Red Hake
Typical Size
10-15" (6-15 oz.)
Decent Size
15-20" (1-3 lbs.)
Nice Size
20-25" (3-5 lbs.)
31" (9 lbs. 13 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

Genus/Species Urophycis chuss
Common Names squirrel hake, ling, mud hake
Hot Spots Stellwagen Bank, Stone Ledge, Cape Cod Bay
Best Time Year-Round
Best Baits herring, clam, seaworm, shrimp
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait
Red Hake vary in color depending upon their environment but tend to be a mottled red/brown to olive/brown on their upper sides with large irregular pale light brown patches and becoming a dirty white to bright white underneath. A member of the cod family, they possess the distinctive barbel on their chin, common with this family. It is more elongated than the cod,with the first dorsal fin triangular in shape but the second dorsal and anal fins are long and continous like an eel, but not connected to the tail fin. It is best distinguished from other species by it's abnormally long ventral fins that begin at their throat and run half the length of their body. Scales are very small, giving the fish a slippery feel similar to an eel. The head is relatively small but the mouth is compartitively large and filled with small, harmless teeth.
Red Hake
Red hake prefer areas of heavy structure inshore and offshore.
Red hake can tolerate a much greater temperature, depth, and habitat fluctuation than most members of the cod family and generally live in and among areas of heavy structure such as shipwrecks and rockpiles at depths of 100 to 600 feet in temperatures ranging from 30 to 60 degrees. They are slow-moving, sluggish swimmers, that feed mostly upon sea creatures that they don't have to chase including crabs, clams, brittle stars, snails, and sand dollars.

Red hake range throughout the western North Atlantic from Nova Scotia to New Jersey. Larger hake are plentiful offshore, but juvenile red hake are common on the inshore grounds in harbors and bays from 30-150 feet, and somethimes can even be found up in estuaries at times. However, as a general rule, the larger fish usually keep to the deeper offshore water, especially in summer. Those of us fishing the south shore of Massachusetts, usually catch the majority of our red hake in the spring and fall.

Studies have shown that red hake spawn in the spring and summer, but whether this spawning takes place offshore or inshore is up for debate. This is because young hake fry spend the first few months of their life in the upper portions of the water column, feeding on small krill and plankton, where they are at the mercy of the water currents and waves. Those that survive these perilous couple of weeks are often pushed into the inshore grounds up to the coastline. By the time they are large enough to head for the bottom, they may be only a few yards from shore, or even up in an estuary. These juvenile hake tend to stay on the inshore grounds until they are about 15 inches in length (approx. 3 years) before they head offshore. This is also considered the size and age at which they become sexually mature.

Few fishermen target red hake when they go fishing. They do not put up a fight when hooked, do not grow that large, and have a meat that deteriorates quickly if not properly handled. Mostly, they are considered just one of the neat species that make up the "by-catch" when fishing for cod, haddock, or pollock. If you were to actively fish for red hake, you would find that they will accept many different kinds of bait. Clam is probably the most popular but seaworms, shrimp, and chunks of herring or mackerel will also take them. In fact, those that fish at night (when they feed most actively) with chunks of herring on a simple dropper rig will find very good results. You want to fish wrecks and other areas of heavy structure with an 8-16 ounce lead sinker to hold bottom.

Due to the sloth-like 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 red hake, you are far better off to stick with the still-fishing bait approach.

Fishing for red hake is only moderately important for commercial fisherman, making up a portion of the by-catch that is typically ground up for fish meal. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, a fair number of red hake are caught by charter and party boats that take passengers out on all-day cod trips. The flesh of the red hake is white, flaky, and with a delicate sweetness that loses much of its flavor when repeatedy frozen and thawed. It is often used in chowders and is best fresh. The meat is softer than cod or haddock and turns rather rubbery and tasteless if not handled properly.