Fly Fishing in Massachusetts is as varied as it is exciting. From the small roaring mountain streams in the Berkshires to the sprawling sand flats of Monomoy, there are countless opportunities for fly anglers. This large Northeast state has a little for everyone.
I’ve been fishing in Massachusetts for years. I’ve targeted everything from bullheads and trout to striped bass and common carp there. The state has provided me with hours of enjoyable angling.
Table of Contents
- Fly Fishing USA
- Why Go Fly Fishing in Massachusetts?
- Massachusetts Fly Fishing Species
- Fly Rods By Weight
- Fly Rods
- Fly Fishing Species
- Best Fly Fishing Spots in Massachusetts
- Fly Line
- Massachusetts Fishing Season
- Best Fly Shops in Massachusetts
- Fly Fishing Gear
Abundant public waters and large trophy fish are perhaps the biggest pull Massachusetts has. A few of the state’s fisheries are known all over the world. Some are only known throughout the Northeast, and others are secrets to all but the locals.
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Why Go Fly Fishing in Massachusetts?
Simply put, Massachusetts has big fish. Some of the largest New England brown trout come from Massachusetts waters. Each year there is at least a short window throughout Massachusetts for targeting giant striped bass. There are also some large pike, common carp, and bass.
For those that don’t feel size alone is important, the state also has gorgeous wild streams full of brook trout. Additionally, a tailing 26 inch striped bass can test even the most experienced flats fisher.
Massachusetts Fly Fishing Species
Freshwater fly fishing in Massachusetts can produce a variety of interesting and well known species. The salt water also holds a number of exciting fishes. Although there are certainly more bio-diverse states, Massachusetts has plenty of species to offer.
Brook trout are native to Massachusetts. These fish inhabit streams throughout the state, even on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and just outside Boston. Some of the coastal streams hold “Salters,” brook trout that move in and out of salt water.
These fish are very rare in the U.S., and anyone fishing waters holding this fish should take the utmost care to preserve them. Brook trout in Massachusetts average under 12 inches, though some streams may hold fish up to 18 inches. Wet flies, small streamers, big bushy dry flies, and 2 to 5 weight rods are great for catching brookies.
Massachusetts has some truly large brown trout. Wild fish over 10 pounds have been caught. Size varies stream to stream, but most of the mid-size and larger rivers that have wild brown trout hold at least some 20 inches or larger. The Cape Cod kettle ponds are also stocked with large brown trout.
Stripping big streamers with a 6 or 7 weight can net large fish. Searching for big rising fish during a hatch or nymphing with flies like a Pat’s Rubber Legs or Mop Fly also produces large browns. On smaller streams, a 4 weight and dry-dropper is a great choice. Brown trout fishing in Massachusetts is fantastically varied.
Rainbow trout, although nearly all stocked fish, are abundant in many Massachusetts rivers and some ponds as well. There are some, though not many, wild rainbows as well. The Swift River is the state’s best known fishery for big rainbow trout.
A 5 weight fly rod, midges, small nymphs, and junk flies are appropriate for Massachusetts rainbow trout. At times a small streamer is also an excellent choice.
Massachusetts has both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Although these fish often share the same waters, the best smallmouth waters are deep and rocky and the best largemouth spots are weedier. Black bass up to and exceeding 5 pounds can be caught in Massachusetts.
Though smaller on average, mid-sized warmer rivers often hold an exceptional abundance of bass. Smallmouth in particular thrive in many streams throughout the state. Tackle varies depending on the habitat and flies, but a 6 weight rod is a good start. Having a good variety of streamers and topwater flies is a good idea.
Common carp have been introduced throughout the state of Massachusetts in lakes, ponds, and rivers. These fish regularly exceed 20 pounds and are one of the greatest thrills in freshwater fly fishing. The Lowell Canals, Charles River, and Housatonic River, and Connecticut River are well known carp fisheries.
