If you tube and worm, you have to take extra caution with the lines because they may tangle when they tumble back into the rips. Mixing tubes with other types of lures is discouraged and I can tell firsthand my experimentation has resulted in more tangles than strikes.
When I am not tube and worming, I am trolling with braid. I am trolling umbrella rigs on braid on heavier setups or trolling lipped plugs subsurface on spinning gear or light conventional gear.
I hope this article has given those reading some ideas on technique and strategy if you plan a trip out to Monomoy. This is admittedly a limited number of the available techniques. It doesn’t touch on live bait or wire line jigging which are also very popular techniques at Monomoy.
Thanks for reading and tight lines!