In a time when there were hardly any striped bass to speak of in Buzzards Bay, Richardson and his companions would go out and snag live menhaden to tempt massive bluefish. Bluefish clocking in at 15 to 20 pounds would sometimes strike within seconds of getting a menhaden on the hook. From then on, Richardson always knew he wanted to live near Buzzards Bay.
He got his wish in his mid-30s, after getting married and finding his home in Mattapoisett. Since then, Richardson has become a leading voice for boating and fishing in Buzzards Bay and throughout New England. He founded “New England Boating” and co-founded “New England Fishing,” websites which branched off into magazines and then TV shows – where he also served as writer and on-screen host. In 2017, he launched the multimedia platform Explore New England, which aims to help people of all ages explore the outdoors. (Now that’s a mission we can get behind.)
Despite his busy schedule, when spring arrives you’ll always find Richardson on the water, taking advantage of one of Buzzards Bay’s best fishing seasons. Springtime brings with it an array of migrating fish eager to strike at anglers’ bait, providing great action and some tasty eating as well.
Just in time for spring’s arrival, Richardson shared some of his top fishing tips to help get you out on the water during this great angling season.
How can I get started fishing around Buzzards Bay?
Once you get your recreational saltwater fishing permit, a good way to start fishing is to join an angling club. These local clubs are great places to “swap stories, pick people’s brains, and make new friends who really know the local waters,” Richardson explains. “There are lots of good online resources, from chat groups and online fishing forums, but if you’ll never learn as fast as you will from an old timer that will take you out fishing.”
Richardson also recommends hiring a fishing guide for a day. “Don’t go out and steal their spots,” he warns, but “don’t be shy about asking a lot of questions.” Short of giving up their secret spots, knowledgeable local fishing guides will have lots of tips to help you catch fish.
As you get into the sport, he also recommends making a habit of studying local navigational charts and satellite images on Google Earth to find new fishing spots. Look for places with good bottom structure and sharp drop-offs, places where strong currents will be flowing, and the places where these characteristics meet. “It’s part of the puzzle of fishing,” he says. “And it’s part of the fun of it, figuring out new spots. Don’t just always sick to your tried and true spots!”
What makes fishing on Buzzards Bay both special and challenging?
Richardson admits that fishing on Buzzards Bay has its challenges: it’s one of the most consistently windy places in the Northeast, with a regular afternoon breeze that can make it difficult to stay in one place. As such, Richardson recommends getting your fishing done in the morning: “Leave the afternoon sea breezes to the sailors—we share the Bay that way!”
But windy afternoons are easily balanced out by the variety of fishing habitats that the Bay provides. In contrast to the flat, sandy bottom of neaby waters, Buzzards Bay has a lot of bottom structure – from rocks and reefs to wrecks – where bottom fish like to hang out. The region’s many rivers also add an interesting dynamic for fishing: runs of herring and other small fish that swim upstream in the spring and back down in the summer attract large predators, like striped bass, closer to shore than normal. Rivers also provide a supply of slightly warmer water that encourages fish to hang out in their outflow. “You can catch big fish in very shallow water around the rivers and river mouth,” Richardson says.
The Bay’s shallow waters and ample variety make it a great place to get kids introduced to fishing. “I’ve had a blast going out with my kids to catch sea bass and scup, both of which are bottom fish and easy to catch.”
What do you look forward to catching every spring?
Like many Bay anglers, striped bass top the list of Richardson’s favorite spring fish. Once mid-May rolls around, bigger-sized striped bass start taking up residence around rock piles and bottom features in shallow waters, providing the opportunity to catch 30, 40, and even 50-pound bass right off shore. “I love poking around rock piles and casting top water lures for stripers—that’s the best,” Richardson says. “During that mid-May to mid-June period, on a calm day it’s possible to find 30 pound stripers in as little as 3 feet of water.”
Richardson looks for rock piles and rocky islands surrounded by waters 10 feet deep or less. He recommends trying Bird Island, off the coast of Marion, or Angelica Point in Mattapoisett. Wings Neck, which juts out from Pocasset, gets lots of tidal currents from the Cape Cod Canal to the north, bringing fish to its shallow offshore rocks. Just outside of Megansett Harbor, Seal Rocks provides a good spot to visit at high tide, when all of the rocks are underwater.
Black sea bass
At the same time that striped bass begin migrating, Buzzards Bay experiences an incredible run of black sea bass. Black sea bass numbers in the Bay have been rising over the last 10-15 years, largely thanks to warming water temperatures. As these bass move into Buzzards Bay to spawn, they’ll react to nearly any jig you throw in the water, with or without bait.
Richardson recommends looking near the same spots you might find striped bass, but in deeper water. Though black sea bass tend to congregate around structures later in the summer and fall, during the spring mating season, they’re often found in large pockets above flat, gravelly bottoms. Cleveland Ledge, the plateau on either side of the shipping channel off Falmouth’s Old Silver Beach (marked by the Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse), is a good place to try. Richardson’s tip is to set your boat up to slowly drift with the wind of current and drop a bucktail jig – baited with squid, if you want to add some scent appeal. Keeping your line as vertical as possible, tap the lure over the bottom to imitate the motion of a squid, and you won’t have to wait long for a black sea bass to strike.
“They’re great fun for kids to catch,” Richardson says. “It’s immediate action, and don’t need competitive or expensive gear – you can do it with a freshwater spinnng outfit. It’s very simple and easy, and you’re not just sitting around twiddling your thumbs.”
Fluke & Scup
These two easy-to-catch bottom fish are also great options for kids just getting started with fishing. Both fish can be found and caught in Buzzards Bay beginning in May. Fluke are most often found in deeper water, while scup inhabit shallower waters, and can even be caught from shore. Richardson notes, though, that the abundance and aggression of black sea bass means that those targeting fluke often end up with a sea bass instead!
Where can people without a boat go shore-fishing?
If you don’t have a boat, don’t fret: you’re not cut off from the abundance of the Bay’s spring fishing. Richardson recommends casting among the rocks along Gooseberry Island, or parking outside the gate at Demarest Lloyd State Park early in the morning and walking the trails down to the shoreline. Demarest Lloyd’s location at the mouth of the Slocums River can make it a very productive fishing spot, especially for stripers. If you’re up for a longer walk, Richardson also recommends walking down to the shoreline at Nasketucket Bay State Reservation to cast along the shoreline. This spot is best on an incoming tide, when fish are moving into shallow water as they follow the tide and find newly-covered territory.
On the other side of the Bay, walk down from Chapoquoit Beach to Black Beach, at the mouth of Sippewissett Marsh, and you’ll find great action during an outgoing tide as striped bass flush out of the marsh. This spot is especially good at night. Another popular spot is the Cape Cod Canal, though Richardson notes that the canal “has its pros and cons—it’s one of the best spots to catch striped bass from shore, but it can be very crowded.”