An 8 weight fly rod is good for battling these bullish fish. Try using Carry Carp Bitters, Montana’s Hybrid, Woolly Buggers, and various crayfish imitations when carp fishing in Massachusetts.
Northern pike aren’t widespread in Massachusetts but can be caught in a handful of places. The Connecticut River and Housatonic River are both notable pike fisheries known to produce fish over 40 inches on occasion. Sink tip lines and 8 to 10 weight fly rods are ideal pike outfits for these waters.
Large muskie flies can be thrown, though a Flashtail Whistler might catch more and possibly even bigger fish. Massachusetts also has a small number of lakes stocked with tiger musky and an abundance of native chain pickerel.
Fly fishing for American shad is not widely known. However, Massachusetts is one of the best places to do it. These acrobatic silver fish run up the Connecticut and a few other rivers each spring to spawn. These fish don’t actually eat when in the river, but swinging a brightly colored fly can irritate them into striking.
Spey and switch outfits in 5 to 7 weight are great for this type of fishing, and carrying a variety of sink tips or pol-leaders is a good idea. The best fly for shad is very simple. The tail is a crystal flash and the body a bright colored chenille, with dumbbell eyes towards the head, on a size 8 Aberdeen hook. Red, orange, chartreuse, and blue are all good colors.
Striped bass are one of Massachusetts’ most popular fish. They’re found in some of the state’s waters year round. However, the bulk of these fish arrive in April and leave by the end of October. Some may linger in November before heading south. Depending on the size of the fish targeted, 8 to 12 weight rods can be used.
Carry floating to heavy-depth charge lines to cover water effectively. Flies that imitate squid, menhaden, mackerel, and crabs can catch some of the largest stripers. Clousers, Surf Candies, Gurglers, and Deceivers are great for schoolie bass or cows feeding on small bait.
Bluefish are a vicious predator found in the salt waters of Massachusetts throughout the summer. Though sometimes considered a pest, bluefish are a great sport on the fly rod. They churn the water to a bloody froth with their feeding frenzies and fight like maniacs.
A 10 weight rod and a variety of poppers and white streamers work well for bluefish. Wire leaders are a must — watch out for the teeth!
Little Tunny & Bonito
These scombrid species typically make a showing south of Cape Cod in late summer through mid fall. Bonito sometimes make it into Cape Cod Bay, little tunny less frequently. Both fish feed on the same small baitfish. An 8 to 10 weight rod is best, and make sure you have plenty of backing.
Best Fly Fishing Spots in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has an exceptional variety of waters from fresh to salt water. There is a little bit of everything here.
Fly Fishing Rivers in Massachusetts
Massachusetts rivers are as different as they come. Some are big and intimidating like the Connecticut, others are small and intimate like the brook trout streams of the Catskills.
The Swift River is widely considered some of the best trout fishing in Massachusetts. This tailwater boasts slow, crystal-clear waters, big rainbows and browns, and wild brook trout. Midges are the most effective flies year round on the Swift, but you should mix it up every now and then.
Since access and wading is easy and the river is well known, these fish see a lot of pressure. They can be very tricky. Light tippets and delicate presentations are necessary.
The Deerfield is one of the best known wild brown trout rivers in Massachusetts. This tailwater has produced browns as large as 15 pounds, though these are rare beasts. Rainbow trout are abundant here as well. Fishing from a drift boat with a local guide is the best way to cover water and find one of those beasts.
However, in the late spring and summer, fishing hoppers and beetles in the pocket water is some exciting dry fly fishing. The river is wide and the casting room abundant.
The Connecticut River is an excitingly varied river. It has carp, pike, bass, and walleye, and even migratory species like striped bass and American shad. Carrying rods varying from a 5 weight to a 10 weight isn’t a bad idea when fly fishing the Connecticut River.
You never know exactly what you might find. This big water can be intimidating, but the areas around tributaries are a great place to start. Smallmouth bass inhabit many of the rocky areas. Shad hold in pools in May and June.
