The cusk is not a particularly sought-after fish in Maine, with most anglers preferring larger, more popular table fish such as cod or haddock. However, the cusk still provides reasonable fishing action, largely thanks to the wide variety of bait it will accept. In nature, the cusk is very similar to cod, in that it is a bottom-feeding fish found predominantly in moderately deep water on rough ground. Good places to find cusk include underwater obstacles such as wrecks, shelves, and ledges, which they use as a current breaker and to hunt for small prey on the seabed.
Cusk are easily identifiable by their long, tapered body, which sports a long dorsal fin and rounded tail fin. Cusk are also known to have a long anal fin, blunt nose, and a single chin bar bell. Their bodies are a red-brown color on top, with pale yellow-brown sides and an off-white belly. Off the coast of Maine, cusk are generally anywhere between one and a half to two and a half feet in length and weigh in at around five to ten pounds. Larger fish can reach three feet and tip the scales at up to thirty pounds, but these sized cusk are rare.
Many cod and haddock fishermen inadvertently land cusk on a regular basis off the coast of Maine, as the fishing techniques, equipment, and bait used are exactly the same. A medium to heavy rod coupled with a conventional reel and fifty-pound test line will more than suffice for cusk fishing, and also give you the option of landing a larger cod or haddock should one bite. Live bait works particularly well, and popular choices include sea worms, herring or mackerel. Cut bait, claims, artificial lures, and jigs are also known to attract cusk and work equally well if presented correctly.
Another advantage of cusk is that, like cod, they are available throughout most of the year, though the summer and fall months are reputed to be the best. In terms of location, the cusk is found in moderately deep waters anywhere between sixty and ninety feet. Many chartered trips head out to the southern regions of the Gulf of Maine, where a wide variety of fish, including cusk, can be caught.
Though the cusk are not particularly fast swimmers or renowned for their fighting abilities, they do have powerful bodies that present a modest challenge to the younger or inexperienced angler.