Plum Island and Ipswich Bay, Massachusetts: Rough Water and Large Shoals
A NOOA chart overview of the waters of Ipswich Bay including Crane Beach, Plum Island, and Plum Island Sound on the northern coast of Massachusetts, reveals much about this fine roughwater sea kayaking and surfcasting area.
The waters lie about a half-dozen miles west of better-known Gloucester, that rocky cape, with a distinct and hardened granite shoreline, whose rocky shores present a stark contrast to Ipswich Bay’s sandy barrier beaches and littoral shores. Ipswich Bay is all about sandbars and shoals: their contours, their constant movement, their offshore shoaling tendencies and the dunes and marshes inland they feed and support.
One effective way to gain an overview of the area is via Google Earth’s interactive abilities: survey views, taken by plane and satellite, which allow you to zoom in and out of, and trace the contours of, the foam of tidal currents of this area’s vast and overspreading shoals. Search the Google Earth bbs and you will find annotated images of the area that highlight its access points for sea kayaking, kayak fishing, birdwatching and surfcasting with saltwater fishing lures for species such as striped bass, fluke and bluefish.
The advantages of Google Earth views of the area are that you can zoom in to enlarge your view of the area’s paths through the dunes, numerous access roads, parking areas and serpentine marsh channels. Better yet, some of the files relating to the area including extensive dropdown notes about particular access points and caution areas, the individual areas allowing you to alter the level of zoom, perspective, north orientation and your view of adjacent byways roads, including road map views.
There are a couple of caveats for this boater, sea kayaking or kayak fishing enthusiast exploring the area for the first time. The beaches and shorelines, river mouths and back marshes are intricate. And in the in summer you’re likely to see boating behavior, including perhaps yours, at its worst. Boaters zoom around the areas on weekends at high speed, often heedless of channel markers.
If you hate greenhead flies and no-see-ums, buy good bugspray, avoid the area at dusk, and pay close attention to local myths about which moon in which month kills off the marsh flies. They can drive you insane in less than an hour.
One of the better ways to prepare for a trip to the area is to think in terms off a flotilla. Take your pick, in other words. For those who enjoy whitewater kayaking, Plum Island’s shores will satisfy if you’re willing to paddle a mile or two to find the fun and don’t mind a portage to the water.
Long distance sea kayak owners will enjoy the numerous lengthy circumnavigation opportunities Ipswich Bay, Plum Island, and Plum Island Sound offer. Those with advanced sea kayaking skills will appreciate Plum Island’s sprawling eastern, southeastern shoals as well as the mouths of the tidal Essex and Ipswich Rivers, all known for their rough water and as much rescue and surf practice as any group might care to look for. A group of sea kayaks in the area here can encounter most trouble scenarios short of rock garden rescues and cliff climbing.
If you want to go kayak fishing in the area, ride the tides in and out of the area, wait for calmer windless days, and bring bug spray. Plum Island Sound and the Rowley marshes are worth exploring for their vastness, schools of striped bass and bluefish and their flocks of migratory avian wildlife. If you do rig for kayak fishing, be wary of and look for good fishing, as well, in the fast water at the mouths of the Essex and Ipswich Rivers; the surf off Cranes Beach; the shoals off Plum Island; the inlets at Plum Island Sound; and finally the inland marshes at Rowley. You will encounter striped bass, flounder, bluefish — sometimes all in one trip.