Whether you fish the sometime-angry seas of Buzzards Bay from a power boat, its quiet inshore waters from a rowboat, or if you prefer to keep your feet firmly planted along the 245 miles of her shoreline from Wareham to Westport, you can find fish of all shapes and sizes eager to tug on your line and put a welcome bend in your fishing rod, bringing primal excitement to anglers of all ages and abilities.

It’s a combination of factors that make the Bay the popular fishing destination it is, explains Marine Fisheries Aquatic Biologist II John Boardman, who works from the New Bedford office, overlooking the Bay.

“Buzzards Bay has a variety of structure, such as rocky bottom, ledges and wrecks where many different species of fish congregate, and there’s an abundance of baitfish and other food sources like crustaceans and shellfish,” said Boardman. “Accessibility is another component with the coastline offering many boat ramps, marinas and shore fishing access. From spring through fall, there are fish to catch in the Bay.”

Boardman also notes that the black sea bass fishing has become phenomenal in the spring, during the spawning season at the east end of the Bay. “As the fish disperse after the spawn, they still can be caught through the summer and fall in deeper water,” he said. “The sea bass fishing is a big draw for fishermen.”

As coordinator for Marine Fisheries’ Saltwater Fishing Derby, Boardman also said he’s had many submissions into the derby for black sea bass running from four to six pounds this season. He also said that in the late summer and fall, anglers can look forward to the tautog fishing picking up, along with the fall run of stripers and bluefish.

“There are lots of adult menhaden (also called pogies or bunker) in the Bay this year, which should draw the big stripers and blues this fall,” Boardman said. “And there’s a glut of baby menhaden, called peanut bunker, which should attract a good run of bonito and false albacore starting in mid- to late-August.”

Boardman said that revenues generated by sales of recreational saltwater fishing licenses have funded construction and repairs of boat ramps and public fishing piers along the Bay, in addition to expanding public access.

“We’ve done a lot of work and we’re still working on more shore fishing access,” he said.

Captain Todd MacGregor, a charter captain out of Fairhaven who has been guiding fishing trips on the Bay for many years, agreed with Boardman about structure and bait being key factors that attract and hold fish in the Bay.

“In addition, most spots are in 50 feet of water or less, making them easier to fish,” he said. “The variety of fish that can be caught — from game fish like stripers, blues and false albacore to bottom fish like sea bass, scup and tautog — is a big attraction for fishermen. There’s something for everyone to get thrilled and excited about, no matter your physical ability or degree of fishing skill.”

Recreational saltwater fishing remains one of America’s favorite pastimes for both young and old and is a key contributor to the national economy, with 9.6 million salty anglers making nearly 63 million trips in 2016, catching more than 371 million fish, and in 2015, contributing $36 billion to the national economy, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Of the New England states, the economic benefit was highest in Massachusetts in 2013 with $755 million in sales, $360 in income and $507 million in value added, says NOAA. In the same year, there were 898,000 saltwater anglers in the Bay State with 275,000 of those being nonresidents. The fertile waters of our beloved Buzzards Bay is a destination for many, with striped bass being the most sought after species, followed by scup, also called porgy.

STRIPED BASS are one of the largest fish available to nearshore anglers. Stripers, often called “linesides,” can be caught in Buzzards Bay from mid-April through October and sometimes into November. Cast plugs, jigs, spoons or flies from shore or boat, use baitfish or live eels, or troll. Stripers prefer rocks, rips and surf with smaller fish called "schoolies" found in estuaries. The state record is 73 pounds set in 1913 in Quick's Hole, tied in 1967 at Sow & Pigs Reef off Cuttyhunk and tied again in 1981 at Nauset Beach. The recreational season is open year-round with a limit of one fish per day and a minimum size of 28 inches.

BLUEFISH are ravenous, hard-fighting fish that often travel in marauding schools. They usually arrive in late May or early June and can be caught through mid-October. Most fish average 3 to 7 pounds in the Bay during summer, but big ones, called “choppers” or “gators” can weigh into the teens in the spring and fall and father from shore in deep water throughout the season. Blues have razor-sharp, piranha-like teeth, so use care when handling them, use pliers to unhook them and tie a wire leader on the end of your line to prevent cut-offs. Juveniles, called “snappers,” are abundant in estuaries and bays in late summer. Cast plugs, spoons or flies from shore or boat, use chunks of baitfish or troll. The state record is 27 pounds, 4 ounces set in 1982 at Graves Light. The recreational season is open year-round with daily limit of 10 fish and no minimum size.

