Cape Cod, MA

Cape Cod is a gnarly pine tree sandbar that sticks sixty miles out from Massachusetts into the north Atlantic. A fishing mecca from time immemorial—Vikings crossed the Atlantic in open boats called knarrs to fish the teeming offshore banks, and the native Wampanoag perfected clambakes there—up to today with one of the best bluefish and striped bass fisheries on the East Coast.

In the middle of it all, at Town Line Plaza, a non-descript strip mall on the Dennis-Harwich border, lies Fishing The Cape. It’s a soul shop, a gathering place for craftsman. 

You can tell the seriousness of purpose not by what they sell, but by what they hang, by the little details: There’s a Rick Fleury original oil on the wall; Fleury is considered a rising master. There are Al Brewster duck decoys in glass cases; Brewster’s work is coveted by collectors.

“It’s the only place I know where you can walk in at 9 a.m., grab a cup of great coffee and begin talking to two of the most knowledgeable fishing experts this side of the Sagamore Bridge. Between shop managers Chris Kokorda and Dave Steeves, there isn’t a fishing question that can’t be answered,” says Vin Foti, president of the Cape Cod Salties Sportfishing Club. “Their fly-tying nights during the off-season have probably kept a lot of guys sane over the long winter layover.” 

Established 17 years ago, Fishing The Cape was originally an Orvis-only shop that had began to diversify its lines to suit the needs of an evolving demographic. They even have a couple of spinning reels in the back, gathering dust. When I kid Kokorda about this, he says, “for the tourists.” 

US & THEM

Residents of Cape Cod fall into two groups—natives and “wash ashores.” But whether a lineal Cape Codder who pahks his cah at Pahka’s Rivah, or a wash ashore from anywhere on the compass, they’re all seeking that one thing: the mighty striped bass.

Stripers traditionally arrive in Cape waters in April and stay until Thanksgiving, but in recent years an increasing number of holdovers have made this a year-round fishery.

Kokorda moved to the area six years ago to be a part of it. While he grew up casting from Connecticut shores, and tying flies with his grandfather from the age of eight, it wasn’t until he experienced saltwater fly fishing on the fertile flats around Monomoy Island that he decided to relocate. He recalls 100-fish days, while admitting that the last few years haven’t been quite so robust: “Now sometimes you stalk the flats all day to see three fish,” he says.

Opinions on the decline vary. Some site normal annual variations in stock and spawning ground degradation, with other partisans blame the big mid-water trawlers that scoop tons of herring or the ever-increasing seal population around Chatham and Monomoy. The seal thing has flipped 180-degrees. As recently as 1962, local officials paid hunters to kill “nuisance” seals. It paid up to five dollars a nose. Now federally protected, seals have exploded and brought in more sharks (way more sharks), so in the same waters in which they filmed Jaws we now have actual 20-foot great whites. Nothing is forever and everything’s in play.

BIG FISH IN THE WASH AT NIGHT

Kokorda enjoys stalking the sands in the lee of Monomoy, site casting to shadows that ghost in over the pale khaki and aqua-blue flats. He says some of his favorite fishing is off the backside; the east-facing, big wave-crashing beaches along the unspoiled National Seashore, what Kokorda calls going for “big fish in the wash at night.” There you can catch the lunkers—stripers average around fifteen-pounds but can range past seventy—fish that you simply can’t turn with a fly rod, or as Kokorda says, “you never even see the great ones.”

He is also head instructor at their saltwater fly-fishing school. The three-day schools run in conjunction with Chatham Bars Inn, (a kind of Great Gatsby fantasy camp come to life). Schools begin May 11 to 13 and include casting for distance, fly selection, reading the surf and the feeding habits of bluefish and striped bass.  

Fishing the spring surge on the Cape is not for the feint of heart. The fish arrive at a time of notoriously fickle weather—it can snow in April. Kokorda says, “When it’s blowing twenty, a lot of people tap out. You don’t fly fish because it’s easy. You do it because you appreciate the reward from your work.”

For more information, see fishingthecape.com

Cape Cod Times fishing columnist Rob Conery has walked, waded, and cast from nearly every piece of sand around the Cape, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard—occasionally hooking fish. He is a frequent loser in Tuesday night poker.