During a big blitz a few years back, a local fisherman described the scene inside Red Top Sporting Goods as “Walmart during an approaching hurricane,” with fishermen frantically buying out plugs, jigs, and anything else mackerel colored. The shop’s position “just across the street” from the Cape Cod Canal has made it an information and resupply hub for visiting and local anglers alike—and it’s been that way for quite some time. Red Top has been serving southeast Massachusetts fishermen since 1947. Over the years, it has been owned by a number of families. Today, the Coots family runs it, with Tom and his son, AJ, ensuring that Red Top continues to be a favorite stop for Canal, freshwater, and inshore saltwater fishermen as the shop nears its 75th anniversary.
On The Water Magazine: How long has the Coots family owned Red Top?
AJ Coots: We purchased the business in July of 2010. I worked part-time until I graduated college in 2013, then I started working full-time here.
OTW: In that time, what major changes have you seen in the Canal fishery, both the anglers fishing it and the fishing itself?
The canal fishery has definitely changed since I started working at the shop. I have noticed a trend in longer surf rods, heavier “distance lures,” and lighter braided line, a combination that allows anglers to cast farther than ever before. As far as anglers, there has been quite an increase in the number of new people fishing the canal. We still have a very good group of “old-timers” and regulars, but we’ve seen a lot of new people pick up surf fishing as well.
OTW: A common lament every season is just how crowded the canal has become. Based on those you’re seeing coming in to buy gear, where are these crowds coming from? Are they out-of-staters? People new to fishing?
Many mornings at the canal the past few season have been so fishy that it’s been more “going catching” than going fishing. The combination of how strong the fishery has been for our shore anglers and the ease of access to the Canal service road has certainly brought a crowd. However, the most popular times to fish—around the new and full moons, have always been crowded down there. As far as the crowds, there are a lot of new fishermen and a good number of out-of-staters as well. But, we typically do not see these crowds early or late in the season, nor do we see them as much between the moon tides.
OTW: What is your best-selling lure for the Canal?
We typically break our lures into three categories: topwater, swimmer, and jig. Our best-selling topwater lure has been a toss-up between Wally’s Lures Pencil Popper and Strike Pro. Our best-selling swimming lure is definitely the Sebile Magic Swimmer. Our most popular jig is a tie between Savage Sand Eels and Al Gag’s Whip-It Fish.
OTW: Which is the best side of the Canal, mainland or Cape?
Honestly, I think it is all personal preference. A lot of people will change what side of the Canal they fish based upon the current direction. Different tides form different rips that tend to hold fish.
OTW: Aside from the Canal, what’s the most popular fishery among your customers?
One of the biggest-growing parts of our business is bottom fishing from boats. We have had many great seasons of black sea bass fishing. We weigh in quite a few state-pin-sized fish every year, and the big ones have some of the best coloration of any fish we catch up here!
OTW: Other than stripers, what are some of the other species fishermen can target in the Canal?
We have customers who catch quite a few blackfish in the canal because it is very rocky. I have seen fluke and sea bass caught while jigging for stripers; later in the season, we get bluefish. And, with any luck, you can get yourself a “canalbie.”