SCUP, also called “porgy” are the most common and bountiful bottom feeders in the Bay, and the second most popular species in the state. Available from May to October, they are fun and easy to catch either from shore or boat using sea clams, squid strips or sea worms fished on the bottom. Double headers are common when using a double-hook rig. After spawning near shore in the spring, they disperse throughout the Bay during the summer. The recreational season for private anglers is May 1 through Dec. 31 with a 30-fish daily limit (max of 150 fish per vessel with 5 or more anglers aboard) and 9-inch minimum size. For anglers aboard for-hire vessels, the first season is May 1 through June 30 with a 45-fish daily limit and the second half is July 1 through Dec. 31 with a 30-fish daily limit. The minimum size is also 9 inches during both seasons. The state record is 5 pounds, 14 ounces, set at Nomans in 1983.

TAUTOG prefer rocky bottom, ledges and wrecks and are stubborn when hooked. Stout tackle is often needed to get the bigger ones up off the bottom and keep them from wrapping your line around rocks. They’re also called “tog” or “blackfish,” with larger males called “white chin,” They are one of the first species to arrive in The Bay and can be caught from April through November with your best bet being crabs, sea clams or other shellfish fished on the bottom, either at anchor or cast from rocky shores, jetties, bridges or piers. The first dandelions to bloom in the spring is a traditional sign that the tautog run has begun. The state record is 22 pounds, 9 ounces set in 1978 at Gay Head. The recreational minimum length is 16 inches but the season consists of five segments: Jan. 1 to March 31 – closed; Apr. 1 to May 31 (3 fish daily limit); June 1 to July 31 (1 fish); Aug. 1 to Oct. 14 (3 fish); Oct. 15 to Dec. 31 (5 fish).

BLACK SEA BASS fishing picks up with the spawn in mid-May when the fish largely congregate at the east end of Buzzards Bay. The spawn lasts through the end of June when they disperse into deeper water throughout the Bay to spend the summer. Big males, also called “knuckleheads,” sport a pronounced hump on their foreheads, a striking iridescent blue head and zebra pattern dorsal fin when displaying their spawning colors. Anchor or drift with sea clams, cut squid or use light spinning tackle with a jig and squid strip or synthetic, scented trailer. They’re aggressive feeders with big mouths. Interestingly, most sea bass are born female with about half changing to the male sex by the time they reach age six. The recreational season is May 19 to Sept. 12 with a five-fish daily limit and 15-inch minimum size. The state record is 8 pounds, 15 ounces set in 2007 in Buzzards Bay.

FLUKE, also called summer flounder, are fine-eating flatfish, good fighters and sport needle-like teeth. They can be caught in the Bay from May through October and prefer sandy or muddy bottoms and fast moving rips, where bigger ones, called “doormats” are often caught as incidentals by striper fishermen. The most common technique is to drift a double-hook fluke rig baited with squid strips or a live mumper, with enough sinker to keep bumping bottom. They’ll also take jigs sweetened with a squid strip. The state record is 21 pounds, 8 ounces set at Nomans in 1980. The recreational season is May 23 to Oct. 9 with a five-fish daily limit and minimum size of 17 inches.

LITTLE TUNNY or FALSE ALBACORE are in the tuna family and travel in schools, often chasing and corralling baitfish into a surface commotion resembling a bluefish blitz. Called “albies,” they are much trickier to catch than blues but they’re faster and provide a blistering first run — if you can hook one. Usually more abundant south of The Elizabeth Islands, there is often a good run in the Bay in late summer with schools ranging along the coast from Westport to Wareham. The run can begin in mid-August and last through early October. Cast small jigs, spoons and flies to surfacing schools is the most common method, but they can be caught trolling. The season is open year-round with no daily or size limits. They average about eight pounds and the state record is 19 pounds, 5 ounces set in 1990 off Edgartown. Bonito are very similar to albies but have different markings, run a little smaller and are better tasting. The state record is 13 pounds, 8 ounces, set in Buzzards Bay in 2002. Like albies, there is no closed season and no regulations on size or daily limits.

