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In May, the bait-rich Merrimack River is home to a number of diverse fishing environments all accessible to the shore-bound angler. From quiet marshes to open beaches, jetties and strong river currents, the Merrimack has something for everyone.
By Steve Gallant
Image Courtesy of Navionics.

The first stop for the majority of surfcasters looking to wet a line in the Merrimack is Plum Island. After stopping into Surfland Bait & Tackle and stocking up on supplies and the latest reports, most folks head to Plum Island Point on the north end of the island. Here they will find ample parking and shoreline access. The most popular (and typically the most crowded) area is located just downriver of the Captain’s Lady fishing boats. This sandy corner of beach not far from the river mouth has access to deep, fast-moving water very close to shore. Soft plastics on weighted jigs, bucktails (3/4 to 1-1/2 ounces) and small, deep-diving swimmers are all top producers here. If you’re looking to throw bait, clams or sea worms on a fish-finder rig, a 3- to 4-ounce weight will do the trick. It should be noted that due to the crowded nature of this location, it’s best to work in tandem with the fishermen around you in order to both catch fish and not get in each other’s way. Bait fishermen should consider “actively” fishing their presentation (i.e drifting your bait while holding your rod and feeling for the hit) as opposed to spiking their rod and waiting. Not only will you have a hard time holding bottom in the strong current, but you will take up valuable fishing space and frustrate the other anglers around you.

Another option a little further down the beach is the sandbar that extends out into the river itself. Extreme caution should be taken when wading and fishing this area. Both of these areas are best fished on the last few hours of the outgoing tide. At the mouth of the river lies the newly rebuilt south jetty. Anglers can now safely fish all the way out to the end. It’s best to fish the jetties at the top half of the tide when there is the most water as sand deposits have made this area much shallower than it used to be. Across the river on the Salisbury side, anglers will need to pay a small fee and access the beach via the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Here they will also find a newly re-constructed jetty and access to fast, deep-moving water.

Less than a mile upriver is the infamous “Joppa Flats.” This shallow, tidal mudflat is a haven for early-season stripers and baitfish as its dark muddy bottom warms quicker than other surrounding areas. This same dark, muddy bottom can also be extremely treacherous to wade, so caution should be taken. Weightless soft plastics and topwater lures such as Jumping Minnows and sand eel imitations would be your best bets. There is a small parking lot available on Water Street when heading into downtown Newburyport. Continuing on Water Street and straight through town will eventually bring you to the Chain Bridge that connects Newburyport and Amesbury. At the center of this bridge is Deer Island. A small dirt parking lot has room for about a dozen vehicles and there are a number of paths that criss-cross the small island providing shore access. There is plenty of deep, moving water within easy casting range here, so bring a selection of lures to cover the entire water column. I’ve had luck on SP Minnows, small soft plastics and topwater lures like pencil poppers and Jr. Smack it’s.

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