New Haven Harbor is a triangular, 4-mile-long bay and the second largest commercial port in Connecticut. The shipping channel is deep and provides good current flow into the area. Because the harbor is centrally located in northern Long Island Sound, it’s accessible to many area anglers. Three cities rim the harbor—East Haven, New Haven and West Haven. Depending where you look, however, the harbor varies greatly in appearance. Southward of Sandy Point on the west side, the shoreline appears like many other residential areas of the Connecticut coast. But to the north the coast is heavily commercial and industrial. Nonetheless, the fishing can be excellent deep within the harbor.
As bonus features, three rivers—the Quinnipiac, the Mill and the West—flush forage into the harbor on each ebb tide. Their currents carry the length of the bay and out into Long Island Sound. Extensive flats, weed beds and shellfish beds create an excellent environment for baitfish. Mummichogs, sand eels, silversides, grass shrimp, crabs, snapper blues and peanut bunker all provide sustenance for predators along the shoreline. And a 75-pound striped bass, the previous state record, was caught here in 1992. But perhaps the biggest attraction of the harbor is its shoreline access points. Unlike many other coastal areas, New Haven Harbor boasts many surf fishing spots from which to choose.
1 West Haven Sandbar
The West Haven Sandbar, also called “Sandy Point,” is the main draw and an excellent striper, bluefish and weakfish location for anglers not owning a boat. Predators are attracted to the area because of those three rivers, which meet the harbor just above the sandbar.
The sandbar juts into mid harbor from the West Haven beach, and the entire bar is above water at low tide. Although you can walk almost a half-mile out, be prepared for the flood tide with a pair of chest waders for the return trip. Expect rough, roiled water and loose seaweed on an east wind, which blows across the harbor into your face. The best times to fish the bar are the early morning and evening near high tide.
The West Haven Sandbar is consistently one of the best spots in the state for a chance to catch weakfish from the surf. Work lures, bait or big flies along the bar within three hours of either side of high tide from May through September, especially during low light. These techniques will also give you a high probability of catching bluefish and striped bass. You can also catch porgies and fluke from the sandbar by fishing bait on the bottom.
To reach the West Haven Sandbar, take I-95 to Exit 43, head southeast on First Avenue. (Route 122), which becomes Beach Street. You may park in a special lot across from the restaurant. Signs mark the parking and access areas.
2 Criscuolo Park
In the middle of coastal New Haven and just north of the I-95 bridge you’ll find a popular municipal fishing spot. Criscuolo Park is a multiple-use “green space” in the southernmost part of the city at the north end of the harbor. At the park’s southern tip, a platform is available for casting into the head of New Haven Harbor at the confluence of the Quinnipiac and Mill rivers. The best fishing times here are three hours on either side of high tide. Expect to find large bluefish, snapper blues, menhaden, flatfish, blue crabs and striped bass.
The best technique for fishing from the park is to make long casts toward the channel with chunks of fresh bait or large lures, especially during low-light conditions. At times, menhaden schools approach within casting distance, and you’ll be able gather live baits with a bunker-snag. To reach Criscuolo Park, take I-95 to New Haven to I-91 north. Follow I-91 to Exit 5 State Street. Turn right onto James Street. The park is on the corner of James and Chapel streets.
3 Lighthouse Point Park
Lighthouse Point Park is another shoreline access spot located on the southeast corner of New Haven Harbor in East Haven. There you will find the 70-foot-tall Five-Mile Point Lighthouse constructed in the 1840s and the Southwest Ledge Light, a scenic operating lighthouse. While you fish, your family can play on the beach, swim, picnic, play on the swing sets, and stop by the large pavilion near the lighthouse to see the restored historic carousel (summer only.)
To reach Lighthouse Point Park from the east, take I-95 south to Frontage Road, Exit 51. Stay straight on Frontage Road, and turn left onto Rte 337/Townsend Avenue. Turn right onto Lighthouse Road and follow into the park. If traveling from the west, take I-95 north to Exit 50 to Lighthouse Point (Woodward Avenue) and continue onto Main Street. Turn right onto Route 337 (Townsend Avenue) and follow directions above.
4 Sound School Pier
On the western side of the Harbor, the Sound School pier (60 South Water Street) juts from a developed shoreline. The area, which is located near the New Haven/West Haven border, provides great views of New Haven Harbor. Here you may catch bluefish, striped bass and flatfish. Parking is available at the Sound School parking lot at the end of Sea Street after 3 pm or when school isn’t in session. You must park on the street at other times.
5 Morse Beach
Another option on the west shore is Morse Beach, which is a large, sandy area located in West Haven. Here you’ll find a rocky outcropping into the outer bay, which makes an ideal place to fish away from swimmers. Expect striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, snapper blues, porgies and flatfish. As with most shoreline spots, the times around high tide are best. Morse Beach is also a good place to launch a fishing kayak or paddleboard.
6 Oak Street Beach
Oak Street Beach offers a sand beach for the family and a pier ideal for family strolling, bird watching and fishing. Additionally, West Haven installed night lights on the pier to help make walking and fishing safer and more pleasant. This beach has recorded music four nights a week in-season, so you may have music to fish by. Expect a chance for striped bass, bluefish, porgies, weakfish, flatfish, blue crabs and snapper blues.
7 Peck Beach
Another favorite West Haven fishing spot is Peck Beach, which is a narrow sand beach nearly a mile long. Its special feature is a long fishing pier jutting into the harbor. Two stairways cross over sandy dunes to access the beach and waterfront. Parking is available at a municipal lot at Morse Beach about 3/4 mile to the east. Fishermen are advised to drop off any significant gear with a companion at Peck Beach before parking and walking back to this beach. No on-street parking is allowed. Fishing is best here up to three hours on either side of high tide because it is very shallow at low tide, and the fish ghost out into deeper water. Like the other spots, available species may include snapper blues, flatfish, bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, porgies, and of course, sea robins.
8 South Street Beach
The farthest removed of West Haven’s strand of beaches is South Street Beach. This spot offers you and your family a sandy crescent beach and grassy area to enjoy the Sound. It’s more secluded, and therefore quieter, than West Haven’s other beaches. This spot is a good choice for fishing because it has rocky outcroppings into the harbor from which to cast. South Street Beach parking is best one block north of South Street, directly across from Linwood Street.
If you’re looking for a centrally-located, multiple-access shoreline fishing spot, New Haven Harbor is exactly what you’re hoping to find. The water is much cleaner than in the old days, and there are attractions for the family to enjoy. All methods of fishing are productive here, including surface plugs, metal spoons, bait and flies. Give the harbor a try when you’re seeking a relaxing morning or evening with a line in the water.