Fishing in Massachusetts: A Complete Guide
May 21, 2021 | 11 minute read
Reading Time: 11 minutes

East Coast is a smorgasbord of angling opportunities, and if there ever was a place to get a taste of them all, it’s Massachusetts. This part of New England has a lot to offer to passionate fishermen, from Herring to Bluefin Tuna. The moniker “The Codfish State” is enough to understand that fishing in Massachusetts is one for the books.

An aerial view of a bay in Massachusetts with sailboats dotted on the water

The region boasts solid freshwater potential with over 1,000 lakes and 4,000 miles of rivers to explore. Then there’s saltwater action, with easy access to the rich and diverse Atlantic Ocean. Coming here for the first time? Don’t worry, this handy guide will help you with everything you need to know.

Saltwater Fishing in Massachusetts

Saltwater fishing in the Bay State has many different facets, each with its own advantages to enjoy. These are some of the favorite saltwater catches in Massachusetts that make this fishery worth your time.

Striped Bass – The Signature Fishery 

There’s hardly a more iconic species in Massachusetts than Striped Bass. Striped Bass are famous for their fighting abilities and their size, so everybody loves having one on the line. They’re in the cards from spring to mid-fall (April–November).

Six men on a boat, each holding a Striped Bass

Stripers live in inshore and nearshore waters, so they’re available both from shore and from a boat. They also thrive in freshwater habitats, so you can find them in lakes as well. Estuaries, bays, and surf are their preferred hunting ground, and that’s where the bite is most productive.

This species can grow to be over 50 pounds, though most specimens are smaller. Getting a 30-pounder is already a cause for celebration. Striped Bass respond well to live bait like herring and squid. As for the lures, plugs and spoons will do the trick. If you’re up for a bit of excitement, go night fishing for Stripers in the summer.

Bluefish Wherever You Go

If there’s one species that lives in Massachusetts in prolific numbers, it’s Bluefish. They’ll sink their teeth in just about everything, they fight like there’s no tomorrow, and their acrobatic displays are a thing of beauty. The best time for Bluefishing is from June until October.

A man and a child standing on a boat, the child holding a big Bluefish, with cloudy skies in the background

Bluefish aren’t picky eaters, but they can be skittish, so make sure you approach them quietly. These feisty fellas live and hunt in similar conditions as Stripers. They usually weigh from 3–10 pounds, but if you’re after a trophy, fish the reefs further offshore.

Blues can be unpredictable, which is the reason anglers like catching them. Sometimes you’ll find a school, but they simply won’t be interested in your offering. Other days, you won’t be able to fish for anything else because they’re constantly pouncing at your setup. Poppers are their particular favorite. Bluefishing is productive whether you’re trolling from a boat or casting from shore.

Pollock, Haddock & Cod – Triple the Fun

We huddled Pollock, Haddock, and Cod together because you’re likely to catch all three even if you’re targeting just one of them. Another thing they have in common is the fact that everybody loves chasing them.

A smiling man in sunglasses holding a big Cod fish while standing on a boat

Cod is the official state fish of Massachusetts – they’re abundant, available all year, can be big (over 50 pounds), and delicious. Fishing for Cod is big in Massachusetts, so there are a lot of guides who can put you on the fish. This species lives and feeds close to the bottom and moves around following cold water temperatures. They’re closer to shore in spring, then move further out during the summer.

Seven men on a boat holding several Haddock fish with cloudy skies and murky waters in the background

Haddock are relatives of Cod, so they live in similar conditions. The biggest difference is that Haddock have a lateral black line along their body which sets them apart. They live in deep waters (150–450 feet) and are partial to clams and seaworms. Haddock are on the menu as early as March and they stick around until November. Still fishing is the best way to get this fish to bite.

Unlike Cod and Haddock, you can find Pollock closer to shore, as well as offshore. They’re the most aggressive out of the three and there’s a lot of them for anglers to enjoy. You could hook into Pollock all along the Massachusetts coast, especially in the southeastern parts. They gather around underwater structure and breakwater, and the best time to get yourself a Pollock is in spring. Any setup you use for Cod, you can also use for Haddock with excellent results.

Flounder-ing Around

As you can see, bottom fishing is very strong in the Codfish State, and where there’s good bottom action, Flounder aren’t far behind. Flatfish are popular catches in these parts, probably because they’re out there all year. And what table fare they make!

A smiling young fisherman standing on a boat, holding a Flounder, with blue skies and water in the background

There’s a difference between Summer and Winter Flounder in Massachusetts, even though their seasons overlap. The winter variation is distinguished by its dark back. You can find them in shallow coastal waters and tidal streams, and pier fishing for Winter Flounder can be very good. 

