How to Understand Canal Tides for Big Canal Bass
Strong tides and a relentless current help make the Cape Cod Canal a magnet for all sorts of marine life. If you are looking to catch a big striped bass, then it can pay to understand how tides work at the "Big Ditch."
The Cape Cod Canal has some of the strongest tides on all of Cape Cod. Average speeds can reach 4 knots, with much stronger currents developing during Nor' Easters and big storms.
The strong current is the result of differences in water table levels between Cape Cod Bay and Buzzard’s Bay. If the water level is lower in Buzzard’s Bay, then the Canal’s current will move westward. If the water level is lower in Cape Cod Bay, then the Canal’s current will move eastward. When both levels are equal, the current in the Canal will be slack.
Having a firm understanding of the tides will help you locate more stripers, fish areas with more efficiency and ultimately catch a lot more fish at the Cape Cod Canal.
The West (ebb) Tide
An outgoing tide or ebb tide at the Canal is often referred to as the west tide. This is because the Canal’s current moves towards the west during the ebb – out into Buzzard’s Bay.
My favorite tide for jigging the Canal’s bottom is the west tide. Most of the areas I like to jig fish better during the west tide for some reason.
My guess is that the pieces of structure that I’m jigging are formed in a way that is more conducive to west tide jigging. In other words, possibly there is a high rocky peak that blocks the current better when the tide is moving west. Bass in the area recognize this and congregate around the piece of structure more often during the west tide than during the east.
Of course this is not a rule of thumb, as there are countless spots along the Canal that fish very well during the east tide.
As mentioned above, the west tide is also known as the ebb tide. This means that the water level within the Canal will be dropping throughout the entirety of the west/ebb tide. If you arrive at the Canal at the start of the west, you will notice that the water level is very high. As the tide progresses the water level will continue to drop.
The East (incoming) Tide
During the east/incoming tide the Canal’s current is moving towards Cape Cod Bay.
The beginning of the east tide is my favorite tide to cast top water plugs at the Big Ditch. You will notice that the water level is very low during the start of the east tide.
Because there is less water in the Canal, bass seem to have an easier time forcing bait fish to the Canal’s surface. It’s often possible to find a rocky outcropping to cast from during this tide. Because of this it is often possible to reach bass feeding smack dab in the middle of the Canal-which is ideal for top water plugging.
A brief period of no current occurs between the end of the west and the beginning of the east tide. This is known as slack tide. Another slack occurs between the end of the east and the beginning of the west.
A few of my friends do extremely well during slack tide chunking menhaden, herring and mackerel on the bottom. It is possible to leave a bait sitting on the bottom during slack tide, because there is no current to push the bait into weeds or rocks which usually results in a snag.
Full and New Moons
Moon phase has a direct correlation on how strong tides will be at the Canal. During the full and new moon, the current will be stronger and tidal levels will be more dramatic.
If I plan on jigging during the full or new moon, I’ll often bring along a few slightly heavier than normal jigs to help reach bottom in the stronger than usual current.
Big winds and extreme weather can have a dramatic impact on the Canal’s current.
If the wind is blowing onshore from Cape Cod Bay, larger than usual amounts of water will be forced into the Canal. If the tide is moving west when this occurs, more water than usual will be forced through the Canal into Buzzard’s Bay.
It’s also not unusual to find debris and flotsam throughout the Canal when the wind is forcing large amounts of water into the land cut.
The current will generally be stronger when the tide has the wind at its back. On the other hand, if the wind is blowing directly into the tide, standing waves can develop at certain areas within the Canal.
The most common places to find standing waves at the Canal are at Pip’s Rip at the Canal’s East End and in front of Hog Island at the West End. The Cribbin area can also produce standing waves when it’s extremely windy.
It’s good boating practice to keep this in mind when exiting and entering the entrances to the Canal. The standing waves at the East End and West End can get scary during periods of extreme weather.
Canal Current Tables vs Buzzard’s Bay and Cape Cod Bay Tide Tables
One of the best things you can do when trying to fish a specific tide at the Cape Cod Canal is to use a Cape Cod Canal current table and not a Cape Cod Bay or Buzzard’s Bay tide chart.
Trying to predict what way the current will be moving based on a Cape Cod Bay or Buzzard’s Bay tide chart can be confusing.
Instead I recommend using Mobile Geographics Cape Cod Canal current table. Here’s a link to the table (definitely worth bookmarking in your browser!) – http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/956.html
Tight lines and good luck fishing!