Author: Captain Mike Littlefield
Fishing For Haddock Off The Cape
Getting To Know The Haddock
Haddock look similar to cod at first glance, and are closely related, however closer inspection shows marked differences. Cod have a white lateral line - haddock have a dark lateral line, haddock also are much lighter in body color and tend to be a dark silver/purple above, quickly fading to a silvery white below the lateral line; cod have big mouths - haddock have much smaller mouths, and cod have rounded dorsal fins, whereas haddock have a pointed dorsal fin. But despite all these differences, the single most distinguishable difference (other than size) between cod and haddock is that haddock have a unique dark blotch on both sides just below the lateral line on the shoulder of the fish.
Spawning takes place in the winter on the offshore grounds, especially on the outer (eastern) and northern slopes of Stellwagen Bank and throughout much of Georges Bank. Haddock reach spawning age in their third or fourth year when they are approximately two to three pounds. The haddock, like the cod, is a prolific fish for its size, with a ten-pound female producing nearly two million eggs a year. This tremendous fecundity allows the fishery to restore itself quickly, and is why current strict regulations in fishing pressure has recently produced a bumper crop of haddock.
Where To Find Haddock & What They Eat
Haddock share much the same habitat as cod, preferring slightly deeper, colder water. They can be found living alongside cod in depths of 150 to 450 feet in areas near structure with water temperatures ranging from 35 to 45 degrees. Benthic feeders, haddock are both predator and scavenger, feeding heavily on scallops, shrimp, crabs, brittle stars, and sea urchins. They also prey upon small fish, although not nearly as much as their cousin, the cod.
Haddock range from Nova Scotia down to New Jersey on both sides of the Atlantic, but undergo seasonal migrations in these more northerly and southerly reaches of their range. On the south shore of Massachusetts, they also move from offshore to inshore grounds, influenced by both temperature and food supply, but not nearly in the numbers that cod do here, and not nearly as close to shore. They can be caught on the offshore banks such as Stellwagen and Georges year-round, and inhabit the inshore waters mostly in the early spring.
How To Catch Haddock
Fishing for haddock is very exciting at times. They don't grow that large, put up very little fight, and are typically found at such depths that heavy-weight gear is a necessity to reach and hold bottom. Those that target haddock are food fishermen, for there are few fish tastier and more delicate than the beloved haddock. Haddock fishing is done almost exclusively with bait. Clam chunks are the preferred bait of choice, but shrimp are just as productive. They will also take cut bait such as herring, squid, mackerel, sand eels, and whiting. A simple tandem haddock rig with a 12-20 ounce sinker is sufficient for bottom fishing with bait.
You can catch haddock on artificial lures such as jigs and teasers, but not nearly as easily as you can with cod. Haddock are less predatory than cod and the tender mouths can easily be torn with a heavy jig.
Fishing for haddock is an extremely important commercial and recreational fishery. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, numbers of charter and party boats take passengers out on all-day cod trips that also target haddock. And from the ports of Boston to Plymouth, commercial fishing for haddock is big business. The flesh of the haddock is opaque, flaky, and has an extremely delicate taste that New Englanders have grown to love. It is often baked, broiled, and fried. Because of it's delicate flavor, it is very important that haddock be fresh. Once frozen, haddock loses most of it's "ocean" taste and flavor. Successive thaws and freezes quickly renders the meat tasteless.
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