Fishing in Massachusetts - Everything You Need To Know Before You Go

Massachusetts’ coastline, bays, and sounds provide outstanding opportunity for saltwater fishing, where the commercial fishing industry has long supported many coastal towns. Going inland, Massachusetts also delivers on freshwater fishing for trout, bass, and plenty more species on its rivers, lakes, and ponds. 

This state is so fishy that one of its nicknames is "The Codfish State". Needless to say, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the fishers in the group must have been excited...

From shore fishing stripahhs and blues to targeting trout sipping mayflies, you can’t go wrong with planning your next fishing trip in Massachusetts. Read on for recommendations on how to prepare, where to fish, and guides and charters to book.

Licenses and Regulations

You’ll need a fishing license to fish freshwater or saltwater in Massachusetts. Buy your license and see more info here from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife - Purchase a License. If you’ll be fishing saltwater with a registered charter, you’ll be covered by the charter’s license.

If fishing on your own, be sure to review Massachusetts’ Freshwater Fishing Regulations and Recreational Saltwater Fishing Regulations before you head to the water.

Species and Seasons

In saltwater, most charters operate spring through fall, starting in April or May and ending in October or November. The best times to go are usually fall for striped bass, late summer and early fall for bluefin and yellowfin tuna, shark, bonito, and false albacore. Pollock typically are most common in May and October. Other common species to catch spring through fall include mackerel, black sea bass, tautog, bluefish, scup, weakfish, fluke, and haddock. Cod and halibut are around year-round in cool and deep water.

There are also many perfect opportunities for surf fishing. If you need gear and don't know what to shop for, we recommend reading the following comparison by FishingRefined (thanks to Dale).

Take a look at more species-specific saltwater info here: Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing - Commonly Caught Species.

In freshwater, spring through fall are again the times to go based on when the waters are warm enough and fish are feeding. The official season for freshwater fish species is open year-round with exceptions for rainbow smelt and for lake trout on the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs. However, there are limits on the number of fish you can keep and minimum lengths depending on the species and location (see list). The best times to go for trout will be in the Spring after the runoff and through the Summer until the water heads up, and it picks up again in the Fall when the water is a little cooler. You’ll have the best luck for fish like bass, bluegill, crappie, and pickerel in the warmest months of the Summer.

The Massachusetts government’s website has recommendations for the best spots to fish for freshwater species. Quick tips:

  • Landlocked Atlantic Salmon are found only in the Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs.
  • The Connecticut River is a consistently productive location for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, shad, and walleye.
  • About two hours outside of Boston, the Deerfield River is the premier trout fishery in Massachusetts, with a strong population of wild brown trout and further supported by heavy stocking of brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout.

Ice fishing: Wintertime doesn’t mean you can’t still get outdoors and fish. If you can brave the cold, get your fix through ice fishing. Here are two handy lists of recommended lakes and ponds for ice fishing in western and central Massachusetts (Western District, Connecticut Valley District, and Central District) and ice fishing in eastern Massachusetts (Northeast District and Southeast District).

Locations, Guides and Charters

Here’s a helpful list of Massachusetts waters for recreational fishing, including parks, lakes, ponds, harbor areas, beaches and more.

If you’re looking for a guided trip experience, you’re in luck. The guides and charters listed below are experts in their field, working full-time at finding the fish and giving 100% to make sure you get the best opportunities at catching them.

North Shore

Included on the Northern coastline is Gloucester (the oldest fishing port in the U.S., and the home of National Geographic’s acclaimed show, Wicked Tuna) and the rich coastal ecosystem of Ipswich Bay.

Who to Go With:

  • Ipswich Bay Angling (Ipswich Bay, Massachusetts): Capt. Michael Hart (pictured, right) specializes in fly fishing and light tackle fishing for striped bass and other migratory species in Ipswich Bay. Explore the bay’s estuaries, rocky shorelines, jetties, boulder fields, and pristine tidal flats and beaches on a 20’ Key West Sportsman (1-2 fishers).
  • Tuna Hunter Fishing Charters (Gloucester, Massachusetts): Have your own Wicked Tuna experience in Gloucester, or go for other favorites like striped bass, bluefish, cod, haddock, and shark with Capt. Gary Cannell on a 36’ Custom Runaway (1-6 fishers).
  • Reely Hooked Fishing Charters (Beverly, Massachusetts): Capt. Antonio Filho is a striped bass fishing specialist and also offers deep sea haddock, tuna and shark fishing from a 25’ Center Console (1-6 fishers).

Boston

Just outside of Boston, the Sudbury River is a great location for float trips in search of a prize Northern Pike or for a fun day reeling in largemouth bass. The Sudbury is one of the top choices from guide Pete Kistner, Backeddy Fly & Guide, who you can go with. Pete is based out of Dedham and also gives private fly fishing casting lessons whether you’re a beginner looking to learn or an advanced caster working on improvements.

Western Massachusetts

Who to Go With: Backeddy Fly & Guide also offers float trips and wade trips across Western Massachusetts and into Connecticut. Rivers include the Deerfield, Westfield, Millers, Housatonic, Farmington river (CT) and some lesser known rivers. Hop on a drift boat trip with Pete and get a western water float experience targeting big browns just hours from Boston.

Martha’s Vineyard

Who to Go With: Kismet Outfitters. Guide Abbie Schuster, also a registered guide in Maine, takes clients fishing for striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito on a 23’ Parker (1-3 fishers). Or, if you prefer a walk and wade trip (1-4 fishers), Abbie also knows where all the great opportunities are around the shores and secret inlets of Martha’s Vineyard.

We can’t help you catch Jaws. You already know you’ll need a bigger boat for that... But there’ll be plenty of fish to reel in with a good fight that won’t scare you away from the beach later.

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