The Charles River in and just outside Boston is an urban fishery with a lot of species. It’s much like the Connecticut in this way, but is a much smaller river. The lower reaches are brackish and a good place to target striped bass.
From the first dam up, look for species like common carp, white catfish, bass, and panfish. This is a great urban fishery and often overlooked by fly anglers.
The Millers River is a mostly stocked trout stream in Northern Massachusetts. Although it lacks the sort of giant fish the Deerfield and Swift have, it sees less pressure. The willing brown and rainbows and occasional wild fish make it worth visiting.
Some sections are fairly secluded and require a hike in. Spring is probably the best time for fly fishing the Millers River.
Fly Fishing Lakes in Massachusetts
Massachusetts freshwater fishing isn’t just on its rivers. The state boasts plenty of still waters with a variety of fish species as well.
Quabbin Reservoir is a huge man-made lake in the middle of the state. Known for giant smallmouth, lake trout, and landlocked salmon, Quabbin is intimidating water for a fly rodder. However, it’s a good place to look for a big bass on streamers and poppers. You can rent boats and get permits to fish the reservoir at the various launches.
Fishing from the shore can also be productive. Make sure to check the Mass.gov page for Quabbin to check regulations and the fishing season. The lake is not public property, so it’s up to anglers to follow the regulations and keep it accessible.
The Oxbow isn’t quite a lake, but is a mostly slack extension of the Connecticut River. This place holds large bass, bowfin, walleye, and panfish. It’s also a great place for pike fishing in Massachusetts. Carry a 10 weight, Bufford style flies, and large Flashtail Whistlers. Kayaks and small boats are the best way to access the Oxbow.
Cape Cod Kettle Ponds
Cape Cod’s various kettle ponds are too numerous to cover just one. The kettle ponds are known for large stocked trout and big striped bass. Many also have great pickerel fishing. Shore and small boat access is possible on many of these small bodies of water. Those with access to salt water get runs of herring and perch.
The spring herring runs are responsible for rapid growth of largemouth bass. In April, try fishing large Hollow Fleyes on 8 to 10 weight rods for what could be the biggest bass of your life.
Wachusett is another big deep reservoir that holds fish like lake trout. It’s only open to shoreline fishing, and like Quabbin, checking regulations before visiting is important. Although you could catch a lake trout on a fly here, smallmouth bass are the best target.
An 8 weight rod with a sink tip line and clouser minnows is a good way of fly fishing Wachusett Reservoir.
Lake Onota in the Berkshires has numerous fish species. It’s known not to produce numbers of pike but some large individuals — most notably, a 27 pound northern pike! The lake is stocked with trout and holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
It also has abundant panfish and some common carp. Lake Onota fly fishing is best done from a boat. The average depth is 21 feet, so make sure to have sink tips or full sinking fly lines.
Saltwater Fly Fishing in Massachusetts
Saltwater Fly Fishing in Massachusetts, in particular for striped bass, is very popular. The clear, cold waters of Cape Cod Bay and the north and south shores provide refuge for striped bass throughout most of the year.
Monomoy Island is famous for its shallow water sight fishing for big stripers. Even though the fishery as a whole has decreased in quality in recent years as the fish stock itself has collapsed, it’s still possible to get good bass at Monomoy.
This uninhabited island is best accessed by hiring a guide, as there isn’t a way to get on and off the island without a boat. Fishing is best in June, and 10 weight rods with floating or intermediate lines are ideal. Try fishing sand eel imitations, small Clousers, or gurglers.
Buzzards Bay produces great striper and bluefish action from April and sometimes into November. It also sees good numbers of little tunny and bonito most years. Carry 8 to 10 weight rods and a variety of lines. There’s a variety of good beach and estuary mouth shore access points and some boat launches as well.
