top of page

Spring Haddock (and Cod) Basics

Updated: May 3

A picturesque day on Cape Cod Bay. Photo courtesy of Ryan Collins of MFCC

It's early April.

You've blown the dust off your gear, maybe uncovered your boat. You've prepared in some fashion an early season list of 'things to do' and 'things to get.' For me, I find myself eager with anticipation to get into the mindset of 'fishing' again. It's sleepless nights before a trip. It's spending hours before a trip preparing gear, preparing the boat, and best of all strategizing.

One of the best parts of fishing for me is the mental part. Every trip has a puzzle to unlock. I try to formulate a game plan for every trip. Based on data available to me before the trip, such as, tide, moon, sea conditions weather conditions, available species (seasonality), I go into just about every trip with a plan. Inevitably things don't go to plan. Sometimes they do, but that is rare. More often than not there is some sort of improvisation or problem solving that happens in real time while on the water as it relates to the tactics of fishing.

In this blog post, I want to go over some of the basics of what I look for early season for haddock specifically, but some of this applies to spring cod and also in some ways to black sea bass as well.


My friend Bill Mitchell, in a recent article he posted for OnTheWater labeled haddock, 'the underdog fish.' Often overlooked and passed over for the iconic Cod or the harder fighting Pollock, the Haddock finds itself today, in relative abundance compared to the Cod and other bottom fishing species in the Northeast and specifically in the Gulf of Maine and neighboring waters. Once overfished due to intense commercial fishing pressure, the haddock, over the last ten years has made a comeback after the enactment of the 1976 Magnussen Stevens Act. The management and regulations that came with that piece of legislation has helped the haddock rebound. As the Cod fishery sits in an often confusing patchwork of regionalized stocks with mesh areas, seasonal closures and strict bag limits, Haddock are an option for early season anglers to bend the rod after a long winter and to bring some very tasty fillets to the table. These fish can be targeted from a small boat or a head boat and many options are available for those seeking some time on the water looking for these fish early season.

Credit for this image goes to Ryan Collins of MyFishingCapeCod
Spring Haddock caught near shore in Cape Cod Bay


You've got your gear. You've secured a seat on a party boat or got a band of friends with a boat to head out for a day of fun in an appropriate weather window. Haddock are available during the winter, but often times the steam out to those winter haddock grounds and the general weather patterns can make a trip difficult to plan.

Generally, my search for haddock begins on 'Tax Day'. April 15th I'm looking to have the Steigercraft ready. I'm staring at the water temps and I'm looking for a solid weather window with light winds. Most years, the time between April 15th and May 15th can present opportunities to target haddock. It's always difficult to predict when and where they will come to following their winter stay way offshore. In April, when the water near shore is still cold in the 40's, the haddock bite is generally north of Stellwagen Bank and East of the Bank in water depth that can be from 200'-250'. Popular areas include Jefferies Ledge, Tillies, and the drop-offs around Stellwagen. There are obviously others and vast areas of water to explore, but I find that seeking an edge or cliff with the se depths in mind is a good place to start early season.

Things get interesting in late April and May when the inshore waters begin to warm up to what is a benchmark temperature of around 50 degrees. At 50 degrees the haddock come closer to shore and areas west of Stellwagen in Cape Cod Bay and in parts closer to Boston Harbor can become solid destinations for haddock fishing.

I have learned that there are two primary factors for this. One factor is that this temperature seems to be the point where sand eels begin to emerge out of the muddy bottom areas. The second factor seems to be that the haddock come inshore to spawn. As mentioned above, the early fishing for haddock occurs in deeper water, but during these sand eel hatches in the muddy areas more 'inshore' the haddock can be targeted in 90' to 150' of water. The near shore bite is what makes haddock fishing truly sporting and fun in the spring and some of that will be discussed later in the blog.

MFCC TV | Season 6: Episode 2 on Vimeo

For more information on the reasons for haddock moving inshore, please reference Season 6 of MyFishingCapeCod TV, Episode 2 with Captain Jimmy Koutalakis on OnTime Fishing Charters. Minute 12:15 of the episode is where to conversation with Jimmy occurs specifically concerning his thoughts on why the haddock come in near shore.

The fishing in shore is fairly consistent until mid-May and at times into late May before the fish move out offshore to their home turf in deeper waters.


One of the biggest challenges of haddock fishing is that the haddock are not usually tied to a distinct 'landmark' on a chart. Sure there are wrecks or ledges that are worth trying, but the fishing of a specific spot on a wreck or ledge will not necessarily mean that haddock will hold their for the duration of their stay inshore.

Because their presence is held by a sand eel hatch in muddy areas and spawning behavior the bottom structure they will usually be found is less specific. Inshore bottom on the west side of Stellwagen along the southern and western areas of Cape Cod is predominantly muddy, sandy, or partially gravel bottom which could at various times be areas for sand eel hatches and areas for the haddock to spawn. It's this search for the haddock that makes fishing for them a challenge. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries has done their part in trying to assist anglers with identifying areas in Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen with bottom better suited for haddock versus cod. They have produced a series of maps accessible here.

Sample Map from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries showing areas known to predominantly hold haddock and/or cod

Finding plumes of bait on your radar just above this subtle 'scratchy' bottom or finding the concentration of haddock hovering over a generally nondescript area is the key to a successful trip. Depending on the day and your sonar, you may or may not mark fish. You may mark the concentration of bait or you mark certain dots or lines along the bottom that will give you the 'tell' of fish.

Courtesy of Tuna.comcharters Instagram page.  All Right reserved to Dave Carraro and FV.TUNA.COM
Haddock along the bottom


Once the haddock have been located and you have generally identified the area to fish, you're finally ready to drop rigs with bait or jigs down to your target. Generally the fish are going to stay within the area you found them. They are feeding or in the midst of their spawning behavior over a particular patch of bottom. Staying with the fish is key and keeping the fish interested is also key.

When fishing with bait, it can not be overstated or overemphasized the importance of fresh bait and in the Northeast this generally means clams. Fresh shucked clams will help you greatly in getting fish to your rig.

Image courtesy of 'The Fisherman' magazine
Freshly Shucked clams can be the key to catching on a given day

The bait is one component. Patience is another. A concept emphasized to me by Bill Mitchell and Captain Jimmy Koutalakis is the idea of building a bite. Dropping bait and being patient in an area allowing the bait to soak and set up a chum slick of bait and scent is very important to keeping the bait in your area. Captain Bill Mitchell notes that this is very important for Tautog fishing and he feels that it is also important in haddock fishing and I agree with him. If the bite doesn't happen immediately, its advantageous to stay patient and to remain in the area while your bait offerings hold the marks you observed on your sonar in your area and ultimately, hopefully, lead to catching fish.

It's impossible here not to talk about drift and current. As with all fish, movement of water, particularly current below the surface factors greatly into the effectiveness of the bite. In general, fish are more inclined to feed in moving water, in current. This is true in haddock fishing as well.

If you have identified a concentration of fish, dropped your bait down and have effectively 'built up' your bite, if you have landed a few fish, its best to consider giving the location up to an hour. Within this hour, the bite may heighten or lessen. After the time passes and the bite has perhaps dried up, it is likely time to move. If you are in a fleet of boats, it may be useful to move away from the fleet and find a different concentration of fish or sand eels to target. If you are relatively alone and the bite dries up, your move to find fish may no