Northeast U.S. & New England – A Fishing Overview

The Northeast and New England specifically are home to one of the oldest and most diverse fisheries in the world. Not only is it one of the areas of the United States where commercial fishing was born, but it is also currently the home of many skilled charter captains and recreational fishermen alike. Speaking from a charter fishing perspective, we are very fortunate to have a wide variety of fisheries and locations within close proximity to land to choose from during the height of our fishing season (April – November). This is mainly due to the convergence of the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream, an incredible variety of bottom structure, and in recent years a very healthy baitfish population. All of these factors create the ability to target a wide variety of species in our local waters.

offshore fishing northeast

But we also have access to one of the most diverse bluewater/offshore fisheries in the world, the Northeast Canyons. When conditions are right, it is not uncommon to check all of the boxes on pelagic species in one trip to these cracks in the continental shelf, also referred to as “the edge”… There aren’t many other places in the world like that.

In this article, we want to give you an overview of each of the major fishing areas and species throughout the Northeast. In future articles, we will be focusing more specifically on tactics, conditions, and how to take advantage of these areas and fishing opportunities

Gulf of Maine Overview

The Gulf of Maine (GOM) is a large gulf of the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of North America. It includes the entire coastlines of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts north of Cape Cod, and the southern and western coastlines of the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Within the GOM there are various types of bottom and structure including many banks, basins, and ledges. A few of the key pieces of structure that are closest in proximity to the coastline are Stellwagen Bank, Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay, and Jeffreys Ledge. These are also the pieces that are our primary fishing area(s) on most of our charters.

offshore fishing northeast

Stellwagen Bank

Summary: Stellwagen Bank is located North of the tip of Cape Cod, between the mouth of Cape Cod Bay and Cape Ann. The drastic structure of the bank combined with the deep-water currents of Mass Bay create upwellings that cause baitfish to congregate here. These baitfish attract many species of whales, bluefin tuna, sharks, and other species of marine life. The East Side of the Bank is a steep drop off and the West side of the bank is a gradual slope

  • Bottom Type: gravel, sand, stone
  • Depth: 65ft-200+ ft, the shallowest part of the bank is located on the Southern edge
  • Target species: bluefin tuna, groundfish (haddock, cod, pollock), bluefish, and sharks
  • Baitfish: herring, mackerel, squid, whiting, bluefish, pogies/menhaden/bunker
striped bass fishing northeast

Massachusetts Bay & Cape Cod Bay

Summary: Unlike Stellwagen Bank, the majority of Mass Bay and Cape Cod Bay do not provide as drastic of structure in comparison to the bank. It is essentially all plus or minus 200-feet deep, made up of shoals, sandbars, and stone ledges. The structure becomes more pronounced the closer you get to the coastline within both bays.

  • Bottom Type: Mud, sand, stone
  • Depths: Vary, especially when you get closer to shore, but the middle of the Bay is mostly 200-250-feet deep
  • Target Species: bluefin tuna, striped bass, bluefish, groundfish, flounder
  • Baitfish: mackerel, whiting, squid, bluefish, pogies
offshore fishing northeast canyons

Jeffrey’s Ledge

Summary: Jeffrey’s Ledge is located just off the coast of Cape Ann and stretches about 20 miles from the Southwest to the Northeast up towards the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. The structure of Jefferies is very similar to Stellwagen Bank, but it is surrounded by a slightly deeper water depth and contains steep drop-offs on both the Eastern and Western edges of it.

  • Bottom Type: gravel, sand, stone
  • Depth: 150-300+ feet
  • Target species: bluefin tuna, groundfish, bluefish, sharks
  • Baitfish: herring, mackerel, squid, whiting, bluefish, pogies/menhaden/bunker
offshore fishing northeast

South of Cape Cod/Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket

Summary: The waters on the South side of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and the island of Nantucket provide easy access to some very productive offshore fishing grounds. Similar to Cape Cod Bay, most of the bottom structure is made up of sandy shoals and slight variations in depth, attracting large biomasses of baitfish attracting striped bass, bluefish, and fluke. What makes this area different from those mentioned above is that fact that during certain times of the year, specifically during the Summer months in New England, the prevailing wind (Southwest) and the proximity of the Gulf Stream can cause pelagic species not normally found North of Cape Cod to migrate and feed close to shore. White marlin, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, mahi, and wahoo can sometimes be caught within 30-40 miles of the coastline.

  • Key Areas: East/SE of Chatham, MA (Great South Channel), Nantucket Shoals & Rips, Shipping Lanes, the Dump, the Fingers, the Claw, the Star
  • Depth: 20-400-feet
  • Target Species: striped bass, bluefish, fluke, black seabass, false albacore, bonito, tautaug, groundfish, various sharks, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, white marlin, mahi, and wahoo
offshore fishing northeast

Northeast Canyons

Summary: The canyons are cuts and cracks in the continental shelf found roughly 80-130+ miles off of the coast of New England. The most commonly fished area of the canyons fished off of New England stretches from the Hudson Canyon (West) to Lydonia Canyon (East); depending on what port you are departing from. The “Western Canyons” are more accessible for vessels fishing out of NY, RI, and CT. The “Eastern Canyons” typically see more boats from Massachusetts. In the Summer and early Fall months, warm water eddies separate from the Gulf Stream as it gets closer to the continental shelf. When these Gulf Stream eddies hit the structure of the canyons/shelf and come into contact with the cooler more nutrient-rich water of the Labrador Current, it creates optimal feeding and fishing conditions for various types of pelagic species…as long as you have the weather window.

  • Key Areas: Entire continental shelf dependent on water temperature and conditions
  • Depth: Roughly 500-5,000+ft
  • Target Species: yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, bluefin tuna, albacore, swordfish, wahoo, mahi, white marlin, blue marlin, and sharks
northeast fishing
The Sears family has grown up on the South Shore of Massachusetts and has been fishing for generations. Lead by Capt. Greg Sears (father) and Wendy Sears (mother), our family are involved in all facets of the business. We run the busiest and largest "6 Pack" fishing charter company in the state, Mas...