MACKEREL are also in the tuna family, usually appearing in the east end of the Bay in May on their way through the Cape Cod Canal. They can be caught casting shiny jigs on light tackle or for sheer numbers, troll a mackerel rig, also called a Christmas Tree. The state record is 3 pounds, 8 ounces, caught in 1994. The season is open year-round with no size or daily limits.

The WEAKFISH, also called "SQUETEAGUE" and “spotted sea trout,” once were abundant in the Bay but numbers have decreased over the years, thus there’s a current limit of one fish per day. Weakfish are named for their soft mouths, not for their fighting ability, which rivals the striped bass and they’re often caught as incidentals by anglers fishing for stripers and blues. Your best chance for one is from June through September. The minimum size is 16 inches and the season is open year-round. The weakfish has a set of vampire-like fangs that protrude from the roof of its mouth.

Some species often caught as incidentals by anglers in the Bay include the SMOOTH DOGFISH, most often called SAND SHARKS, and sometimes called dog sharks. They’re relatively harmless, can grow to five feet and give someone a thrill while reeling them in, but otherwise are considered to have little value among anglers. For recreational anglers, there is no closed season and no minimum size, but they are included in the one-shark-per-day limit, plus one additional.

The SEA ROBIN is another common bycatch that receives no respect, despite the tails being a prized food in Europe. It’s a strikingly colored fish, complete with wing-like pectoral fins and a set of feelers on its belly, similar to slim lobster legs. They’re also peculiar in that they often croak when handled, but beware of the needle-sharp spines along its head. CUNNER, more commonly known as the choggy, is also considered a trash fish. There are no recreational regulations on sea robins or choggies.

One of the most common “uncommon” fish caught in Buzzards Bay is the NORTHERN KINGFISH. They’re a slender fish and average about a foot long but can grow up to 18 inches. The body is a metallic greenish-gray with dark brown bars and the dorsal fin has a long filament. The kingfish is a bottom feeder and its top jaw overhangs its bottom jaw with the snout protruding over the mouth. It has a single barbell (whisker) on its chin.

Other uncommon species found in the Bay, usually in the summer, is the BANDED RUDDERFISH, which likes to hang around buoys and pilings in shallower water. They have dark bands on an olive body and are less than a foot long. Another bottom feeder that is occasionally boated in the Bay during the summer is the GRAY TRIGGERFISH, which averages 12 to 18 inches in length. They’re usually dull gray but can also be greenish-gray or yellowish brown.

The NORTHERN PUFFER is a whimsical fish, sometimes caught from docks and piers. It’s also called puffer belly, balloon fish and blow fish. Unlike many of the tropical species of puffers, which have venomous flesh, the Northern puffer flesh is nonvenomous. The guts however, can be toxic. Children especially find them entertaining to catch as the fish puffs up into a ball or “balloon” as a defense mechanism, especially if you tickle its belly. Their mouth looks more like a beak and they average about eight inches long.

 

A Mass. Saltwater Fishing License is required of recreational anglers 16 years and older. The fee is $10. Licenses are available at license agents and also online through MassFishHunt at https://www.ma.wildlifelicense.com/IS/Customer/InternetCustomerSearch. Anglers younger than 16 don’t need a license. Anglers ages 60 and older need to acquire a license but it’s free.

Anglers don’t need a license if they are disabled by definition of the law, or if they are fishing aboard a licensed for-hire vessel (charter boat or head boat). Licenses are valid for the calendar year.

The Mass. Saltwater Fishing Derby awards enamel pins to anglers who catch trophy fish that meet or exceed minimum weights in the weigh-in division or minimum lengths in the catch and release division of the derby for 32 listed species. Trophies are awarded in three divisions — men, women and juniors (ages 15 and younger) — at the end of the year for the largest fish in each species category.

For more info on the derby, visit www.mass.gov/saltwater-fishing-derby. For more information on species and regulations, visit the Mass. Saltwater Fishing Guide online at www.mass.gov/service-details/get-a-massachusetts-recreational-saltwater-fishing-guide or pick up a hard copy at most coastal tackle shops.

Digital map to saltwater access fishing boat ramps and piers:

 

 

Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for The Standard-Times. Contact him at openseason1988@aol.com