Sport fishing for groundfish

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The sport of catching groundfish dates back more than 200 years. George Washington is said to have made a successful excursion off New Hampshire to catch cod around the time of the Revolutionary War, and the species’ popularity has endured ever since.

The Northeast and Canadian Maritimes were ground zero for the fishery.

Rods and reels began replacing hand lines as the tackle of choice shortly after World War II, and soon hundreds of party and charterboat operations specializing in cod and other groundfish sprouted up from New Jersey to Maine.

One of the top sportfishing grounds is Stellwagen Bank off Massachusetts. Restrictions on commercial fishing, an abundance of such forage as sand eels and herring and a diverse bottom habitat combine to create conditions that hold groundfish year-round. Cod, which run 5 to 50-plus pounds, are taken primarily on clams or 8- to 24-ounce jigs fished on 30- to 50-pound class tackle. Haddock, which range from 3 to 10 pounds, prefer clams, shrimp or mackerel chunks and can be taken on lighter gear. Pollock, hake, cusk, wolf fish and the occasional halibut are also caught on Stellwagen.

Another major fishing ground is Jeffreys Ledge, which stretches from Newburyport, Mass., north to Ogunquit, Maine, some 20 miles offshore. Jeffreys, which is within the 900-square-mile Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area, has been closed to commercial fishing since 1997 and provides good groundfish catches for recreational boats. Larger party boats out of southern New England, New York and New Jersey often target cod on Georges Bank and in the Great South Channel.

There are recreational bag and/or size limits for most groundfish, and there’s a current ban on the possession of cod from Nov. 1 through April 15. To see the full set of regulations, visit www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/regs.

See related articles:

- Fishing for perfection

- Going deep

- A look back at King Cod

- Acts of cod

- What happened to the halibut?

June 2013 issue