Big stripers can be found throughout Salem Harbor and the ledge-filled waters of Salem Sound. Photo by Tom Richardson

Longtime Marblehead/Salem guide Fred Christian taught me that striped bass could be caught virtually anywhere in Salem Harbor. This was back in the spring of ’95, and we had a blast working flies and plugs for schoolies near the rocks at the end of Derby Wharf and along the riprap in front of the decidedly less-than-scenic powerplant.

Later in the season, Christian and I returned to Salem, but this time we stumbled on a school of large menhaden that was being molested by even larger fall-run bluefish near the harbor entrance. Ever since then, I’ve thought of Salem as a pretty fishy spot.

The waters outside Salem Harbor are riddled with islands, boulders and rocky ledges that serve as home to big bass throughout the season.

It still is. From May to October, schoolies can be caught around virtually any type of structure, including boulders, ledges, rocky points, piers, jetties and breakwalls. This is great sport for light-tackle anglers armed with spinning or fly gear. For the best action, fish the first 2 hours after dawn, in the evening, or at night.

The nearby Danvers River is another good spot for schoolies, but also harbors plenty of keeper-sized fish, particularly in June and early July. Top spots in the river include the Kernwood Bridge and the flats in front of the golf course.

The waters surrounding Salem Harbor are riddled with islands, boulders and rocky ledges that serve as home to big bass throughout the season. Peach’s Point, Cat Island, Eagle Island, Great Misery Island and Bakers Island all offer the type of craggy, surf-washed structure that attracts bait and bass, plus the cooler ocean water keeps the fish actively feeding during the hot months.

To catch them, slow-troll or cast live mackerel, swimming plugs (Bombers, Crystal Minnows) or soft-plastic shads near the rocky shores and drop-offs. Fly fishing can also be productive, with long snake flies and big Clousers and Flatwings favored in the surf zones. Cast these along the base of rocks and submerged ledges and work them slowly through the turbulent water.

Bluefish tend to run big off Salem, although they aren’t as numerous as they were during the 1980s. While the choppers will occasionally chase mackerel and menhaden inside the harbor, a more reliable bet is trolling big swimming plugs off Newcomb Ledge and Gloucester. Troll these plugs along drop-offs in 25′ to 40′ of water while looking for surface ripples, slicks and diving birds.

Salem also boasts some decent winter flounder fishing. Productive spots include the shallow mud bottom some 100 yards in front of Salem Willows Pier, as well as the mouth of nearby Manchester Harbor. The key is to find moving water and the right bait, which includes sandworms, clams and, believe it or not, nightcrawlers fished on the bottom.

Bait & Tackle:

Tomo’s Tackle ((978-498-4187; ): Located right on Pickering Wharf, Tomo’s carries a wide range of rods, reels, lures, hooks, sinkers and other fishing gear. Also sells natural bait and live eels.

First Light Anglers (978-0948-7004)


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.


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