Typical Size
20-25" (2-5 lbs.)
Decent Size
25-30" (5-10 lbs.)
Nice Size
30-35" (10-20 lbs.)
41.2" (35 lbs. 14 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

20 lbs.
Genus/Species Brosme brosme
Common Names tusk, cusk-eel, torsk, lumb
Hot Spots Stellwagen Bank, Cashes Ledge, Stone Ledge
Best Time Year-Round
Best Baits clam, shrimp, seaworm, herring
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait

Cusk vary in color depending upon their environment but tend to be gray/brown to red/brown on their upper sides, mottled with large irregular paler light brown/yellow patches and becoming a dirty white/gray underneath. Younger cusk are more mottled and often have yellowish vertical bands along the sides of their body. Older cusk may develop a nearly uniform rich dark brown color. Like cod, they possess a distinct barbel on their chin. It is an elongated, heavy-bodied fish, absent of scales, with a flattened head. The dorsal and anal fins are very long and continous, similar to an eel, but stop just short of joining with the separate, rounded, and very small tail fin. The fins have a very distinct white edge. The mouth is large with numerous small to medium sized sharp teeth.
Cusk prefer the deeper, colder waters of the offshore banks.
Cusk live in and among areas of heavy structure at depths of 100 to 300 feet in temperatures ranging from 34 to 45 degrees. Cusk are lumbersome, slow-moving fish that feed heavily upon crabs, mollusks, echinoderms, other fish, and pretty much anything that it comes across as it swims along. Although a strong fish, it will not chase a bait in order to eat.

Cusk range throughout the North Atlantic on both sides. On the south shore of Massachusetts, they can be found on the offshore banks but rarely are caught on the inshore grounds. Due to their temperature preference, they are found in more numbers in the spring and fall. Not a fish to move around much, the migration pattern is very slight. They are rarely caught south of Cape Cod, except on the deeper, cooler offshore banks.

Little is known about cusk spawning. When and where it takes place is not precise, but most of the spawning around here at least seems to take place in the Gulf of Maine. Although egg production in a female is similar to cod, the low abundance of this fish is a bit of a mystery. Time to sexual maturity is unknown as is the lifespan of the fish. Either of these factors may contribute heavily to the relatively low numbers of individuals. Although a solitary fish, they seem to congregate in certain areas of heavy structure, like a rockpile.

No one targets cusk when they go fishing. It just isn't plentiful enough in any one area. Cusk are just one of the neat species that make up the "by-catch" when fishing for cod, haddock, or pollock. You can catch cusk with many different kinds of bait. Clam is probably the most popular but seaworms, shrimp, and chunks of herring will also take them. The standard tandem cod rig will take the occassional cusk or two but if you want to increase your chances of catching a cusk, a modified version of the rig with a bottom dropper loop is often more effective. Either rig will need a solid 10-20 ounce lead sinker to hold bottom.

Due to the rather sluggish nature of these fish, articial lures are pretty much useless. Although possible to snag one on a jig, this is the exception, rather than the rule. When it comes to fishing for cusk, you are far better off to stick with the bait approach.

Fishing for Cusk is a moderately important commercial and recreational by-catch. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, a fair number of cusk are caught by charter and party boats that take passengers out on all-day cod trips. I you want to catch one, choose a charter or party-boat that travels to the offshore banks, like Stellwagen, Tillies, or Jeffries. Commercially, the ports up and down the coast haul in cusk to be sold mainly to the frozen-fish industry. Despite it's rather ugly appearance, the flesh of the cusk is white, moderately firm, and delicate. It is often used in chowders because it stays together better than cod or haddock and is lighter than pollock. Cusk is also very good fried, baked, or smoked. Due to it's delicate flavor, though, it is very important that cusk be fresh. Once frozen a couple of times, cusk is very bland.