Come here to fish for striped bass or bluefish at low tide and chances are you’ll end up not having sprinted as much since high school. And, step on a razor clam sticking out of the mudflats blades-up, well you’re likely to end up with a cut in the sole of your foot the width of the edge of a quarter and which will probably require stitches. To fish these flats without footwear is stupid for sure. But you’lk keep casting that shad and jighead for sure. Over the years it’s inevitable that you be built less for speed, more for distance, but not that you walk Duxbury Bay’s satlwater fishing fishing flats with your feet unprotected. But luckily it requires neither speed, endurance nor brains to fish here.
So here you’ll be: running around on the low-tide mudflats at Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts , the day after a full moon, fishing rod in hand, kayak beached a hundred yards or so away on Captains Flat off Standish Shores. A school of bluefish will get trapped here, in an acre of shallow water, and you’ll catch them in spades with small kastmaters. Spring tides like these empty Duxbury Bay twelve or so times a year, form on the flats shallow water pools which oftentimes hold feeding schools of bluefish and striped bass. Local saltwater spincast and fly fishermen have fished these flats from kayaks for years, and when you show up, your getting a cut in the sole of your foot won’t mark the first time someone’s gotten hurt here.
The fish feed in the shallows during surfaces feeds called blitzes. Action like this takes place here, in Duxbury Bay, and furhter north, at Newburyport’s Joppa flats, and on hundred of sandbars at Cape Cod, dozens of times a year, and most prolific during autumn, between the end of August and mid-October. The surface feeds persist until the bay floods back in and the flats cover over again with water.
You land your kayak on the flats, you walk the dry sandbar to th embayments where the fish bounce around like popcorn kernnels in a hot pan of oil. Stand on the edge of a flat where its edges give way to deep channels and you can see the fish pulsing in. The shallows you stand in are temporary saltwater ponds the size of a football field, holding pens which hold livestock in the form of fish. Meanwhile terns hover, screeching as they plummet towards the water, picking off baitfish.
By the time you leave you’ll have landed and released a least a dozen undersized striped bass (the legal keeper size in Massachusetts is 28″), releasing each fish because it’s shorter than the legal taking limit. As for that cut in the sole of your foot, you’ll grasp the arch and turn you foot upward so you can get a closer look at what the doctor will throw a few stitches in to. Each face of the open surf clam will have made its own cut. You’ll reason that, all those fish caught, and sand in the cut, it’s probably best to call it quits and paddle the kayak back to the Howlands Landing.
So you’ll tug a t-shirt from the forward hatch of the kayak, wrap the shirt around your foot, and tie on a bandage of sorts. Then you’ll slide the kayak back into the water of the edge and of flat and begin the short paddle back to Howlands Landing, the trailer ramp and put-in near the Standish monuments. You’ll likely come across other striped bass fishermen returning or just setting out: guys who fish the flats in aluminum skiffs; others in jonboats and zodiacs; and the one local guy who zips out over the flats on a jetski, a fishing rod stuck in a daypack.
If the fish are here on a foggy day you’ll hear them first: a persistent clatter, like someone breaking dishes down the hall. Then you’ll see through the wisps of fog terns plunging towars the water’s surface. This is wondrous to witness.
As for the running that will leave you winded. You’ll take your first sprint across the flats to retrieve steel leaders, for the bluefish, the second to get drinking water. When the dropping tide finally separates with wide swaths of wet sand the main channel from the embayment and the flats, and the fish in the embayments are trapped in the shallow pools, and the terns overhead begin to drop, you’ll make your third trip to the kayak.
With the tide at so low an ebb, the flats will be all you can see and look at, the remainder of Duxbury Bay just a hint of water in the far distance. You’ll realized you didn’t pay attention to what time the tide is supposed to flood. So you’ll run back to the kayak again to use your VHF radio and ask the local harbormaster. Or you’ll retrieve your iPhone or smartphone to fire up a tidal app.
The back of your medulla throbbed with a niggling sine-wave, undulating its suggestion, when you first landed on the flats, that you best pay attention to when the tide willt return and take your kayak with it. But then you got caught up in catching so many striped bass. So now you know what time the tide is supposed to turn. That done, you’ll continue to fish: landing striped bass after striped bass after striped bass.