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March 02, 2012

Trailer Trekking

A trio of top spots from Mexico to Massachusetts where you can fish your own boat

Plymouth Pilgrimage
Easy access, world-class variety awaits trailer-boating anglers
By Tom Richardson

The hardest part of fishing out of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is deciding what species to target. While the abundance of game and food fish — namely striped bass, bluefish, cod, haddock, tuna and shark — no doubt pales in comparison with what the Pilgrims encountered here in 1620, the waters off Plymouth still offer great fishing for a variety of species.

You can be fly-casting for stripers on the flats, trolling the beachfronts for bluefish, deep-jigging the wrecks for ­groundfish and live-lining mackerel on Stellwagen Bank for giant bluefin tuna — all within an hour of the ramp.

I’ve made several tuna trips here, only to be waylaid by schools of surface-feeding blues and stripers in the main channel. In Plymouth, it pays to bring tackle appropriate to both inshore and offshore species — because you never know what you’ll encounter.

Access and Availability

A 45-minute drive south of Boston, the Plymouth boat-launch facility is one of the most convenient in the state. It’s always open and features a two-lane concrete ramp, parking for more than 80 truck-and-trailer rigs, and a long courtesy floating dock that can handle several boats. The state manages the ramp, so anyone can launch and park for the $5 daily fee.

During the day, an attendant makes sure everything runs smoothly, a big plus on weekends when the ramp is a circus. While the lot often fills to capacity on weekends, I’ve never had a problem finding a spot early in the morning — or on weekdays. Plus, there’s a large turnover throughout the day.

The ramp can handle boats up to 35 feet and features a grade that allows access on most tides, no small consideration given the harbor’s average 10-foot tides. The only time anglers might have a problem is at dead-low tide, especially on moon tides, given the drop-off at the end of the ramp caused by people power-loading.

For service and fuel, two boatyards and several ­convenient gas stations can be found nearby. Dockside gas and diesel are available at Town Wharf Enterprises a few hundred feet from the ramp, and a Sea Tow franchise also covers these waters.

A great option, especially when vacationing with family or making an extended fishing trip, is to overnight on Cape Cod via anchor or by getting a mooring or slip, after launching in Plymouth. It’s about 20 to 26 nautical miles east of Plymouth Harbor, and you can leave your rig overnight at the ramp if you arrange it with the attendant and prepay for the second day.

A second option: Call Plymouth Boatyard to pick up your rig from the ramp and drop it off on your return, for a charge of $75. If you want, they will even inspect and service your trailer during your trip.

Several hotels and motels are located near the Plymouth ramp, and the Radisson and Governor Bradford hotels offer trailer parking facilities.

Seasons, Species and Tackle
The Plymouth ramp remains open year-round, although the state takes out the floating docks in winter. The docks return in April, around the start of spring cod season in Massachusetts Bay and on Stellwagen Bank. The cod, hake and haddock action has been relatively good in recent years, although you need to pick your days depending on weather.

Cod and other groundfish can still be taken later in the season, but you’ll have to make a longer run to the deepwater wrecks and rocky bottom east of Stellwagen to avoid the dogfish.

Fishing kicks into high gear starting in late May, when the first schools of striped bass arrive. The past two seasons have produced excellent fishing for stripers up to 40-plus inches inside the Plymouth-Kingston-Duxbury Bay complex. The light-tackle action can be world-class through June, with bass up to 30 pounds pushing bait onto the shallows of Duxbury and Kingston bays. Look for stripers feeding beneath flocks of gulls and terns.

If you’re new to this area, use caution: It’s easy to get lost while chasing fish in the maze of channels and flats. Make sure your paper and electronic charts are up to date, and pay close attention to the dropping tide. Follow the channel markers closely when making your way to and from the open water of Massachusetts Bay, or you could end up hard aground on infamous Browns Bank.

Of course, striper fishing is also terrific in the ocean waters outside the harbor. To the north, the rocks off Gurnet Light, High Pines Ledge and Howland Ledge are prime spots for casting plugs and jigs, trolling tube lures on wire line or live-lining mackerel. Trolling the 30-foot contour line south of the harbor — especially the rocky bottom off Manomet Point, Stellwagen Rock and Indian Hill — with tube-and-worm combos, large Hogies and big swimming plugs also accounts for big bass, as well as some monster bluefish.

The “backside” of Cape Cod, from Provincetown’s Race Point south along the beaches of the Outer Cape, has produced some of the best light-tackle striper fishing in recent years. Plenty of Plymouth-based anglers make the 20- to 25-mile run on calm days; it’s faster (and less stressful) than hauling a boat on and off congested Cape Cod during the summer.

You can also run “combo trips” targeting stripers and bluefin tuna, the latter available from mid-June through October. Plymouth affords good access to the bait-rich tuna grounds of Stellwagen Bank’s southern tip, just 18 miles northeast of the harbor entrance. If the action on the bank slows, it’s a short run southeast to other hot spots, like the Race, Peaked Hill Bar and the Golf Balls. Tuna can also be found inside the protective bowl of Cape Cod Bay.

While catching bluefins on flies and plugs or deep-jigging with ­spinning gear was possible four to five years ago, the majority of tuna in the past two years has been too large (100 to 300 pounds) to handle on anything less than 30-wide stand-up gear. Live-lining mackerel, menhaden and bluefish, trolling spreader bars and daisy chains, and chunking are standard methods these days.

No matter the species, Plymouth, Massachusetts, ranks as one of the country’s great venues for trailer-boating anglers. Just remember to bring a bunch of rods!

Plymouth Resources

Destination Plymouth

Plymouth Harbor Master

Bait and Tackle

Fisherman’s Outfitter

Marinas and Boatyards

Plymouth Boatyard

Brewer Plymouth Marine


Best Western Plus Cold Spring
Plymouth, Massachusetts

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Seabreeze Inn Bed and Breakfast
Plymouth, Massachusetts

The Governor Bradford on the Harbor
Plymouth, Massachusetts

Cape Cod Slips/Moorings
Provincetown Harbor Marina

Wellfleet Town Marina


On the road:
Route 44 Gas — On Route 44 a ­half-mile east of Route 3.
Cumberland Farms — On Route 44 just west of Route 3 overpass.

On the water:
Town Wharf Enterprises