The North Atlantic has a rich and storied history. From the first peoples to the colonists and beyond, people have been making a living by fishing the waters of New England. Over time, fishermen have moved beyond the commercial fishing boats and began to fish for recreation. Spearfishing is building as a method of choice for these diverse waters as a way to connect to a traditional way of hunting in the water.
Where does one go for the best spearfishing? What will I be hunting? Are the conditions favorable for this type of fishing? How about the regulations? These questions and more will be answered in this Guide to Spearfishing in New England.
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What Are the Regulations When Spearfishing in New England?
New England is a quite large geographic area. Comprised of numerous towns, cities, and counties–the area boasts a wide range of available waterways for spearfishing. The states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine make up the majority of coastline that comprise the area of New England. Each state has their own regulations for hunting in their waters.
The rich history of fishing in the oceans of New England has meant that anglers didn’t need a saltwater fishing license. In 2010, however, all of that changed when the National Saltwater Angler Registry was created. In order, to keep track of the fish populations, the NSAR has been at the forefront of ethical fishing standards.
The creation of the National Saltwater Angler Registry led most of the states in the New England area to finally start offering saltwater licenses for fishing. This applies to all forms of fishing including spearfishing. Once you purchase a license in your home state, you’re automatically registered in the NSAR.
Let’s take a look at each state individually to see how they differ between each other.
The saltwater license in Massachusetts is very valuable. Costing only $10, fishermen holding this license will find that it’s reciprocal throughout New England. Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine all allow you to fish their waters with a Massachusetts license. If you have a Maine saltwater license, however, it will not be accepted in Massachusetts.
You must follow all of the normal saltwater regulations when fishing in Massachusetts. The only fish off-limits to spearos in these waters are lobster and striped bass. Massachusetts is popular for spearfishing black sea bass and tautog.
Rhode Island has reciprocity with all of the New England states except New Hampshire. Fishing licenses run $7 for locals and $10 for non-residents. If you’re looking for a temporary license, Rhode Island is one of the few that offer them.
Striped bass is the prized hunting target of spearos in the waters off Rhode Island. Restricted to hunt in nearby states, Rhode Island allows spearos the opportunity to hunt these exciting fish.
David Hochman, a renowned spear fisherman runs a charter targeting schools of the Striped Seabass. He hunts, particularly on the on the southern sea, on the exposed side of Block Island. The island is located about thirteen miles from the mainland of the Rhode Island. According to Hochman, the location has ideal conditions for the presence of the Striped Sea Bass. According to David, the fish are found in between 38 and 45 feet of water. It is, therefore, more likely to spearfish at these islands if you are interested in the sport. It is however not unusual to find them in shallow water around the month of July.
Also leaving New Hampshire off of its reciprocity list, Connecticut allows the use of all other New England states fishing licenses. Costing $10 for local residents and $15 for non-residents, the saltwater fishing license is a great deal for these fish-rich waters. A bonus for the state is that 100% of the fees go towards conservation.
The most popular fish to hunt in the waters of Connecticut are the tautog and fluke. Striped bass is one of the few fish that is off limits to spearos. The typical regulations apply to the state as well. The seasons for fish vary and will often be altered by NOAA regulations so be sure to stay up to date before hitting the water.
The cost for a New Hampshire saltwater license is $12, making it a steal to fish in the waters off the coast in this state. All of the traditional saltwater angler regulations apply to spearos. The only negative for New Hampshire when it comes to licensing is in its reciprocity.
As noted before, many states don’t allow New Hampshire licenses to be carried over to their state. New Hampshire allows those carrying a Massachusetts or Maine license to fish in their waters. Massachusetts, however, is the only state outside of New Hampshire in which your license will be valid.
Maine offers reciprocity to all other states in the New England area. New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island all allow you to use your Maine license in their states. The license is an incredibly cheap $25 for year-round fishing. This gives you access to rod and reel fishing, as well as spearfishing. Flounder and cunner are the most popular fish hunted in these waters.
They are very strict about rules in Maine, especially for spearos. Negative incidents including no dive flags for hunts, catching striped bass, and crossing in front of anglers from shore have led to a poor reputation for spearos. Be aware of your surroundings and stay away from populated sources.
What Will the Experience Be Like? Is It Safe?
Safety should always be on everyone’s mind. Participating in the sport of spearfishing is an exhilarating experience but also challenging. There are many hazards that you may encounter in the wild. This is the ocean that we’re talking about.
