One North Shore Massachusetts fishing area frequently overlooked by anglers whose cars are locked on autopilot for the Cape Cod Canal are the waters of eastern and offshore Salem Sound, between Marblehead’s Tinkers Island, Bakers Island, off Manchester, and the inland waters towards Routes 128 and 62.
Covering roughly 12 square miles, the Sound is studded with more than a dozen islands, countless ledges and dry rock clusters, and half a dozen sandy beach fisheries that provide consistently good fishing on pelagics, such as striped bass and bluefish, and on groundfish, such as flounder and cod. It’s a fine area for anglers who fish from kayaks, tin skiffs, whalers and other small boats.
Several factors contribute to the area’s productiveness. For starters, the Sound is the largest dent Ice-Age architectonics made in the Massachusetts coastline when glaciers made their way between Cape Cod and Stellwaggen Bank’s northernmost corner off Gloucester.
The Sound presents to the open ocean a gigantic funnel whose mouth draws into its waters fish and forage from Massachusetts Bay, rendering the sound a perennial summer layover spot for striped bass migrating from the mid-Atlantic coastline to the waters of Massachusetts, New Hampsire and Maine.
Second, the Sound’s tides run fairly hard over aces of structure. Meanwhile, a consistent offshore swell breaks and lifts into suspension baitfish nosing around the Sound’s islands, ledges, inlets, beaches, shoals.
Here are highlights of the area.
Because I fish from a small boat — a seakayak narrow but seaworthy — two areas I favor are the flats off the asphalt ramp at the Jubilee Yacht Club, on Water Street in Beverly, from whose public ramp you can practically hit, as you park, the channel’s red nun with your front bumper. A second carry-in launch lies just a few minutes north, off Route 127, about a mile before Lynn Park Beach on the right.
This flats and shallowwater area is typically full of sub-28″ schoolies feeding on peanut bunker. Beverly Harbor, nearby, narrows to a pinch-point at the Salem Bridge upchannel, another productive area of quiet water. Still more flats lie squeezed in tight southwest of Salem Neck, Salem’s Winter Island, Juniper Point, and not-too-distant Hospital, Woodly, and Tucks Points.
Along those lines, another estuarine area nearby worth exploring is the brackish Danvers River tidal river system where the Sound’s saltwaters squeeze down into bends, marshes and shallows. Within these pinchpoints lie tidal waters which split off into three branches, among them the shallow and narrow, and aptly-named, Bass Haven River. The backwaters there, textured with mild eddies, seams, and chalk lines, are productive on light spincast or fly gear flicked onto the water from a tin skiff, flatbottom whaler, kayak or canoe. Try this area first if you’re new to striper fishing and looking for calm waters to fish, likewise if you’re experienced and simply interested in waters outside of the typical. You’ll be surprised how far striped bass, an anadromous fish, wander inland in these waters.
Artificials like swimmers, Kastmasters, bucktails, and shads work well on the schoolies on these inside waters. On the outside waters, on the other hand, try chunking, tube-and-worming, or live-lipping tinker mackerel or herring or eels, all of which are good bets on the Sound’s offshore islands and shoals: spots like the Dry Breakers, the Gooseberries, Pope’s and Satan’s Heads, and Childrens Island.
You’ll find good topwater action in close at West Beach, especially during the fall, over the beach’s the forage-filled sandy bottom, usually riven with surf, which extends for about three hundred yards offshore. The area is also productive on flounder. Try this stretch of shoreline when the tide is out and just-arrived, or just-leaving, schools of stripers and bluefish are driving peanut bunker into the surf zone.
Salem Sound’s put-ins and ramps are Island Marine off route 62 east, on the right about a mile off route 128/exit 22; Popes Landing, off route 62; and the fine asphalt ramp at Winter Island, off Fort Ave on Salem Neck, where you can hook up an RV for a few nights to camp out.
Cheapskates like me, on the other hand, with carry-in boats, head straight for the no-fee ramp by the Jubilee Yacht Club, the ramp behind the police station off Route 127 in Manchester, or Riverhead Beach, at the foot of Marblehead Harbor, across the street from Devearoux Beach.
Salem Sound is one of many Boston-area striper fishing grounds whose productiveness has improved in tandem with the east coast’s remarkable striped bass recovery, Boston Harbor’s clean-up, and the draconian striper regulations of the 1980’s, when Massachusetts keepers had to measure in feet, not inches. A fine striper fishery you can access by following the snaking twists and turns of Routes 62, 139, 127 and 1A, the witch city’s Sound lies easily within the the radius of the ever-widening circle of striper hot spots north of Boston.