Fly Fishing Boston Harbor for Striped Bass and Bluefish

Editors Note: Capt. Bill Smith has spent a lot of years fly fishing Boston Harbor and on the South Shore. I first met him in the early ’80s and hold the highest level of respect for him both personally and as a fisherman. These words and experiences are his own, and are drawn from years of experience fishing the area. We’re proud to be able to offer this unique insight into the fishery. Mark Cahill, Managing Editor,

For the past ten years, I have written and spoken about, but more importantly experienced Boston Harbor’s outstanding fishing. This may surprise those who remember the horror stories about pollution and the demise of the Harbor’s fishing of just a few years ago. However, federal and state initiatives to control population have done much to clean up the Harbor and the fish have returned in impressive numbers. Anglers will once again find year round fishing in Boston Harbor.

The secret is also out! Boston Harbor’s reputation as one of the Northeast’s premier striper and bluefish hot spot is spreading. While there are many ways to catch these fish, guests aboard my charter boat, Draggin’ Fly Too, prefer to stalk bass using fly rods and light tackle. The rocky outer-harbor combined with the sheltered waters of the inner harbor provide outstanding opportunities to sight cast to stripers that average 6-12 pounds but with a realistic chance of fish in excess of 30 pounds on flies and light tackle. Fishing continues to get better each year! Last August, more trophy-sized bass were caught by my clients than during the entire two previous years.

The Season

Draggin’ Fly begins the charter season in mid-May targeting school bass and the season continues strong into early October. Early season actions is usually best in the inner harbor especially in the numerous rivers and bays. By early June, larger bass are encountered on most days feeding on the abundant herring and available mackerel. These June blitzes are truly heart stopping events.

Around July 4th, schools of blues begin to invade the Harbor. Most of these blues will be in the 3-6 pound range. However, last year clients caught several trophy fish including a 19 pounder on a fly.

While most surrounding waters experience difficult fishing during the dog-days of August, Boston Harbor’s fishing holds up quite well. An abundance of silversides and small baitfish along with favorable water temperatures continue to attract bass and blues. By the end of the month, huge schoolsof peanut bunker add to the mix and set the stage for the legendary early morning blitzes.

Get Ready

Harbor veterans pack light. A 9 or 10 weight fly rod with a floating line is all that is needed for early morning surface bites. As the sun heats up, the fish move to deeper water and a Teeny or Orvis Depth Charge line will get your fly down to them in a hurry. Unlike many other fisheries, there are few secret flies used here.

Early season large Deceivers (from 5-7 inches) imitate herring and mackerel, the baits of choice. During the summer, Clousers and Half ‘N Halfs are a good match for a switch in diet that includes silversides, juvenile menhaden, and crustaceans. Be sure to pack some Gurglers, poppers, and sliders for the early morning surface action.

Harbor bass and blues are not usually leader shy. Leaders of more than nine feet are almost never used. Many times, especially when fishing subsurface, a short leader of six foot or less will deliver flies more efficiently.

Hot Spots

Boston Harbor offers equal access to both boat and shore anglers. There are literally hundreds of areas that hold fish throughout the season. The George’s Island inter-island ferry service provides daily shuttle service to a number of Harbor Islands from Hingham and Boston. This allows those who prefer to fish from shore to fish the waters of Bumkin, Grape, Gallops, Peddock, and Lovell Islands.

Small boats provide excellent access to much of the Inner Harbor structure. The islands and rock piles of Quincy Bay attract bass and blues from early May until the season finale. Sunken Ledge, Hangman’s and Hospital Shoals are good places to explore. Hull and Hingham Bays should never be overlooked.

Boats in the 18 plus foot range allow access to the outer islands and the approach channels. Calf and Green Islands are favorite haunts of summer bass and the Brewsters are another perennial favorite.

Boston provides a unique backdrop to some of the best striped bass and bluefish angling available on the East Coast. Fly fishing has truly come into fashion. Boston Harbor is fast becoming a major fly fishing destination. The Harbor has a variety of structure, favorable water conditions, and the bait to attract hug schools of these game fish. Make plans now so that you can experience this unique fishery.


Mark N. Cahill has been writing and editing for since 1995. He started fishing in the mid-1960's and caught his first striper off World's End in Hingham in 1966. From there on in it was an obsession. He loves fishing for tuna, and fly fishing for striped bass. In a pinch, anything with fins will do...

Posted in Saltwater Fly Fishing, Striped Bass

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