You must learn to respect the ocean and be aware of your surroundings. The North Atlantic is notorious for its rough seas. While the seas may be unpredictable, it’s easy to compensate for this variable. This is why it’s advised that you train and understand your limits before engaging in the activity. You will keep yourself safe and know the warning signs if you run into danger.
A few other safety tips to consider before jumping in the waters of New England. Always dive with a partner. They will ensure that you make it back to shore. You’ll want to make sure you’ve fully equalized before hitting the water. You will discover that you can last a lot longer during your dives.
If you’ve taken these steps, you should be in for an extraordinary experience in the seas. New England has cold waters–this is well-known. In the summer months, however, warmer waters push up from the tropics creating ideal spearfishing conditions. Yes, it will still be cold, but with a wetsuit, you should be able to weather the temperatures.
Depending on where you’re at you could be in for quite a few different experiences. You may find yourself near artificial reefs made from old boats. You could hunt close to shore along the rocky coast. You may even find yourself spearfishing off of a series of rocks in a bay. The experience will vary but all are worth the excursion.
When diving, always remember to use a dive flag to alert other boaters to your location. You’ll also want to pay attention to your surroundings because this is shark infested water. They may not want you but they do want your catch. Be shark aware and you should have no problems.
How About Fish? What Types Am I Looking For?
The fish that are available to spearfish will vary as you travel up and down the New England coast. Maine will have different fish than Massachusetts. Everywhere in between will have different varieties and different states will have different regulations as stated above.
For instance, you may not be able to fish for stripers in Massachusetts but in Rhode Island, you may. Pay attention to local regulations as they are constantly updated to reflect the NOAA fish surveys.
Tell Me About Preparing Myself for My Spearfishing Adventure
As discussed in the safety section, it’s imperative that you prepare yourself for spearfishing in New England. This starts with the obvious–know how to spearfish. Having the proper gear, knowing how to equalize the pressure in your body, and knowing your limits are the three keys to a safe and successful trip. If on a charter, they will take care of most of these for you, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself.
Because the season is so short in New England, many spearos prepare in other ways that are exclusive to spearfishing in the north Atlantic. In the off-season, spearos participate in a variety of activities that prepare their bodies for the upcoming season. This can include swimming laps, surfing, indoor cycling, yoga, running, static apnea training, and any other activity in which they can train their breath and body control.
Beginners will want to focus their efforts on understanding spearfishing by reading books, surfing the net, and talking to experts in addition to the activities listed above. This should give you a good guide as you enter this new world.
Spearfishing Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my top recommendations, I found super useful when spearfishing:
Where Are the Best Locations to Spearfish in New England?
Now that we have all of the necessary information out of the way, let’s dive into the best locations to spearfish in New England.
Many anglers will have their own favorite fishing spots in Massachusetts but one area that is consistently recommended is just outside of Boston. Nahant, Massachusetts acts as a funnel of fish migrating from north to south. The area is full of fishing charters and accessible areas direct from shore to hunt.
The floor of the ocean near Block Island is filled with boulders creating a massive home for a variety of prized fish including trophy-size striped bass. The waters of the North Atlantic are choppy and turbulent but at Block Island, you’ll find visibility of 20 to 30 feet. On a good day, you may get up to 60 feet. This makes Block Island a fantastic place to spearfish in Rhode Island.
Long Island Sound is home to some great spearfishing. Coves, bays, and open coastline all line the waters of this area. Massive tautogs, or blackfish, can be found near the rocks of the coast allowing for easy access to spearfishing.
Bluewater fishing is very popular for spearos in New Hampshire. Hopping on a boat, whether it’s a friend, rented, or chartered will take you out to the open waters off Rye Beach, where you can dive in and hunt for fish. Be warned, however, the fish out here are massive and will put up a challenge. This makes New Hampshire the best place for experienced spearos.
While not as popular as the other New England states, Maine does have some quality spearfishing. The waters are extremely cold up in this state so many spearos stick to the southern coast for the best fishing. Bar Harbor is a terrific location for those looking to catch some big cold water fish. Charters line the harbor with experienced guides and well-equipped boats.
New England is an incredible destination for spearfishing. Massive fish are available in this area that is home to one of the largest commercial fishing fleets in the world. The reciprocity of saltwater licenses across the states makes it an attractive location to travel for a fishing adventure. Spearos will find an abundance of fish in a variety of habitats to fit the needs of all ability levels. You might enjoy these additional videos…video 1 and video 2.