Top 10 New England Saltwater Game Fish Species
This post will list the top 10 New England saltwater game fish species. The Northeast part of the country offers some excellent angling opportunities for a variety of species. Those who fish inshore will catch striped bass, bluefish, fluke and more. Offshore anglers target tuna and dolphin.
Special thanks to Johanna for the great pics and expert local information. She lives in New York and fishes New England extensively. Johanna also travels to fish, especially to Hawaii and South Florida. Anglers can follow Johanna on Instagram.
Top 10 New England saltwater game fish species
My name is Capt Jim Klopfer and I am a fishing guide in Florida. I grew up in Maryland, fishing Chesapeake Bay. This is my list of the top New England saltwater game fish species. Inshore species will be listed first, followed by nearshore and then offshore species.
The top 10 New England saltwater game fish species are;
Bluefish Fluke (and flounder)
Black sea bass
False albacore and bonito
These are the most popular and commonly caught New England saltwater game fish species. Some tips for catching them will be included with each species listed.
Striped bass are arguable the most popular saltwater game fish species in New England and south to the mid Atlantic states. They grow large, fight hard, can be caught using a variety of techniques, and are very good to eat. What more could an angler ask for?
Striped bass are found in the inshore waters, the inlets, and inshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are found near structure such as drop offs, ledges, reefs, wrecks, docks, and bridges. Striped bass can also be found in pen water, often feeding on schools of bait fish.
Striped bass take a wide variety of live and artificial baits. Live and fresh bunker are a top bait. Live eels fished at night will catch big stripers. Top lures include jigs, plugs, and spoons. Trolling is an excellent way to locate striped bass. Striped bass are a top prize for anglers surf fishing as well.
Bluefish are a hard fighting fish that are second on my list of top 10 New England saltwater game fish species. While perhaps not as plentiful as they once were, bluefish are still available to most inshore anglers. Bluefish school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. Fast moving lures will draw strikes, whether cast or trolled. They are often found feeding on the surface.
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Cut bait works well for bluefish, too, especially when used in conjunction with chumming. Any fresh cut oily fish such as menhaden (bunker) and mackerel works well. This works very well for anglers surf fishing for bluefish. Bluefish fight hard, but are not considered the best eating fish in the sea.
Fluke and flounder
Fluke are an extremely popular inshore saltwater species found in New England. Many anglers would put them first on this list! While fluke put up a decent battle, they are highly sought after for their incredible fillets. Fluke and flounder are among the tastiest fish on the planet.
Read more about fishing for fluke
Fluke are bottom feeding species. They bury in the sand and with both eyes on one side, they constantly look up, waiting to ambush prey. Top live bait by far is a live minnow fished on a bottom rig. Frozen minnows and strips of cut bait fish and squid are productive as well.
Fluke are usually found near a drop off, ledge, dock, bridge, or other structure. Rock piles in the Atlantic Ocean will hold some trophy flounder. Anglers surf fishing for fluke do well with cut bait, especially squid.
Black sea bass
Black sea bass are next on my list of top 10 New England saltwater game fish species. While some anglers may consider them more of a bottom fish and then a game fish, when called on appropriate tackle he put up a respectable battle. Sea bass are also fantastic eating. They are a structure oriented fish that are found in both the inshore waters as well as the open Atlantic Ocean.
Check out these black sea bass fishing tips
Black sea bass reach a maximum weight of about 12 pounds. Once located, they are not difficult to catch in most circumstances. Simple bottom fishing techniques work well, with squid being the top bait. Some anglers have recently switched over to using vertical jig presentations to catch them as well.
Tautog, also known as blackfish or togs, are another very popular New England bottom fish species. Again, some anglers may dispute the term game fish, but regardless of the designation, they are a very highly sought after species. Tautog are normally found around structure, particularly wrecks, but are also found inshore around bridges and docks.
Check out these tautog fishing tips!
Tautog are known for being light that blurs and difficult to hook. They are seldom caught by anglers using artificial lures. Asian green crabs are the top bait when available. Other crabs and crustaceans along with cut bait will produce tautog as well. They pull hard and are one of the finest eating fish found in New England waters.