Summer Flounder are known as Fluke – they’re usually larger than their cold-loving brothers, have formidable teeth, and their heads are always turned to the left. Fluke love sandy bottoms and the southern parts of the coast and bays are full of them. Tempt them with shrimp and minnows while drift fishing or trolling and you can’t go wrong. 

Bluefin Tuna for Thrill Seekers

Bluefin Tuna – giants of the deep, famous for their speed and incredible fighting power. There’s nothing like wrestling them out in the open ocean and Massachusetts is a great place to do just that. Bluefins arrive late in June and stay until October.

Three smiling fishermen standing on a boat, one fisherman sitting and holding a large Bluefin Tuna

What makes Tuna fishing in Massachusetts so special? For starters, this is one of the best places on the East Coast to successfully target Bluefins and land a monster that weighs hundreds of pounds. Local guides dedicated their lives to tracking down the biggest Tuna, and anglers hire them to get their hooks into these gorgeous fish.

Depending on the time of year and where exactly you are in Massachusetts, you don’t have to travel far to find Tuna. In summer, there are schools only a few miles from shore – this means you don’t have to spend hours to get to the fishing grounds. If you’re in for it for the long haul, venture further out to go deep sea fishing for trophy catches. Trolling and chumming are the most effective methods to lure Tuna your way.

Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna also show up in these parts, only in smaller numbers, but Bluefins are the main act. Once you experience their bombastic strike, you’ll be forever hooked on that adrenaline rush.

Freshwater Fishing in Massachusetts

While the saltwater action is superb in the Old Colony State, we would be amiss not to mention freshwater opportunities. There are hundreds of streams, rivers, and lakes for avid fishermen to explore, all you need to do is pick a species, and then decide where to go. Here are some of the most popular catches to look out for.

Shades of Trout

There are some excellent Trout to be found in Massachusetts, and both locals and visiting anglers know it well. Come spring, you’ll find people dotted along the rivers and tailwaters, eagerly waiting for that drag-burning strike. Depending on where you cast your line, you could reel in Rainbow, Brown, Brook, Lake, and in some places, even Tiger Trout.

A man wearing sunglasses and a hat holding a Brown Trout with water and autumn woods in the background

Because Trout are so loved, the state takes extra care of the fisheries so a good number of watersheds are regularly stocked. Browns and Rainbows are the most frequent catches, while you can find Lake Trout only in a couple of spots, like Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs.

Your approach to enticing Trout will change from place to place – using Salmon roe and worms will give solid results almost everywhere. Fly fishing for Trout is big in the western parts of the state, where you’ll find some of the best fly action in the whole of New England.

Merrimack River, Swift River, Ashfield Pond, and Onota Lake are just a few of the many premier Trout fisheries.

Largemouth Bass Going Strong

While Stripers are always in the spotlight, they’re not the only Bass species that deserves your attention. Largemouth Bass are the star of freshwater fishing. They’re active from spring, as soon as the ice melts, up until fall, before the drastic temperature drops.

A smiling fisherman holding a fishing rod over his shoulder and a Largemouth Bass in the other hand

Also known as the Bucket Mouth and Larry Lunker, Largemouth Bass are sought after for their fighting abilities. They average at five pounds, but you can hook into lunkers that weigh thrice as much if you’re lucky. Largies like warm waters and they hide around weeds and rocks, where they’ll bite into just about anything that moves.

The type of lure you’ll use depends on the water clarity. If the weather is cloudy and water muddy or stained, dark lures are a good choice to get a bite. In clear lakes, go for topwater fishing and twitch baits that are known to be productive.

Northern Pike – A Toothy Fighter

Some claim that Northern Pike are the most merciless freshwater predators, which makes them a worthy opponent. Freshwater fishing in Massachusetts will grant you access to these toothy bad boys year-round. Ice fishing for them is also top-notch.

A fisherman in a cap holding a Northern Pike and a fishing rod with water and cloudy skies in the background

Pike have been stocked in watersheds in Massachusetts for decades, which keeps the population strong and healthy. Average fish usually weigh 5–10 pounds, but some lakes hide monsters upwards of 20 pounds. They’re ravenous eaters and will gobble down anything, including its own species.

The easiest way to attract Pike is with brightly colored lures that mimic the movement of smaller critters. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can try fly fishing for them – the fight will be something you won’t soon forget. These fish remain active throughout the winter, which ice fishers know and abundantly take advantage of. One of the main appeals of Northern Pike is that it’s available in pretty much all weather conditions.

Types of Fishing in Massachusetts

One of the first things you’ll need to decide before you cast a line in Massachusetts waters is not only what you’re going to target but also how you’re going to do it. Here are some of the most popular types of fishing you can try while you’re here.

