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Destination Vineyard Sound: A Bonito and Albie Guide

By Captain Mike Hogan

Sometimes I wonder if the arrival of these “funny fish” each late July is a blessing or a curse. Each year, I can count on casting to breaking fish somewhere in Vineyard Sound and not being able to “crack the code.” Perhaps that’s why it’s so rewarding when the bite is on. Although these speedsters can be hard to catch, one silver lining is that they hang in this region consistently through September while at the northernmost point of their migration. This is because the cooler water at the Cape’s elbow  and beyond serves as a boundary to these warm water fish. As a result, they are well contained in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds as they gorge themselves on sand eels, juvenile squid and other forage that will fuel their southern journey. To a boater putting in on the upper-cape, this means easy access to all the usual haunts and a very likely chance of hooking up, and very possibly chance of a Cape Cod Grand Slam, consisting of a bonito, albie, bass and bluefish.

If you’re an angler interested in casting, you’ll want to bring a 7′-8′ spinning rod capable of casting ¼ to ½ ounce lures. 12lb test line is ideal but a small piece of 20lb fluorocarbon leader will minimize break offs. If you’re using braid, I recommend an 18″ leader due the braid’s increased visibility. In your tackle bag, you’ll need the three basics which include: small metals such as Swedish Pimples and Deadly Dicks, small buck tail jigs and small jerk baits such as our  7″ Hogy.  Amber was the killer color on albies this year in Vineyard sound.

Fly rodders will find that 8 to 9wt rods are ideal. With heavy winds and strong tides, some sort of sinking line is recommended. A 300 grain line seems to offer just the right harmony between sink rate and workability. In terms of flies, there are so many patterns geared for these speedsters but a simple Lefty’s Deceiver and Clouser Minnow will usually do the trick.

If it’s too windy to cast or you simply prefer trolling, you’ll find it an extremely effective technique. Though most anglers prefer to troll with mono, I seem to do the best with wire or lead based lines with a long fluorocarbon leader. Rebel Fast-Tracks and Rapala Slivers in mackerel color are the local favorites.

Game Plan: Vineyard Sound in a Day

If you’re trailering your boat, the two most convenient boat ramps to Vineyard Sound are located in Falmouth Harbor and Green Pond, which both offer plenty of free parking. If you’re working some the eastern portions of Vineyard Sound and into the stretches of Nantucket Sound, Green Pond will save you a mile or two of running and inversely, Falmouth Harbor is ideal for boats heading toward Woods Hole, Menemsha and points south.

If you have just one day to fish the area you can efficiently cover the known hot spots of  Vineyard Sound on the following route: (Be sure to bring a detailed chart)

1.  Start at Hedge Fence, which is northeast of Oak Bluffs. Though albies are found here, Hedge Fence is more popular with the bonito fleet. Hedge Fence can be cast or trolled. Bluefish are often mixed in here, so make sure you have a small piece of slightly heavier flouro in front of your lure for some protection. Casters often will anchor in the rip, though I prefer to make drifts; starting shallow and drifting into deeper water. Though bonito will surface, the angler willing to blind cast will consistently out fish the run and gun fleet. If on the troll, you’ll find better success in 40 feet of water, running parallel to the rip.

2.  If it’s worth while moving, then head for Oak Bluffs, and look for birds circling around the ferry docks owned by the Steam Ship Authority. Bait tends to get penned in here and the local speedsters understand that. If you see bait but no breaking fish, it’s still worthwhile to hang out. They come in out of nowhere. I do best here in early mornings for some reason. Best practice here is to drift and blind cast until you see fish breaking. Pay attention to their patterns and adjust your drift accordingly.

3.  If it’s time to move again, then head for Menemsha! It will be a longer run, about 7 miles. You find the waters outside of Menemsha harbor to be similar to O.B and your technique the same. This is a very popular spot, so be mindful of your neighbors. Setting up less than two casts away is considered crowding. If you do succumb to the urge to run and gun, remember to pay attention to your wake.

4.  By now you have covered some significant ground on the Vineyard side of the Sound so it will make sense to cross and run towards Falmouth along the Elizabeth Islands towards Woods Hole. Peer into Quick’s and Robinsons’ and look for high and circling birds. I have stumbled onto albies here often enough that it’s worth mentioning. If no signs exist, keep running toward the Hole. The corner of  Nonomesset Island and the entrance of the main channel is a fantastic albie spot and worth a few minutes of investigation. You can make long drifts here and I can honestly say I have caught more albies here blind casting than anywhere else.

5.  If the Elizabeth Islands let you down or you’re looking for a change of scenery, head into the Hole. Just about anywhere can hold albies, so keep your eye peeled. I have done particularly well drifting on the south side of Red Ledge, drifting to the south side of the Steamship dock and in 20′ of water off Hadleys harbor. The Stone Pier is another known albie hang out, but please be mindful of the shore anglers and give them their needed space. If you don’t find any action in the aforementioned spots in the Hole, it’s worth cruising the whole area. Just watch out for rocks!

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