Great groundfishing starts now off NH's seacoast
By Chris Warner, bio-aide, Marine Division/Durham

Hooray! Winter is over at last. The last remnants of winter have given way to spring, casting a constant reminder of all that the New Hampshire seacoast has to offer. The time to dig the tackle box out of the garage and clean out the cooler has finally arrived!

If you are itching to get an early start on the fishing season, New Hampshire has got you covered. Some of the best groundfishing (Atlantic cod, haddock) begins in April and runs through June. Head down to Hampton, Rye or Seabrook and spend a day fishing on one of the many party boats destined for Jeffreys Ledge. You can’t go wrong with any of the party boat companies on the seacoast. These guys will take care of you, from making sure you have the right fishing gear and techniques to filleting your prized catch of the day. Check out these websites for more information on party boats:

If you’re looking to get your boat out into the big blue, cruising in and around the Isles of Shoals can provide you with some good groundfishing. Using cut clams or a large diamond cod jig will give you the best chance to bring home a nice “keeper” fish for dinner.

For those who are interested in fishing from shore, winter flounder can be caught early on in the season. Bring small cut clams and a spreader rig to Rye Harbor or Hampton Harbor for the best chance to hook yourself one of these flatfish. Be sure to check the species to ensure your catch is legal size (winter flounder=12”; yellowtail flounder=13”; summer flounder=15”).

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, the Atlantic mackerel begin to bite more frequently. Last year it wasn’t uncommon to catch upwards of 100 fish in one hour at the end of May and into June! Take a sabiki rig or your unbaited diamond jig to the mouth of the Piscataqua River and catch this baitfish when the striped bass begin migrate into the Gulf of Maine.

Many anglers visit New Hampshire to catch striped bass in May and June. In 2008, striper catches were down and we can only hope that this year will be different. Try using floating lures, poppers, chunk mackerel/river herring, or live bait. A good place to start is down at the mouth of the Merrimack River. There are usually some “schoolies” hanging out there and if you are looking to take full advantage of your 2 fish bag limit, this may be the best place to do it early in the season. Hint: Try going during the week to avoid the high boat traffic that frequents this area on the weekends.

The exit of the stripers does not mean the end of the season. Groundfish such as haddock and Atlantic cod can still be caught out near the Shoals. However, the waters in July and August are home to the bluefish. You can make a claim that some of the most exciting fishing occurs when the bluefish migrate into NH waters. These fish are voracious eaters who will put up quite a struggle once you set the hook. Be careful, however, because the fight isn’t over when you get these fish onboard or on land. These feisty fish have a set of teeth that would make a piranha jealous. Make sure you count your fingers after you remove the hook from their chompers because they would like nothing more than to take a piece of you with them on their way to the afterlife. Poppers, large swimbaits, live bait, and cut herring should be used to catch these fish.

Whether you catch a 60-lb. cod, a bait-stealing little green crab, or some seaweed, remember one thing: A bad day fishing is better than a good day doing just about anything else. Keep that in mind and you are sure to make the most of the New Hampshire seacoast this summer.

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