Our upwind leg out of Barnstable Harbor, on Cape Cod, Ma., will take us past the end of Sandy Neck, then into the shoals which spread away from Barnstable and Sandwich like enormous sacks of sand. Those shoals attract baitfish. And where there are baitfish on Cape Cod, there are striped bass and bluefish.
Partially a wildlife refuge loaded with fish, mostly a barrier island whose affect is haunting and desolate, the Cape’s Sandy Neck is long and delicate and windswept. Deposited in Cape Cod Bay by glaciation and elongated into an arm by littoral drift, the Neck’s shoals absorb groundswell rumbling in with great violence during the winter, and hold striped bass and bluefish from June and October.
We’ve chosen the Neck for several reasons. Juliana and I consider Barnstable Harbor itself to be an over-rated kayaking area. You’re hemmed in on one side by the beach, on the other by mudflats. And although seals sometimes summer there — puppy-faced little cuties with heads the diameter of pie plates — spend an afternoon in the harbor’s waters and it’s seen one seal seen them all. Moreover, powerboats crowd the channel on weekends; meanshile while the north side of the Neck overloking Cape Cod Bay as far as Wellfleet and Truro lies as empty as a school playground after recess.
Juliana and I make short work of Paul’s interest in the harbor.
“Think Disneyland,” Juliana says.
“With motorboats,” I add.
I find Sandy Neck’s north and east waters, its sprawling shoals, to be more compelling, especially when Cape Cod Bay’s unique light lays over them a blurry scrim. You mistake a seabird on the flats for the mast of a ship, a sandbar for an island. Then a wave rolls past and bird and sandbar disappear. Presently the color of the water shifts: first blue, then yellow, then blue again. Our plan is to comb from the tangles of eel grass any sandeels which flit around the shoals in search of copepods. Find the former and soon we’ll find striped bass, summer flounder or bluefish.
We set up a compass course of 280 magnetic, using for ranges a water tower in Yarmouth, not far from Hyannis, and a sandbar downcourse. Presently the fog burns off and the horizon clears. We’ll return via a channel the slices through a mesa-shaped hammock to the southwest. Clams here grow big enough to choke a pig. Not surprising, the stripers here are often likewise as large, from long-as-a-crowbar to long-as-your-kid.
I scan the shoals for signs of fish.
There! A splash in the whitecaps. Immediately a flurry above as terns tumble down to feed on the surfaced baitfish.
Bigger fish, probably bluefish, feeding on smaller fish.
We round the neck and paddle upwind. I pause to set up my gear while Paul and Juliana deal with a Cape Cod classic: heaving chop crowning the roofs of rollers marching in across the fetch.
I cast. Immediately a bluefish seizes my lure, yanks the leader and bursts into the air. The fish wriggles, drops the lure, and immediately the lure splashes another bluefish yanks and scuds off with it.
Sea kayak fishing is an excellent way to become a better kayaker. Inevitably you find your kayak off balance as you twist and turn in the cockpit to face fish that streak from one end of the kayak to the other. Meanwhile your paddle is an afterthought, either bungeed to the foredeck or floating beside you on a tether. All you have to keep your kayak upright are your knees, thighs and hips.
I glance to starboard and see Paul casting over his shoulder, backward. His boat is positioned not in standard bow-to weather position paddlers feel comfortable in. Rather, his boat founders parallel to the weather.
A large well passes beneath him. As he retrieves the lure, his rod jerks and bends By the way he is stabilizing his kayak, arms over his head, hips doing a hula dance, he looks like a man on a barstool swatting flies around his head. When finally he hoists the bluefish it’s longer than a fillibuster and easily double Haystack Calhoun’s girth.
“Keep your hands AWAY from its head! “I yell. “You’ll get bit!”
Bluefish look you in the eye as they bounce around your foredeck. Take your eyes away from theirs and in an instant you need stitches from head to hands. You’ll lose a finger. CHOMP. Bluefish have a reputation for oiliness, but the reputation is hogwash. Bluefish are delicious. Anglers who loathe them loathe them mostly because they’re afraid of them….
By day’s end we’ve caught enough to feed a family of ten.
Next day, hips loose, Paul is the fastest, most relaxed paddler off Monomoy and Chatham. Some of his ease is due to his own innate athleticism, the rest to his having dealt the day before with feisty fish in rougher conditions.
Mosey around admiring scenery from a kayak and all you do is sit there. Catch fish from your kayak, on the other hand, and your kayak becomes more than a lounge chair. Paddle Cape Cod Bay’s rough waters between Barnstable and Orleans while you land fish, and you’ll find yourself ready for roughwater adventure pretty much anywhere.
To get to Sandy Neck, take route 3 south to Cape Cod and over the Sagamore Bridge, picking up route 6 after the bridge. Follow route 6 east to exit 4/Old County Road. Turn left off Old County Road onto route 6a/north. Take your first right off 6a/north onto Sandy Neck Road. Follow Sandy Neck Road to the end, where you’ll find a parking lot..Hoist your kayak off the roof, head down to the beach, and paddle east for as many miles as you want along Sandy Neck Beach.
Alternatively, to launch from the surfaced municipal ramp in Barnstable, take route 6 east as for, but follow to exit 6 in Barnstable. Heading north on route 132 off the exit ramp, follow route 132 to pick up and follow route 6a/east through Pond Village to Barnstable.
In Barnstable, take a left onto Hyannis Road to the boat ramp in Barnstable Harbor. Once in the water, paddle northeast two miles to Sandy Neck/Beach Point, Beach Point Light, and the shoals that run along Sandy Neck for five miles to the west.