Fishing Newburyport, MA

Big bass invade the Joppa Flats and ocean waters off Newburyport in May.

Deep channels, expansive flats and plenty of manmade structure make for great fishing in and around Newburyport. One of the most popular spots for both kayak and boat fishermen is the Joppa Flats, just east of the city. The flats range from 2 to 10 feet deep, depending on the tide, and hold striped bass and bluefish from June through the summer. June usually offers the best daytime action, and it’s even possible to sight-cast to tailing stripers as they root on the bottom. You can also set up a drift and simply blindcast with topwaters and soft-plastic jerkbaits. Lastly, anchoring up and fishing eels or chunk baits on the bottom in deep holes or along drop-offs can produce.

The main channel of the Merrimack also features loads of great striper spots. Check out a chart and you’ll see plenty of holes, rocks (eg, Half Tide Rocks, Badgers Rocks) and pilings that hold fish throughout the season. Fishing these places can be tricky in the strong current, so it’s a good idea to keep one person at the helm while casting to these structure points. You can also anchor outside the main channel and drop eels or chunks of fresh menhaden or mackerel into the deeper holes where stripers like to lurk. The Gillis/Rte. 1 Bridge abutments, bumpers and pilings also hold fish, as do the various creek mouths on either side of the river. Remember that an outgoing tide generally produces best, and that you’re always better fishing at dawn and dusk, as well as at night.

Other traditional hot spots for early-season bass include the sandbar off the northern tip of Plum Island, across from Badgers Rocks, and the rip that forms a mile upriver off the American Yacht Club. You can score fish at either location by tossing pearl, olive or chartreuse Slug-Gos, curl-tail grubs, 5″ Mambo Minnows, and Swim Shads.

Live mackerel are a favorite striper bait throughout the season, and account for many big fish. Check with the local bait and  tackle shops to find out where the macks are holding outside the river mouth, then use a Sabiki rig to fill your live well. Macks can be live-lined around any type of structure inside the river or drifted into deep holes with the aid of a sinker. In July and August, you’ll score better by fishing between the jetties and up to a 1/2-mile east of the river mouth. Make a drift from the jetties out into the bight until you lose speed, then run back up and start again.

Another popular technique for taking big bass and bluefish is trolling big swimming plugs (Bomber Long-As work well) and tube lures along the 18′ and 30′ depth contours off Plum Island. The big rockpile at the western end of Plum Island is a great spot to cast lures and flies, especially at dawn, and you may encounter big blitzes of blues and bass in the fall around the mouth of the Parker River, where it empties into Ipswich Bay.

If you want to try your hand at something different, charter skipper Scott Maguire of Summertime Fishing Charters says that winter flounder action can be quite good in the early season. He says that the bottom around the GC “3” buoy, off the south jetty at the mouth of the river, can be productive. Here, anglers can “hunt and peck” in 20′ to 30′ of water for flatties using sandworms. Best bet is to fish around slack tide, when the current is light. Expect the flounder to bite through May and well into June before moving offshore.

On the other side of the fishing spectrum, bluefin tuna are also within reach of Newburyport-based anglers. From July through October, tuna from 100 to 800 pounds can be encountered in such well-known spots as Jeffreys Ledge, Tillies Bank and Stellwagen Bank, although getting them to eat is another matter. Trolling splash bars and daisy chains works well, as does drifting with live mackerel in areas of whale and tuna activity. At times, the tuna can also be targeted on casting gear.

Haddock, hake, pollock and other bottom fish can be taken at these same spots, as well as over smaller lumps and wrecks that dot the bottom off the Merrimack River. To catch them, get a stout conventional outfit loaded with 50-pound braided line then send down some clams on a standard high-low cod rig weighted with a large sinker or metal jig. The local tackle shops listed below will be more than happy to set you up with everything you’ll need and point you in the right direction.

Bait & Tackle:

Charters:

License Requirements

A Recreational Saltwater Fishing Permit is required to fish the marine waters of Massachusetts out to 3 miles from shore. Cost is $10 for both residents and non-residents. The permit expires on December 31.

Exemptions:

No permit is required for the following individuals:

  • Persons under 16 years of age.
  • Persons fishing on a charter or partyboat.
  • Persons who possess a saltwater fishing license from Connecticut, Rhode Island or New Hampshire.
  • Persons who, regardless of age, otherwise meet the definition of a disabled person.
  • The permit fee is waived for anglers 60 and older; however, these individuals must still register with the state. A small fee will be charged by the vendor to process the permit if purchased online.

For more information:

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries: Permits

To purchase a license online:

Mass Fish Hunt License System

Seasons, Catch & Size Limits

For a current list of fishing regulations, by species