Summertime in Maine means fishing, and for many, fishing in Maine means dry flies for native brook trout, or stripers on Casco Bay.
But many anglers also overlook the fact that just offshore of Maine’s much-photographed coast, 200 feet or so under the surface of the water, lies the opportunity to land several species of fish that can tip the scales in the 15- to 20-pound range.
Travel offshore on one of Maine’s head boats or charter boats, and you have the opportunity to catch cod, haddock, pollock, cusk, hake, wolfish and others types of fish, many of these in the 5- to 15-pound range.
Maine has a thriving recreational groundfish fishery, and for some reason it’s one of the better-kept secrets in the state.
Many Maine anglers have never even tried groundfishing, even though it’s relatively inexpensive, and can be a lot of fun and quite rewarding.
Cod, haddock, and other groundfish can sometimes be caught near to shore, but during the summer months, most anglers seeking these fish need to venture 20-30 miles offshore to large, offshore ledges like Jeffreys Ledge, Platts Bank and Cashes Ledge.
Far from the sight of land, depths generally are in the 400- to 600-foot range in this area of the Gulf of Maine, but in certain areas the ocean floor rises to the relatively shallow depths of 180 to 250 feet deep.
These outcroppings, which vary in depth and contain a variety of habitat, hold species such as cod and haddock.
Both cod and haddock are bottom- dwelling fish, thus the term groundfish. Cod prefer a rocky or gravelly bottom. Haddock prefer clay or sandy bottoms. Anglers target these and other groundfish by bouncing jigs or bait on the bottom of the ocean floor atop these ledges.
For someone who never has fished for these species, you can head offshore on one of Maine’s head boats or charter boats, both of which can take you out to where the fish are, provide the proper fishing rod and tackle, and even clean your catch when you are done.
Head boats, also known as party boats, are larger boats that generally carry more than 10 anglers. Charter boats are smaller boats that can provide a similar experience for a smaller number of anglers. Since they are smaller and offer a more personalized experience, they are more expensive. A list of head boats and charter boats can be found at the Maine Department of Marine Resources website, under the recreational fishing link.
If you head out on a head boat, the cost can be relatively inexpensive for a day of fishing. Half-day trips, which don’t go out as far and stay nearer inland ledges and banks, start at $45. Half-day trips last approximately four hours, and full-day trips generally eight hours. Full-day trips start at around $75. Once you are hooked, there are other options such as extended trips that are available. These boats offer trips from May into October.
Your boat will provide your equipment, which generally includes a stiff boat rod, a large reel loaded with 50- to 80-pound braided line, and a 10- to 16-ounce jig. If you are fishing with bait, generally there is a large lead sinker of similar weight along with two baited hooks. Boats provide baits such as clams, shrimp or squid. The heavy weight is necessary to get your rig down to the bottom and counter the effects of the wind and tide.
Anglers drop their rig to the bottom, and jig or bounce it off the bottom. Cod offer vicious strikes, and if you are fortunate enough to entice a 15-pound cod to your line, it will feel like it wants to pull you down to the bottom. Haddock can have a much softer bite, so anglers need to be more alert to their line on the bottom. Once hooked, they will run and are fun to catch.
While catch and release may be quite popular inshore for striped bass and my freshwater fish, no angler worth his salt is going to release a legal size cod or haddock, as they make fantastic table fare. Fresh cod or haddock, simply broiled with a little butter and lemon, is unmatched. Those eating cod or haddock caught the same day will certainly notice the difference between that and store-bought fish.
Cod must be 24 inches in length in order to keep, and haddock must be 18 inches. There is a 10-fish limit per angler per day for cod and no bag limit on haddock. For more information on size and bag limits on other fish species, go to the Maine Department of Marine Resources website. Your captain and deckhands also will be up to date on all bag and size limits.
If you are going, make sure to pack an extra layer of clothes, rain gear, sunscreen, and bring a camera. Catching these fish are a treat, and you will want to show off your pictures at your fish fry, in order to entice your friends to accompany you on your next offshore trip.
For a list of Maine Charter Boats and Head Boats, please visit the Maine Department of Marine Resources at www.maine.gov/dmr and click on the recreational fishing link for a listing of boats and charters.
Mark Latti is the former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a Registered Maine Guide and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at: