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Destination: The Big Ditch

Updated: May 28, 2020

Are you looking for a place to access striped bass in New England? The Cape Cod Canal is an artificial waterway in Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay. The seven-mile-long canal traverses the narrow neck of land joining Cape Cod to the mainland. Most of its length follows tidal rivers widened and deepened to build the canal. One notable feature of the canal is

its swift running current that changes direction with the tide every six hours. The canal is occasionally used by whales and dolphins, including endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, whose presence can cause closure of the canal. The same bait that draws in these mammals, will draw in the stripers you seek.

Despite a lot of talk in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and even some planning, the first attempt at actually building a canal did not take place until the late 19th century when engineers finally decided the best route was to widen the Manomet and Scusset Rivers. In 1909, construction began for a canal to be owned and operated by the Boston, Cape Cod & New York

Canal Company. The engineers encountered many problems such as huge boulders underwater. Divers were hired to blow them up, but the dredging effort was slow. Winter storms also forced a stoppage of dredging. On July 4, 1914, the dam separating the two rivers was broken, allowing the canal to open on a limited basis. Efforts to complete the canal finally came to fruition in 1916. This toll canal had a maximum width of 100 feet and a maximum depth of 25 feet. It was narrow and the channel difficult to navigate causing several accidents which gave the canal a bad reputation.

It took no less of an event than the 1918 surfacing of the German U-156 three miles off Orleans to get the public involved in the business of the canal. The U-boat shelled the tugboat Perth Amboy and its four barges. The canal was immediately viewed as a way for commercial vessels

to avoid exposure to U-boats and President Wilson appointed the Director General of the United States Railroad Administration to take over operation of the canal. The Director enlisted the US Army Corps of Engineers to re-dredge the channel to facilitate operations. Seeing its benefits, the federal government purchased the canal in 1928. The purchase and upgrade, which was finally completed in 1940, cost $32.4 Million, and increased the canal's width to 480 feet, and its depth to 32 feet.

During World War II, commercial shipping again used the canal to avoid U-boats patrolling offshore. Coastal artillery was established at Sagamore Hill Military Reservation at the north

entrance and at Butler Point Military Reservation in the south. Today the canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels. Service roads provide access for fishing and are also used by bicyclists, runners, and walkers. Several parking areas are maintained at the access points. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center which introduces visitors to the history, features, and operation of the canal.

Fishermen will be interested to know that Bourne Scenic Park is used as a tent and RV campground adjacent to the Canal. Scusset Beach State Reservation lies north of the east end of the canal and offers beach facilities as well as tent and RV camping.

Known to many as “The Big Ditch”, the canal is a unique fishing experience. When the fishing is

“on” it is really on- usually with large striped bass. Breaking tides are the best time to fish. A breaking tide is when the tide is changing at sunrise. This usually results in a great top water bite when stripers and large amount of bait are in canal. Using a bait like a big pencil popper with a mackerel pattern- a bait that seems to be the most dominant in the canal in recent years. The night tides can also be productive. Anglers have had night success with jigs and darters in the mackerel or parrot pattern. Work around the moons, especially that first new moon in June. This can be a very successful time of the year for fishing moving through the canal.

Just as you would move on the beach while surf casting, bring a bicycle to move with the fish and scout out multiple areas along the canal. There are a lot of steep, smaller rocks, so wear some kind of spikes on your footwear to help you traverse them safely. As you move along the canal, work the turns in the canal because fish will often sit in the curves of the canal along the edges to get out of the current and to ambush bait. The canal is a place not to give up on your retrieve- there is deep water right at the shoreline and many fish will hit late in the retrieve. If you go, enjoy the catching and Live The Passion!

NOTE: during Covid times, parking facilities, and restroom access as well as trash collections are limited. Pack out all your waste and trash. Refrain from bringing pets. Most of all be respectful of neighbors and other anglers. Fishermen should always practice sporting distancing- not only social distancing. Obey all Massachusetts regulations- especially those put in place for the conservation of the fishery.


Tackle Shops:

Canal Bait and Tackle- Sagamore, MA (508) 833-2996

Red Top Sporting Goods- Buzzards Bay, MA (508) 759-3371

Maco's Bait & Tackle- Buzzards Bay, MA (508) 759-9836

Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center 60 Ed Moffitt Dr, Sandwich, MA 02563 (508) 833-9678


Campgrounds (click on campground name for link)


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