Fishing and Clamming – Ipswich River and Estuary

Fly fishing at Winthrop Street, Hamilton.

Fly fishing at Winthrop Street, Hamilton.

Historically the Ipswich River was a highly productive trout stream; and it remains one of the premier trout fishing areas in southern New England, thanks to stocking each spring by the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries.

DFWELE stocks numerous locations on the mainstem, as well as Fish, Mosquito, Pye, Howlett and Boston Brooks; Berry, Stiles and Pleasant Ponds; and Silver Lake. Fish stocking information is available on-line at Fishing licenses are required for those 15 and older; get them at your town or city hall, some sport shops or call DFWELE.

There is good fishing for smallmouth bass at Stiles Pond; you’ll get largemouth bass and other species at Hood Pond and in the mainstem.

Roger Martell fly fishes at the Winthrop Street Bridge.

Roger Martell fly fishes at the Winthrop Street Bridge.

Since half the fun of fishing is searching for your favorite spots, we’ll just provide some basic information here. The bridges are easy to find, though fishing from a canoe will allow access to many river miles, and especially to places like Wenham Swamp, a large wetland with lots of places for fish to hide.

The best riffles on the river are: near Mill Street in Reading; off Rte 62 near Chestnut and Central Streets in North Reading; below the S. Middleton Dam off Boston Street at the town line with Peabody and Lynnfield; at Log Bridge Road in Middleton on the Danvers line, downstream of Rt 114; below Route 1 in Topsfield; downstream of the Willowdale Dam near Winthrop Street in Hamilton, and near Mill Road in Ipswich.

Parker_River_TU2013_1019-fullThere is good fishing in other areas as well, and also on the tributaries, some of which are steeper and more gravelly than the mainstem, and many of the tributaries are not as affected by water withdrawals as the mainstem.

Be aware that the Ipswich River suffers extreme low-flow and no-flow problems, especially in summer and early fall. When these events occur, the riffles are the first areas to dry up, which causes the river to segment into a series of isolated pools. Water also recedes from the banks, making these critical habitats useless. These are chronic problems, especially in the upper river, so fishing there is usually best in the spring. Flow information is available from our River Conditions page, or from the U.S. Geological Survey.

For more information about lake and pond fishing, check the DFWELE web site at, or call the District Wildlife Manager at 978-263-4347.

Properties managed by the Department of Environmental Management (Harold Parker SF, Boxford SF, Willowdale SF, Bradley Palmer and Sandy Point State Parks) all allow fishing.

There is a mercury advisory for fish from some locations in the watershed, and recent research indicates a mercury problem along the mainstem of the river. All the more reason to catch and release. We hope you’ll also consider barbless hooks, and of course get the lead out of the sinkers! (See DFWELE website about lead sinkers.)


Fishing the Ipswich River Estuary. Andrew Borsari photo

Fishing the Ipswich River Estuary. Andrew Borsari photo

The estuary and coastal waters provide some great fishing for striped bass and bluefish. Fish for stripers from May through October, and bluefish arrive in midsummer. Saltwater fly-fishing in the estuary is becoming a more common pastime, and the Town Landing in Ipswich provides public access to put boats in.

The coastal zone of the Ipswich River is actually very small and affords limited access to the shoreline. While Massachusetts law allows the public to use the area between the low and high tide lines for fishing, please do not assume that you can cross private property to reach the water.

FlyPatterns (pdf)


Ipswich clams are known nationwide – there are none better!! Thanks to a successful effort to reduce pollution in the Town of Ipswich, the Ipswich River’s famous clam and mussel beds are now open to harvest (conditionally) for the first time in decades. Clammers will need a boat unless they have permission from shoreline landowners to cross their land. Recreational clamming permits may be obtained from the Ipswich Town Clerk at Town Hall, 25 Green St. (978-356-6600). Be aware that clambeds are closed to harvest for several days after heavy rains. Don’t forget to check the tide charts!

You can find out more about the fisheries of the Ipswich River by visiting our Aquatic Life page. Information about how IRWA is working to restore fisheries to health can be found on our Fisheries Restoration page.