7 Great East Coast Boating and Fishing Destinations

By Ken Schultz

Feb 07, 2019

Top East Coast boating and fishing destinations include Montauk, Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Keys, the Outer Banks, Cape Cod, Cape May, and Long Island Sound.

Photos © Ken Schultz

Spanning more than 2,000 miles, and with warm and cold water, inshore and offshore options, and a plethora of harbors and fish species, East Coast boating is as diverse as it gets. Within this vast range are some of North America’s most important estuaries and hundreds of barrier islands, resulting in a shoreline that extends more than 100,000 miles. That’s a lot of boating the East Coast to enjoy.

Here’s a brief summary of the top East Coast boating areas, from north to south, all of which are also notable for sportfishing.

1. Cape Cod (and nearby), Massachusetts

The area from Massachusetts Bay north of Cape Cod to Narragansett Bay south of it, including the Cape itself as well as the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, is the historical birthplace of America’s recreational fishing and boating. It’s generally a big-boat locality, with seasonally cold water and spring-to-late-fall opportunities. Striped bass is the mainstay species, with flounder and bluefish also prominent.

2. Long Island Sound, Connecticut/New York

Connecticut’s rivers and its irregular rocky shoreline provide numerous inlets and harbors and great access to Long Island Sound. There’s abundant access as well from the north shore of Long Island, New York, meaning that this densely populated region is an exceptional East Coast boating locale, with a season that stretches from early March through late November. Stripers, flounder (called “fluke” locally), and blues, as well as mackerel, porgies, tautog, and black sea bass, are prime catches.

3. Montauk, New York

Jutting far into the Atlantic at the easternmost end of Long Island, New York, Montauk offers a splendid jump off to big-water ocean boating, and a chance to get close to pelagic species of fish. Confused and deep near-shore waters offer world renowned striped bass fishing, as well as a chance for albacore and bluefish. Offshore, ocean current and deeper waters produce tuna, marlin, shark, and swordfish, as well as cod and pollock. This is generally big-boat water, with a spring to late fall season.

4. Cape May & Delaware Bay, New Jersey/Delaware

A  modicum of marshes and small estuaries, plus shoals, a gradually sloping offshore bottom, and a formidable and productive bay characterizes this region. Diverse near-shore and offshore boating is the result, essentially from mid-March through early December. Striped bass, bluefish, flounder (“fluke”), tautog, and black drum are top near-shore fishing targets, while tuna and marlin provide offshore action in the summer.

5. Chesapeake Bay, Virginia/Maryland

If you want to talk about boating the East Coast, then consider that the largest estuary in North America, Chesapeake Bay is a boating hotspot for just about every type of watercraft, from its upper regions near Havre de Grace, Maryland, to its wide mouth at Cape Henry, and including its many tributaries. One could spend a lifetime in the region and never sample all of the bay’s boating riches. It can be a year-round boating opportunity for kayakers and small-boat operators in the marshes, creeks, and rivers, though March through early December is the season in the main waters. Striped bass are the focal catch, but white perch, seatrout, bluefish, croaker, spot, and a lot of other species are available seasonally.

6. Outer Banks/Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

With Cape Hatteras being close to the Gulf Stream, the Outer Banks being a 140-mile-long strip of barrier islands, and having several major rivers and sounds, this is one of the most prominent East Coast boating areas. Offshore is big-boat country, but inshore a variety of craft are suitable, and the boating season is virtually year-round. Red drum (channel bass), seatrout, and bluefish are headliners inshore, while marlin, tuna, king mackerel, and albacore are among the ocean favorites.

7. Florida Keys, Florida

Containing such legendary fishing venues as Islamorada, Marathon, and Key West, the Florida Keys stretch south and west bordering eastern Florida and tuck into the Gulf of Mexico. Shallow flats, the Gulf Stream current nearby, as well as reefs and wrecks add up to diverse opportunities for a wide range of boating and fishing interests. This is where to boat on a year-round basis. Tarpon, bonefish, sailfish, assorted snappers and groupers, seatrout, redfish, snook, and many more popular gamefish are available depending on season and location.

Make sure your boat is registered, and your fishing license is current, then check out our state pages to get more localized information.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com