On April 15th the Haddock season opens for recreational and charter boats which kicks off New England’s fishing season. Although less sporty as other local species. Cod and haddock represent the blue collar nature of the region attracting fisherman looking for table fare. In 2016 National Marine Fisheries deemed the New England cod populations to be at all time lows and implemented a moratorium. Shutting down the fisheries to recreational and commercial anglers in the Gulf of Maine. With the cod stock struggling the Haddock population has rebounded over the past 15 years and make up the primary ground fish target in the region.
Where to target haddock
Stellwagen bank is an underwater plateau in Cape Cod bay that was caused during the last ice age. Similar to Georges Bank this structure holds Haddock year round. Sitting only twenty miles from most Massachusetts harbors it is easily accessible by the recreational and charter fleet.
In the spring haddock move inshore in large numbers to spawn and feed on sand eels, clams, and crustaceans. Anglers prepared for this early season bite will be rewarded with fish in the shallow western edges and shoal water of Stellwagen.
Groundfish move around in search of food so it is important to have quality depth finder and local intel before heading out. As May progresses into June and the water temperatures rise haddock migrate east to the deeper waters of Stellwagen bank. By late summer the haddock population are on the easter edge in water depths in excess of 250-300 ft. Making for a lot more work then the 90ft shoal waters earlier in the season.
With recent advancement in tackle technology gone are the days of heavy jigging sticks needed to work a 20oz jig. With the strength of the new graphite rod construction and braided line you can now use medium to light setups to target haddock. Braid eliminates line stretch when fishing in deeper water allowing anglers to use more sensitive rods for this fishery.
Rod and Reel Setups
The rod and reel combo recommend for haddock should be capable of handling 30-50 lb braid. Target rods of 6’6″-7’6″ length with a fast action in the 20-50 lb class. We prefer a rod that has a little more beef to give you versatility to handle both jigs and larger sinkers up to 16oz. The reel should have a fast retrieve ratio of at least a 5:1. With the popularity of vertical jigging in the area anglers can utilize the same lighter spinning rod setups loaded with braid for groundfishing. In the spring when the fish are in 70-90 feet of water it makes for a fun light tackle fishery.
The reel should be loaded with 50lb braid. The heavier braid is preferred when fishing bouncing sinkers up to 16oz on the bottom. With a thinner diameter and less water resistance, they provide an added advantage and allow the angler to hold bottom with lighter sinkers. The lack of stretch transmits even the softest of hits.
The basic haddock bait rig consists of a 4ft length of 40-60lb leader attached to the main line via a 100lb barrel swivel. The rig has one dropper loop 12 inches above the sinker and a second loop 24 inches above the first. Dropper loops stand out 3-4 inches. Each dropper loop is tipped with a 5/0 to 7/0 hook. Spice up the hooks with shrimp or grub teaser to add some color.
The entire rig is attached to the main line with a 100lb barrel swivel and completed with a sinker size depending on the speed of the drift and the appropriate weight to stay on the bottom. Go the the bank loaded with a mix of sinkers to ensure you fish on the bottom. Topping off the hook with fresh sea clams is deadly. You can swap out the lead sinkers with a diamond jig for a different presentation. Haddock are aggressive when on the feed and will frequently hit large diamond jigs.
One tip for hook selection is to use a wide shanked hook similar to a Gamakatsu octopus circle hooks. We have had very high hookup ratios using a Kahle hook. The barb is pointed in towards the hook eye instead of toward the shank of the hook. As bottom feeders with mouths facing down the wide shanked hooks allow for a better hookup ratio.
Tides for Haddock
Unlike other fisheries large strong tides are not ideal often creating high drift speeds making it harder to maintain bottom. Moon stages between the full and new moons are best. Haddock will feed on the peak tides so you want to be able to maintain bottom. Strong tides can be overcome by using heavier weight or jigs that can wear out anglers.
Mixed in with Haddock you will find cod who feed in the same bottom conditions. With the Gulf of Maine closure cod stocks seem to be on the rise on stellwagen so be sure to release all fish unharmed. Using bait rigs with single hooks and avoiding diamond jigs with trebles is a good way to ensure you are not damaging the stock and allow it to rebound.
Gear up for this early season kickoff. Arm yourself with trustworthy intel and get some fresh new England haddock for the table.