We Cape Cod hunters and fishermen wait all season long to knock ourselves out in September and October. Our days begin with a 3:00 a.m. wake up call for an enormous breakfast. Pancakes, sausage, eggs, toast and doughnuts are a great warm up. We’ll need the calories too because once we get on with the hunting and fishing, we’ll be having too much fun to stop for a meal. We can focus on the geese and the ducks after the fish are gone. The fall is cast and blast time.
In September you’ll find us in the corn fields, in the coves, off the sand spits, and near the eel grass beds. Anywhere there is shallow water with current is a good place to find the birds. The geese will pile in to the cut corn fields until they’ve stripped it clean. They’ll keep coming and coming, stopping by long enough to refuel before continuing their Southern migration. As time goes by and Indian Summer turns to Fall, other birds will join them. We’ll see some puddle ducks in the rivers particularly if they are lined with oaks. Mallards and black ducks set in and are joined by some teal and woodies. The black ducks will stay because the saltwater only freezes on the coldest of days. There are so many of them here that we’re hard pressed to know there is a shortage in other parts of the country. Then the ducks will squabble when the brant arrive in the eel grass beds. Brant are delicious table fare until they chew up all the grass and move on to the sea lettuce, then they tend to get a little strong tasting. In October the mergs, bufflehead, eider, the Oldsquaw and surf scoter arrive. After their long flight times they are looking to eat and rest. Roost sites show them as one big happy family, with me and my buddies right in the middle.
We quote the tide charts like a baseball fan recites ERA’s and RBI’s. What catches our attention the most is when there is a late morning low tide that coincides with a hunting season. When that happens we can set up and hunt prime time, the dropping tide. Provided that we’re not too excited to shoot well, we’ll limit out early, pick up our blinds, our silhouettes and birds and race home to clean it all up. During these times we’ll need to pack a truck or the boat with all the fishing gear so we have a fast turnaround. The tide waits for no man, so we’re never late.
On Cape Cod, great fishing spots are never more than a short drive away. Depending on the conditions we may hit a combination of beaches, offshore bars and flats. We look for staging bait, like peanut bunker, tinker mackerel, silversides, sandeels and bay anchovies. Sometimes we’ll find butterfish, squid, herring and mullet. On the very peak of days the bait is mixed in with diving gulls and terns and fish breaking the surface for almost as far as you can see. The pandemonium makes two cats in a bag look like child’s play.
There’s a saying that gets used a lot during fall bird and fish migration: “You only go around once in life, but if you do it right, once is enough.” It’s what inspires us to push hard when the seasons and the conditions all line up. These are the days that get us through the rest of the year, and they fill us up like none other. Go hard or go home, and that’s why we’re either in a blind or on the beach.
And if you’re not near the ocean, pheasant and walleye, elk and trout, or waterfowl and bass, or woodcock and trout are as fine a substitute as any that I know of!