I knew we were staying in the right hotel as soon as I asked Bayside Resort general manager Rod Sroczenski about Cape Cod’s varying seasons.
“Well, there’s striper season. There’s albie season. There’s tuna season. And this year there’s a kingfish season.”
That right there is a guy with his priorities straight. Not a single silly word about leaves changing colors in the fall — although Sroczenski did say that September and October are great months to visit Cape Cod, with air and water temps conducive to fishing and the streets and water relatively deserted after the summer tourist hordes depart. If the leaves happen to turn orange while you’re in town, consider it a bonus.
Another sign that we’d chosen well: Local Hobie pro staffers Eric Harrison and Shawn Barham didn’t show up to welcome the writers and Hobie staff until long after we’d finished dinner, reluctant to leave what Harrison described as an incredible albie bite and generational kingfish onslaught just down the street.
“We had a kingfish run about a decade ago, but nothing like this,” he said. “Shawn and I probably released 15 king mackerel in shallow water just off the beach tonight. That never happens here. And the albie bite is on fire.”
King mackerel larvae hatched off Florida get swept northward via the Gulf Stream every year. But some unknown contributing factor — warmer water, availability of forage species, offshore storms, weird currents—is creating a phenomenal coastal return run this year.
There’s a fair amount of irony in a Florida angler — me — traveling 1,100 miles to Cape Cod, only to find myself in the midst of an historic albie (that’s bonito to Florida anglers) and kingfish bite.
Over the course of the week, I discovered a profound difference between chasing species we sometimes consider a nuisance in Florida versus New England.
“These fish are so temperamental,” Harrison explained. “They might eat everything you put in front of them one day, and totally turn up their noses at every lure in your tackle box the next.” We experienced both ends of that spectrum during our visit.
A regional cult fixated on albies has emerged here, with specific lures focused exclusively on the species. Epoxy jigs and “Albie Snax” skipped across the surface were far and away the most effective most days—although I inadvertently caught two on a jig bounced over the shallow bottom for black seabass and fluke. Craigville Beach in particular proved consistently spectacular for its accessibility to an impressive array of species within yards of the beach. Under better conditions, even a child could safely tangle with albies, bluefish, king mackerel, black sea bass, fluke, stripers and scup. And when was the last time huge sea robins ate your king mackerel plug in six feet of water?
As entertaining as the albie and kingfish beach bite was, I preferred my afternoon on Barnstable Harbor in search of striped bass. Within 200 yards of launching, diving gulls and breaking fish enveloped our small fleet, and we could have spent the afternoon right there releasing schoolie stripers on virtually every cast. Instead, I followed Harrison downstream to look for bass amid the dropoffs and swirling eddies sweeping the barren, glacial-stone west shoreline.
With a 10-foot tidal swing, kayak fishing at Barnstable is not for the weak. Every time I hooked a fish, I found myself a third of a mile down current by the time it got released, which made for a long, tiring journey back to the truck. Islands and sand bars that weren’t there minutes before magically erupted from the outgoing tide as the mile-wide bay transformed into a swift, narrow river. Any trip here should be carefully planned to take advantage of tidal direction to take you fishing and bring you home.
Given the wicked conditions generated by Tropical Storm Jose for five straight days — it was forecast to bounce off Cape Cod and quickly scoot off into the Atlantic — Hobie’s Mirage pedal drive proved the saving grace for the event. The few paddle kayakers who ventured off the beach found it extremely difficult to effectively fish and fight wind gusts and chop simultaneously. Power boaters didn’t fare any better; each time they motored into a school of breaking albies, the fish dropped from sight. Meanwhile, our group rarely had to make a blind cast, with fish tearing up schools of bay anchovies in all directions, not the least intimidated by our quiet presence. The smooth new MirageDrive 180s provided the mobility to quickly track down albies and stripers that suddenly preferred the anchovies a mile down the beach.
Whether chasing albies, king mackerel and flounder at Craigsville Beach on the south side or striped bass in Barnstable Bay to the north, Bayside Resort’s central location proved ideal for our pre-dawn forays. At Eric Harrison’s urging, we even ditched the kayaks one morning for a 30-minute drive to The Canal, a 7-mile-long big-striper magnet that doubles as a commercial shipping channel linking Cape Cod Bay and Buzzard’s Bay. After witnessing the 4-knot current ripping the rocky shoreline, I appreciated why Harrison only laughed when I asked about using kayaks there.
As a Florida grassflats angler, I found myself mesmerized by the ebb and flow of life in picturesque Lewis Bay Salt Marsh directly beneath my hotel room window. Although not as dramatic as Barnstable, the tides rise and fall hard here, narrow creeks snaking through the tall grass to replenish and drain the marsh. The parade of birds grew predictable: Two adult white swans and their brood of three half-grown chicks materialized each day to follow the rising tide into the grass, ducks closely in their wake. A dozen Canada geese hunkered down in a shallow pothole, seeking refuge from wind gusts that sometimes approached 50 knots. Great blue herons and white egrets snacked along creek edges. The birds were there to eat, which meant fish undoubtedly frequented the salt marsh for the same reason. Bayside manager Sroczenski confirmed the marsh was a nursery for juvenile bass, but New England striper tournament legend Eric Harrison threw in the clincher:
“The next time you come up, you should fish it at night. Big stripers love to hunt in two feet of water after dark.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t share that tasty tidbit until we had packed up. I put it on the list for our next visit, along with perhaps taking a shot at a bluefin tuna after Sroczenski told us about battling 200-pounders just a quarter-mile off the beach.
Bartender, jewelry designer and 84-year-old treasure Jon Deyesso — all hundred pounds of him — presides over Bayside’s Moby Dick lounge. The intimate, tranquil bar was a lifesaver for our crew of storm-abused, worn-out kayak anglers in rejuvenating and planning the next day’s events, while contemplating the story behind each of the 15,000 guest-signed dollar bills blanketing the ceiling and walls.
In addition to its ideal central location for fishing, Bayside Resort lies within a pleasant walk of the three restaurants we enjoyed most—The Yarmouth House, DiParma and Timmy’s Roast Beef. The Yarmouth House features huge portions, excellent variety and outstanding quality. Grab an incredible carry-out pizza next door at DiParma if you’re too tired to venture out on the town.
Now pay attention.
A must-do lunch venue–and I cannot overstate this — is Timmy’s Roast Beef a block west. Ordering anything other than a mega roast beef sandwich and a large bag of fries or hand-breaded onion rings should never, ever enter your mind. The wise get there early to gaze upon the four Volkswagen-sized mounds of lean roast beef as they emerge from the oven. When they’re gone, Timmy locks the door. As lunch approaches, the line of locals extends into the parking lot. There are never leftovers. Take the hint.
Bayside Resort Hotel
The Yarmouth House
DiParma Italian Table
Timmy’s Roast Beef