Typical Size
25-30" (5-10 lbs.)
Decent Size
30-35" (15-20 lbs.)
Nice Size
40-45" (25-30 lbs.)
59.6" (52 lbs. 0 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

20 lbs.
Genus/Species Anarhichas lupus
Common Names ocean catfish, atlantic wolffish, striped wolffish
Hot Spots Stellwagen Bank, Cashes Ledge, Stone Ledge
Best Time November-April
Best Baits clam, shrimp, crab
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait
Wolffish are an elongated, heavy-bodied fish, absent of scales, with a large round bony head and a mouth full of teeth. Mature adult wolffish have a relatively uniform blue/gray color with about a dozen very distinguished dark vertical bars. Underside is offwhite with some brownish/yellow tinge. Young wolffish are tawny brown but also possess the dark vertical bars of their parents. 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 mouth is incredible with molars on the roof of it's mouth and impressive canine teeth up front (hence the name).
Wolffish are an arctic fish and occur here when the water is cold.
Wolffish are an arctic species of fish, preferring very cold water in the 30-45 degree range. The blood of the wolffish actually contains type III antifreeze to prevent it from freezing. They seem to prefer depths ranging in the 150-300 foot range but have been found in water as low as 50 feet and as high as 400 feet. Generally, they are a slow-moving fish that feed heavily upon clams, lobsters, crabs, mollusks, and echinoderms. They use their impressive jaws and teeth to crush quahogs, lobsters, and sea urchins with ease, swallowing the entire animal shell and all.

Wolffish range throughout the North Atlantic on both sides. On the south shore of Massachusetts, they can be found on the offshore banks year round but are only caught on the inshore grounds from late November to mid-May. Migrations appear to be chiefly offshore and inshore, although there is some northward/southward movement.

It has been written that wolffish spawn in the spring and summer although details are sketchy at best. Being a solitary fish, the fact that the greatest quantity of large breeding wolffish seem to appear in the spring leads marine biologists to beleive that this is the time spawning takes place. Tests of egss taken from female wolffish about this time has revealed in many cases fully fertilized eggs, suggesting an internal fertilization. It is thought that these fertilized eggs remain in the wolffish for about 15 days before they are expelled and float in the water column. The eggs hatch relatively quickly and the just born wolffish must make a perilous journey to the bottom.

For those wolffish that survive, early years can be difficult as many other bottom species of fish will eat young wolffish. But as the fish grows, so too, does it's fierceness. I consider it a fish with a temper. Leave it alone and it will swim right by you minding it's own business. Catch one on a rod and reel and look out. This fish can be downright nasty. Add to it's temperment that it has a pair of jaws that can exert more pressure per square inch than any other fish of it's size.

No one specifically targets wolffish when they go fishing. They would if they could, but the fact it that wolffish are very solitary fish and really isn't plentiful anywhere in it's range. Nonetheless, there are some areas that do seem to contain greater quatitities of wolffish than others at certain times of the year. In fact, I remember this one place within Stellwagen Bank that the charter boat guys affectionately call the "Wolf Den" because every spring, there seems to be a good number of wolffish that can be pulled up off it. When I tried it myself, I managed my largest wolffish ever - a beautiful 32-lb. specimen. For the most part, however, wolffish are just considered one of the neat species that make up the "by-catch" when fishing for cod, haddock, and pollock. You can catch wolffish with many different kinds of bait, however, clam is probably the most popular. The standard tandem cod rig will take the occassional wolffish or two but if you want to increase your chances of catching a wolf, 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 in the areas where these fish are present.

Wolffish can also be taken on artificial lures, primarily jigs or deep spoons. It is unknown why, since fish are not considered part of the thier diet and that is what an artificial lure is meant to mimic. It's possible that they strike it because they're protecting their domain, or maybe they do it out of sheer nastiness. Regardless of the reason why, a wolffish can do a number on a jig. I had one remove most of the nickel plating on one by simply chewing on it the entire time I was reeling up. Once brough aboard, I noticed that the wolffish had broken several of it's teeth off on the jig and wore the others down to nibs. What an incredible fish. They fight hard and have one impressive set of choppers. Just be careful when the fish is boated. If it bites you it will crush your bones and will not let go.

Fishing for Wolffish is only moderately important to commercial and recreational interests alike. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, a fair number of wolffish are caught by charter and party boats that take passengers out on all-day cod trips. If 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 wolffish along with cod and haddock. It is sold fresh in tha market as "Ocean Catfish" due to it's ugly appearance and less than palatable name. If you try some, you're in for a pleasant surprise as the flesh of the wolffish is pure white, fairly firm, and and has a sweet, delicate flavor. It is a favorite of chowders because it stays together better than cod or haddock, but it is also very good fried, baked, or broiled. Due to it's delicate flavor, though, it is important that wolffish be fresh. Once frozen a couple of times, wolffish becomes chewy and rather bland.