Fly Fishing in Massachusetts

A fly fisherman wading in a river, with a fly rod in his hands, trees in the background

Massachusetts has a lot to offer to fly fishing enthusiasts and has them spoiled for choice. While you might come here in search of the best Trout bite, you can use a fly to entice a wide array of species.

Everybody knows that going after nice big Rainbows is a blast, but Bay Staters have taken fly fishing one step further. Here, you can target a large Pike using flies and have the most thrilling battle. The same goes for Bluefish, who are notorious for their strike power.

The type of equipment you’ll use depends on the body of water and the desired species. It’s always a good idea to ask around in the local tackle shop what the best setups are. When it comes to fly fishing in Massachusetts, your skills, strength, and agility will all be put to the test and you’ll enjoy every moment.

Fishing with a Charter

An angler wearing sunglasses and a cap standing on a boat, holding a bent fishing rod

If you’re coming to the Bay State for the first time and you’d like your day on the water to be stress-free, booking a trip with a fishing guide is a great idea. Not only will you have a professional to take you to the best spots, but you’ll be able to fully focus on fishing, while the crew takes care of everything else.

Having a charter captain by your side is especially important if you’re going on a Tuna hunt or any kind of specialized expedition. They’ll advise you on the weather, which setup to use, and provide the gear you need. It’s up to you to choose how much time you’d like to spend fishing, what you’d like to fish for, and leave everything else in their capable hands.

Ice Fishing in Massachusetts

A smiling angler in winter clothes and sunglasses standing on ice, holding a Northern Pike

Fishing escapades last all year in the Old Colony State. When freezing temperatures come to the western and central regions, ice fishermen get down to business. The season starts in December.

Ice fishing is a fun activity for the whole family, and despite the cold, there’s a lot to catch. Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Atlantic Salmon, Perch, and even Trout all keep biting during the winter months. Tip-ups are the most popular ice fishing method, as well as jig sticks.

Some of the top ice fishing spots to check out are Quaboag Pond, Lake Congamond, Onota Lake, and Pontoosuc Lake, to name a few. If you’re going ice fishing in Massachusetts, make sure to bring your freshwater license, check the thickness of the ice, and dress warmly.

Top Fishing Spots in Massachusetts

The sheer number of fishing spots in Massachusetts requires its own encyclopedia. If you’re coming here for the first time, here’s a list of spots to consider and explore.

A view of Cape Cod from the water
  • Cape Cod: The hub of saltwater fishermen and their prey alike, Cape Cod has a lot to offer, no matter what you’d like to catch. From Stripers and Bluefish to Bluefin Tuna, everything is in the cards here.
  • Stellwagen Bank: This treasure trove is a sanctuary for dozens of species and a fantastic fishing spot. Cod, Haddock, and Bluefin Tuna flock here to feed and the action can get intense. If you’re lucky, you might spot Humpback Whales in the distance.
  • Hudson Canyon: If you’re coming to Massachusetts with Tuna on your mind, and you’re ready to travel five hours by boat to get to the giant fish, Hudson Canyon is your next destination.
  • Boston Harbor: Boston is an excellent urban fishing location, and the harbor is the best place to get yourself a lunker Striper. We’re talking fish that could weigh up to 30 pounds or more, so come prepared for the battle.
  • Martha’s Vineyard: You’ll be thrilled by the action and the size of the fish here. Bluefish and Striped Bass dominate the landscape here and the bite is hot!
A view of Wachusett Reservoir
  • Wachusett Reservoir: On the saltwater front, this is a not-to-miss spot. Lake Trout are the stars of the show, but Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass follow close behind.
  • Ipswich River: This is one of the best Trout fishing locations in the state that’s also regularly stocked, so there will be no shortage of fish for you to enjoy.

Fishing Rules & Regulations

An infographic with the Massachusetts state flag and a boat on a blue background, stating "Massachusetts Fishing Regulations: All You Need to Know"

You’ve got your course charted and you’re getting ready for your Massachusetts angling adventure. Now is the time to think about getting your fishing license and familiarizing yourself with regulations.

Every person who’s 16 and older needs to have a valid saltwater fishing license on them. If you prefer freshwater, bear in mind that everyone who’s 15 and older needs a freshwater permit. It’s also important to know daily creel limits and fishing seasons for certain species. Some bodies of water have closed seasons, so make sure you check everything before you go.

Fishing in Massachusetts – The Gem of the East Coast

A view of a lighthouse and a beach in Massachusetts

As you can see, the angling potential of the Codfish State is impressive, to say the least. With so much diversity in both the freshwater and saltwater realm, the hardest decision will be where to start. Explore the rich variety of these fisheries and you’ll always come back for more!

Have you been fishing in Massachusetts? What are your experiences? Is there a story you’d like to share with your fellow anglers? Let’s talk in the comments.

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