Haddock Fishing

Don’t miss out on the spring haddock bonanza!

Stellwagen Bank spring haddock

Haddock, a smaller, silver-scaled relative of cod, had been swimming under the radar of most recreational anglers for decades before cod-fishing closures in the Gulf of Maine and a concurrent boom in the haddock population brought the species to the forefront. For most of the year, haddock are considered a deep-water species, hunkering down in 200 feet of water or more, where fishermen hoping to hook them use heavy sinkers and stout tackle. The resulting fishing feels more like cooler-filling work than recreation, as the 4- to 6-pound haddock are easily overwhelmed by the gear.

Stellwagen Bank And Cape Cod map

But, in the spring, haddock move shallow into depths of 90 to 120 feet where, in addition to the standard clam-baited high-low rigs, they’ll also strike jigs and teasers.

“Haddock fishing is almost automatic in the early spring. The past few years, Stellwagen Bank’s Southwest and Northwest corners have been on fire. When you’re on the fish, you’ll have trouble hitting bottom with your bait before hooking up. Double-hook rigs with clams will often result in doubleheaders, though fresh mackerel strips are equally effective. Often, the fishing is so good that boats will head in before lunch with their six-person limits filleted and iced.”

– Captain Frank Pitten, South Shore Insider

HADDOCK FISHING SEASON

In 2019, haddock fishing season opens April 15. Early on, fish stack up in massive schools on shallow areas of Stellwagen Bank and Jeffries Ledge. Anglers can target them in less than 100 feet of water, which allows for light tackle, fast fishing, and easy releases. Last year, the fishing was strong into early June, at which point the fish moved into deeper water east of Stellwagen. That was expected; the shock was when they moved back into the shallows midsummer as if it was spring. Fishermen anchored up fishing for tuna on top of Stellwagen Bank were catching their limit of haddock while waiting for a bluefin to bite!

Haddock Fishing: One of the best lures for haddock is a jig.
Haddock will strike jigs, especially if tipped with clam meat.

SEASONAL SPEED LIMIT IN CAPE COD BAY

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has implemented a seasonal small vessel speed limit of 10 knots for certain waters of Cape Cod Bay during the months of March and April (see map). This speed limit has been implemented to protect endangered right whales from ship strikes. In late winter, right whales migrate into Cape Cod Bay, where they surface-feed on zooplankton. This behavior leaves them particularly susceptible to ship strikes, a significant source of mortality to these endangered whales.

4 Tips To Avoid Whale Strikes
VIDEO: 4 Tips To Avoid Whale Strikes

BEST HADDOCK RIGS AND LURES

Haddock have small mouths and feed primarily on invertebrates and small fish. Most people prefer to fish for them with bait (primarily clams), although small 5- to 7-ounce jigs can be effective when the fish are shallow. If you decide to go with a jig, make sure to add a bucktail teaser above it; haddock are notorious for taking the teaser over the jig.

Captain Rich Antonino of Black Rose Charters in Marshfield, Massachusetts, uses “big, ugly orange teasers” that he ties on circle hooks to avoid snagging small fish. He prefers jigs over bait because they don’t attract pesky dogfish, and there’s no risk of getting picked clean and fishing a naked hook. He sticks with jigs with single hooks, as trebles cause collateral damage to small fish.

Daddy Mac Trophy Casting Jig
Daddy Mac Trophy Series jig

Captain Bobby Rice of Reel Deal Fishing Charters in Truro, Massachusetts, is also a proponent of jigs. “The fish are stacked up so tight that there is no need for bait – it just slows you down,” said Rice, who prefers Daddy Mac Trophy Series jigs rigged with either two assist hooks or a single J-hook.

COD CONSERVATION

For centuries, Atlantic cod have been the cornerstone of the fishing scene in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, biologists have determined their stocks are overfished. As a result, fishery managers have enacted strict regulations including a prohibition on cod possession for the recreational fishery.

Cod conservation

At the same time, Gulf of Maine haddock is not overfished, and the stock has increased to record levels in recent years. However, cod and haddock often feed in the same areas, and cod are frequently taken as bycatch when fishing for haddock.

Researchers from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MADMF), and Rutgers are collaborating on studies that could help recreational anglers reduce accidental mortality of released cod. Results from a study comparing the physical trauma and handling time that resulted from different terminal tackle (including J-hooks, circle hooks, and treble hooks) will be released this spring. A second project conducted this year will attempt to translate data from the MADMF Industry-Based Trawl Survey into practical guidance—a series of maps—to help fishermen avoid cod while targeting haddock.

CHARTER CAPTAINS

The blossoming haddock fishery has been a life ring for many of the charter captains for whom cod has been the backbone of their business. Prime spring dates book fast. Haddock fishing charters leave from Gloucester, Boston, Plymouth, Marshfield, and Cape Cod. Inquire about a haddock fishing charter here.

4 thoughts on “Haddock Fishing

  1. Hubert Lam

    Hello,
    I live in NJ and dont mind a drive to NE or so to do some haddock fishing. First time doing it. I also dont mind joining either party boats or charter boat if rates are not too prohibitive.
    regards
    Hubert Lam

    1. Patrick Hender

      Good luck hugh.im in brick nj bring me home some fresh fillets.iv been eating weakfish bass and winter flounter but would love some fish n chip haddok

  2. Happy

    One of the saddest things when fishing for haddock is getting cod as the by-catch.
    When we bring up these cod, the air bladder is filled up and most people don’t deflate them so it just gets thrown back floating and dies/gulls get them. Makes no sense to throw fish back with the intent of letting them live but not having the knowledge to deflate them. Super sad situation on these party boats when fishing in +/- 300ft of water.

  3. Dana Kaiser

    Why pay mucho $ to charter fish & only keep 6… Might as well go to wally world & buy it & save the time & money… Seems like the recreational fisherman are put out… I live in Fla & there was a no take red snapper..recreational captains are put of business & the commercial guy with his old crap boat gets the lions share. The commercial fisherman should be in the same unemployment line as the recreational capt. Thoughts? Capt. Dana Kaiser

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