August 1, 2003

Right on Schedule, Port Fish have Become Finicky

Frank G. Dwyer
August 1, 2003

As with most summers, late July and August typically herald the beginning of the so-called “summer doldrums”. This summer has proved to be not much different as the fishing has slowed considerably around the Port over the last few weeks. To make matters worse, the greenheads have been thick and make for a long wait between fish! Don’t get me wrong, fish can and are being taken, it’s just that it takes a bit more dedication this time of year.

Mackerel have proved scarce, with reports of anglers heading well into Maine to track them down. Bluefish have not been as evident over the last few weeks in the river, but reports have them well offshore from Newburyport to Cape Ann. Sand eels remain abundant around the flats and in the river, keeping the birds and presumably the fish well fed. Dogfish have been creating headaches for bait anglers both outside and inside the river.

Anglers fishing the Merrimack and Joppa Flats have had success in the pre-dawn hours, as well as during night outings. Fishermen offering cut bait in some of the deep holes upriver by the Route 95 bridge have landed stripers in the 20-pound range. Further down-river, tossing sand eel imitation flies and lures into the many creek openings have produced nice school-sized striped bass.

Both wade and boat fishermen have had landed some of the finicky striped bass seen finning around Joppa Flats, although hook-up ratios could be better by most fishermen’s standards. My limited success on Joppa over the last few weeks has come typically in the dark, on the top of the incoming tide, as well as the first hours of the outgoing tide. Eel fishermen have done well with slowly trolled eels at night.

Moving towards the mouth of the Merrimack, anglers fishing cut-bait, as well as seaworms and clams have landed some nice sized stripers, however reports have more dog fish in the river than years past. Productive areas include the moving water just off the Toothpick as well as the area around Badgers Rocks. Top water plugs thrown in close to the rocks have also produced a few healthy striped bass.

Surf fishing along the beaches of Plum Island has been sporadic as well, however a bass just shy of 30-pounds was reported to have been caught on a herring chunk off the beach at Parking Lot 1 on the Parker River NWR. A few bluefish have also been landed, with spotty fishing reported along the beach from Atty. May’s to the south jetty.

In mentioning the Parker River NWR, it’s important to note that currently parking lot’s 1, 6 and 7 remain open for walk-on fishing. Several pairs of Piping Plovers are still nesting on the beach and it’s anticipated that a full beach opening will not take place until mid to late August. Once the beaches are fully opened, drive-on permits will be available for the surf-buggy crowd.

Party boats and off shore anglers have been doing well catching numbers of Cod, predominantly on jig and teaser rigs. Haddock fishing has also picked up with many market-sized fish being landed. Jefferies Ledge continues to please anglers looking for cod and haddock, as well as wolffish and cusk.


The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has reduced the recreational haddock minimum size from 23” to 21”. This change was made to complement recent modifications made by NOAA Fisheries, effective July 28, 2003.

Also, the Division of Marine Fisheries recently determined that soft-shell clams from the waters, flats and tributaries in Salisbury, Newbury, Newburyport and many other North Shore locations no longer contain biotoxins (PSP) from the phytoplankton Alexandrium tamarense in excess of established standards. The areas recently opened remain closed to the taking of all shellfish and carnivorous snails, except for soft-shell clams.

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