During Explore New England’s travels throughout the region, we’re often surprised to discover places that aren’t well known for their outdoor activities and natural spaces, yet offer a remarkable number of them. However, on our recent visits to Wareham, Massachusetts, this past June, there was no surprise at all. You see, I cut my boating and saltwater fishing teeth in this southeastern Massachusetts town at the head of Buzzards Bay back in the ‘80s, so I’m well aware of its extensive and diverse coastline (the longest in the state), great fishing and boating opportunities, and coastal wildlife. And after moving to the South Coast area 23 years ago, I began exploring more of Wareham’s inland spaces, of which there are many, thanks to the efforts of the town, the local land trust, and other conservation groups.
Our filming adventures began in early June, when I joined Steve Hurley of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife on his annual survey of wild sea-run “salter” brook trout in Red Brook, a narrow, shallow waterway on the 210-acre Lyman Reserve (a Trustees of Reservations property) that flows into Buttermilk Bay. The native brook trout in this system have existed since the last glaciers receded some 12,000 years ago, defying the many challenges posed by development and agriculture. The largest fish (some up to 15 inches) spend their winters in the nearby saltwater bays before re-entering brook sometime in May or early June, where they linger through the summer and spawn in the fall. Catch-and-release fishing for them with artificial lures is permitted, but these trout can be quite hard to fool.
Each spring, Hurley and his team tally the number of trout in the lower section of the brook and implant them with tiny tags, which allows them to track the movements of the fish. To capture them, Hurley wades upstream with a long, metal wand powered by a battery that sends short bursts of electricity through the surrounding water (all participants must wear insulating waders and rubber gloves, for obvious reasons). Upon being zapped, the fish float out of their hiding places, are scooped up in nets, and transferred to waiting buckets and coolers. They handle the process remarkably well! Once the trout have recovered, they are measured, weighed and implanted with the PIT tags, then released. In all, we captured 56 trout, only five of which had been previously tagged.
“Electrofishing” also stuns other aquatic critters, as we saw, including thousands of American eels that live in the brook. These range from tiny “glass eels” to enormous specimens some three feet long. We also collected a pair of sticklebacks, a banded sunfish, and a couple of largemouth bass that had meandered downstream from the freshwater ponds that feed the brook.
By the way, the Lyman Reserve is also a great place to hike and observe birds. On a return trip, we captured images of an ovenbird, a redwing blackbird, a great blue heron, a phoebe, and a blue jay.
If you thought salter brook trout are interesting, just wait until you watch the segment on diamondback terrapins—the only estuarine turtle in North America. In late June, I met up with Dani Marston, Director of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance’s Diamondback Terrapin Project, who was preparing to release a year-old terrapin in the salt marsh adjacent to the Swifts Beach community on the Wareham River.
These elusive turtles have managed to survive in the face of extensive development along this section of coast, thanks in large part to the efforts of Marston and her fellow volunteers, who protect the turtle nests and hatchlings until they are big enough to survive on their own. The turtle we released was named Peanut, and had been raised in captivity the previous year by elementary-school students in Mattapoisett. Many residents of Wareham and other South Coast towns are oblivious to the presence of diamondback terrapins, but they are more common than you may think.
Terrapins obviously depend on healthy coastal habitats, and working to protect the land surrounding upper Buzzards Bay are numerous conservation groups, including the Wareham Land Trust. I met up with Executive Director Elise Leduc-Fleming for a walking tour of the recently opened Marks Cove Conservation Area, a 118-acre property comprising parcels owned by the Land Trust, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Wildlands Trust, Mass Audubon, and the Town of Wareham. Acquired over the last 20 years, the protected land offers 2.5 miles of walking trails and features a view of the upper portion of Buzzards Bay, where sandy forests intermingle with the fertile salt marsh. On our hike, we saw numerous bird species, from hairy woodpeckers to towhees, amid pine and oak forest sheltering an understory of bayberry, huckleberry, and highbush blueberry.
As you’ll learn from this episode, Wareham has numerous open spaces in which to enjoy nature or play in the woods. To that end, we joined pro mountain biker Kevin Hines on a short ride through the 200-acre Minot Forest, which features a network of well-groomed trails winding through a variety of terrain. This is a great place for beginner and intermediate riders—or hikers who simply want to enjoy a walk in the woods.
If mountain biking isn’t your thing, consider a paddle on one of Wareham’s many freshwater ponds and estuaries, which we did with local kayaker Patrick Marshall. Marshall grew up in East Wareham, and knows the local waterways well. He was kind enough to lead us on a short kayak trip around scenic Mill Pond, a wide section of the Agawam River, which flows from deep in cranberry bog country to its junction with the Wareham River. The shallow sandy bottom of the pond is ideal habitat for sunfish and largemouth bass, both of which were spawning when we visited. Indeed, the Agawam and other freshwater bodies in Wareham are known for producing trophy largemouths.
But it was a different type of bass that figured in our fishing segment, which I filmed with lifelong friend Matt Hawkins, who keeps his 22-foot center console at Zecco Marina, at the mouth of the Wareham River. Wareham’s estuaries and the upper portion of Buzzards Bay offer outstanding fishing for striped bass, from schoolies to 40-pounders, particularly in May and June. Matt put us on some action with a variety of species, including stripers, black sea bass and scup, all of which serve as popular targets of inshore anglers launching from Wareham.
One reason big stripers gather in Wareham in the spring is to feed on herring that migrate through the Wareham, Agawam, and Weweantic Rivers. The Weweantic’s herring population recently got a big boost thanks to the removal of a dam that once provided power to a horseshoe mill, while also blocking the passage of alewives, smelt, eels and herring to and from their upstream spawning and nursery grounds. The dam was removed in 2020, thanks to the efforts of the Buzzards Bay Coalition and its partner groups, including the Town of Wareham. The Horseshoe Mill property now stands as a shining example of a restoration project that benefits the community through walking trails, a pair of canoe/kayak launches, and, of course, a healthier natural ecosystem.
The Buzzards Bay Coalition has a large presence in Wareham, given the town’s extensive watershed. In the village of Onset (yes, also a part of Wareham) the BBC’s Onset Bay Center provides access to the marine world for local residents through paddling and sailing lessons, group outings, natural history presentations, the rental of kayaks and small sailboats, boatbuilding courses, and more. Leading the charge is Stuart Downie, the BBC’s Vice-President of Outdoor Exploration. Downie showed us around the Center and later took us on a short boat ride to nearby Wickets Island, which was purchased by the BBC in 2016 and opened to the public. A long, sturdy dock was installed, and walking paths were created. The island also features a shallow sandbar where boaters can hang out on the lower stages of the tide.
As you can see, we’ve been quite busy in Wareham the last few weeks, and we’re not done yet! We’ll be back later this summer to film more stuff and get a taste of the town in midsummer. You should too.
To help you find your way around, the Town of Wareham recently unveiled its new Guide to Outdoor Recreation website. It contains info on nearly all of the fun activities you can enjoy in Wareham, from boating to pickleball.