Boston Harbor is a great place to fish for large striped bass and bluefish from a boat. When the menhaden show up in early summer, the big predators aren’t far behind. Huge flies and 12 weight rods are the ticket when the big summer and early fall blitzes commence.
There’s also good night fishing for schoolies and bigger bass in the estuaries feeding Boston Harbor.
Joppa Flats, outside the Merrimack estuary, is another great shallow water striper fishery. It’s possible to wade fish here, though large tide swings make this dangerous to inexperienced fly fishers. Kayaks and boats are a great way to access the flats.
The dropping tide really turns the bite on. Carry Clousers, Merkins, Surf Candies, and various shrimp imitations.
Cape Cod Bay
Cape Cod Bay is another hive of big striper activity, though not consistent each year. Shore bound anglers can at least count on some large schoolies being around at night in the summer and fall. Fishing flat wings and Tabory Snake Flies around inlets and troughs is an excellent way to catch these fish.
Those fishing from boats should use their electronics to look for schools of bass feeding on mackerel or bunker. Large Mega Mushies in mackerel colors are an excellent choice.
Massachusetts Fishing Season
There isn’t a month of the year when there isn’t good fly fishing somewhere in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Fly Fishing in December-February
December through January is big brown trout time. When the Cape Cod kettle ponds aren’t frozen, winter is the best time to fish them for trout. Stream a Woolly Bugger slow and deep. In rivers like the Deerfield, fish heavy streamers and junk flies under indicators.
Massachusetts Fly Fishing in March-May
Spring is an exciting time fishing anywhere in the Northeast. In Massachusetts, look for pike and bass moving shallow, trout rising to heavy hatches, and the first stripers of the year.
Massachusetts Fly Fishing in June-August
June through August is the big bass season around Boston and in Cape Cod Bay. It’s also a great time to sight fish around Monomoy, Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard. Carp and bass can save the day on those hot, muggy afternoons.
Massachusetts Fly Fishing in September-November
Fall fly fishing in Massachusetts features big saltwater blitzes. Striped bass and bluefish are the headliners and around the longest. However, little tunny and bonito might be the most exciting to catch on flies. They run faster and farther and are only around for a short window.
Small flies that imitate bay anchovies and silversides work well. Sometimes these fish are feeding on small squid or peanut bunker and a larger fly will work. For those not interested in salt water, the trout fishing picks up again as the water cools.
Best Fly Shops in Massachusetts
There are a bunch of fly shops all across Massachusetts, and a few really good ones.
Bears Den Fly Fishing Co.
Bears Den is one of the best known fly shops in Massachusetts. They’re incredibly well stocked and have a great show with local fly tiers and gear makers. I often find myself ordering things from Bears Den when I can’t find them locally.
Deerfield Fly Shop
Deerfield Fly Shop is one of only a few in the western half of the state. It is a good place to stop for a western Massachusetts fishing report and to stock up on flies for fishing in the Deerfield or in the Berkshires.
Goose Hummock Shop
Goose Hummock in Orleans is one of the best places to get flies and gear on Cape Cod. They’re not a fly shop specifically. However, Goose Hummock carries an excellent assortment of gear and flies. They’re a great place to go for local knowledge and to rig up for a striper trip.
Fly fishing in Massachusetts is an exciting experience. The fisheries are diverse and the scenery beautiful. The massive sand dunes of Cape Cod are in distinct contrast to the rocky Berkshires. Lovely brook trout streams give way to deep ocean waters where predator fish make life difficult for menhaden and bay anchovies.
I’ve spent many a day fly fishing in Massachusetts, for everything from American shad to big stripers. It keeps me coming back. Both the urban and wild waters hold fish that haunt my dreams. I’ll never forget the giant striper I lost one night on Cape Cod, or the beautiful brown trout I caught on a cold winter day.
Massachusetts may not be the best known fly fishing destination, but some of the fishing there is truly world class. It really should be on everyone’s short list of places to visit.