False albacore and bonito
False albacore and bonito are two smaller members of the tuna family. They are found in the inshore and nearshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are an exciting fish species to pursue as a are often found feeding voraciously on the surface. Anglers quickly approach them and then cast lures and flies into the melee, hoping for a strike. They put up a fantastic battle for anglers using fairly light spinning and fly tackle.
Check out my detailed article on false albacore fishing
False albacore can also be frustratingly difficult to catch, especially when they are keyed in on smaller bait fish. Anglers must scale down their offerings to match the hatch. This is a situation where fly anglers can excel. Chumming will also bring false albacore and bonito up behind the boat were anglers can catch them with pieces of cut bait. Most anglers consider false albacore and bonito to be less than desirable on the dinner plate, though some will dispute this.
Spanish mackerel are a widely distributed game fish that are found in most southern waters. However, they do find their way up into New England as well, particularly the southern portions of it. Spanish mackerel school and large numbers similar to false albacore and other species. Once located, they are fairly easy to catch.
When Spanish mackerel are located feeding on the surface, anglers can cast lures and flies into them in a strike is practically guaranteed. Trolling with fast moving spoons is an excellent way to locate them when they are not seen feeding on top. Chumming around reefs and wrecks will also draw up Spanish mackerel where they can be caught on cut baits and lures. They are a beautiful fish that fights hard on light tackle and is very good to eat when prepared fresh.
Tuna are very popular among new England anglers who venture further offshore. There are several species available including yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, bluefin tuna, and skipjack tuna. All are screwing fish that are good to eat. They can be fussy and difficult to catch at times. Early morning and late afternoon are often best.
The two primary angling techniques used to catch tuna are trolling and chunking. Anglers control artificial lures and skirted prepared natural baits such as ballyhoo in search of tuna. Many anglers anchor and chum, floating chunks of live or cut bait back into the chum. This is the preferred technique for the larger bluefin tuna. Anglers should check local regulations as they change often.
Dolphin, also known as mahi-mahi, are another species that are thought of as more southern oriented. However, they wander up as far as new England in the warmer months. They are mostly caught well offshore on the temperature and structure breaks of the deeper Atlantic Ocean. Trolling is by far the number one technique as it allows anglers to quickly cover a lot of water in search of fish.
Dolphin are well known for finding and holding on the smallest piece of surface structure such as a bucket, piece of wood, or anything floating on top. Weed lines will also hold schools of fish. Some anglers will run and gun, searching for any of these structures that will hold fish. In this situation, anglers can cast or pitch lures or baits using lighter tackle. Dolphin are fantastic eating!
Sharks definitely belong on the list of top 10 New England game fish species. By any definition, they are most certainly a game fish. Sharks vary greatly in size from small sand sharks caught in the surf to the largest great white sharks. Mako and fresher sharks are highly prized for both their fight and fillets. Blue sharks and other sharks are fairly abundant as well.
The vast majority of sharks caught by anglers are done so using pieces of cut bait. Annie freshly caught fish, particularly oily fish such as mackerel and false albacore, make excellent shark bait. This is often done from a drifting boat in conjunction with fairly heavy chumming. Anglers can bottom fish from the surf for sharks. While sharks can be delicious to eat, they are also subject to over-fishing, so anglers should be responsible in their harvest.
Last on my list of top 10 New England saltwater game fish species are billfish. This is an expensive gain that requires large boats and costly gear. However, for those that can afford it it can be the ultimate angling experience. Swordfish are highly prized and are fantastic eating. Many anglers consider Marlon to be the ultimate sport fish and thankfully most are caught and released.
Most marlin are caught by anglers trolling at fairly high speeds with skirted lures and other specialty baits. Conversely, swordfish are caught much deeper by anglers using large live baits and cut baits. Many hours can be invested into each fish caught, but this challenge is part of the attraction.
In conclusion, this article on the top 10 New England saltwater game fish species will help anglers be more successful when fishing and this part of the country.