Weekly Rhode Island Fishing Reports
By Zach Harvey
15-Pound, 11-Ounce Slabzilla Landed off Block By Veteran Flukeman, Pat Muli
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Newport Harbor is loaded with bait—squid, peanut and full-grown bunker, snapper blues, bay anchovies, little butter, tinker mackerel, you name it. You can get a lot of good fishing in without leaving the harbor right now…”
-Sam Toland, Owner, Sam’s Bait & Tackle, Middletown, RI
In yet another sign of the times, Christian at Watch Hill Outfitters, bleary-eyed in the wake of long hours in the shop plus longer hours on or in the water during the periods when owner, Mike Wade, removes the ankle bracelet and lets Christian off shop confinement, ran through all kinds of current events—like the fact most of the shop’s regulars have come down with bonito fever over the last two weeks. He then called me back about 30 seconds after we’d hung up: “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you,” he confessed, sounding mildly embarrassed. “We had a guy come in with a legitimate 15-pound, 11-ounce doormat fluke a couple days back. The “guy” in question was none other than local doormat aficionado and all-round solid citizen, Pat Muli—one who has put in more than his fair share of hours adrift—often with wife, Cathy, in their boat, Jackpot, looking for just such a slab. The monster flatfish, roughly the size of a big-screen T.V., took one of Muli’s custom “Jackpot Digger” bucktails armed with some top-secret bait configuration. He was fishing in an undisclosed doormat hotbed somewhere a ways south or east of Block Island, but declined to furnish Christian any other specifics.
That slab provided yet more testimony that Block Island (the East Grounds and an area a ways south of Southeast Light, especially, in depths from 60- to nearly 100 feet) remains the place to target plus-sized summer flounder. Unfortunately, with some short-lived and geographically-contained exceptions, the South County beachfront has been slim pickings on the fluke side, but there are some substantial black sea bass scattered around the broken bottom areas and on the outskirts of some of the many wrecks and rockpiles between Quonny and Watch Hill. The scup, too, remain big and quite abundant on most of the hard pieces, including some within casting reach of the rocks at Watch Hill Light.
Meanwhile, as noted above, the green bonito, most between roughly 3 and 6 pounds, have been making numerous appearances topside along a pretty long stretch of beachfront, from the Watch Hill Reefs eastward all the way to Point Judith Light and beyond. Christian said he was busy working a quick mid-week charter that included a pair of four-year-old girls who were putting a hurt on the jumbo-porgy population right around Watch Hill Reef when a sizeable body of feeding bonito set the water all around the boat boiling; preoccupied with everyone’s favorite scrappy, silver-scaled, hubcap-sized hard-bottom gladiator, the seldom-elusive scup, Christian hadn’t time to so much as wing a cast in the general direction of the porpoising tunoids. He noted that the bonito in points west (i.e. Misquamicut to Naps and beyond) have had a wide array of forage options including bay anchovies, small butters, tinker mackerel, and most of all peanut bunker—the latter three of somewhat larger dimensions than the micro rainbait we typically associate with bonito at this stage of the game. This larger bait is naturally much easier to imitate with offerings one can actually cast and retrieve without blowing blood vessels in his head. All the hardtail standards like Deadly Dicks, Epoxy jigs, SI’s, and L-Jacks have been working. The trick, if you’re aiming to put a day or two against these persnickety speedsters is to strike, as the saying goes, while the iron is hot. It’s amazing how quickly a bonito bonanza can evaporate for the season with one quick low and a day or two of easterlies that often come with them.
One lights-out pop of better bass followed a big shot of squid (which had followed a couple of large balls of bay anchovies) up on to the high ground around the Watch Hill Reefs on Monday night. The bass, which included numbers of linesides in the 20- to 30-pound range, fed like gangbusters that one evening then pulled one of those classic escape-artist jobs, arriving, chowing down, and skipping town again in one or two tides.
Way outside, the SE wall of the Fishtails, surrendered more than a half-dozen alleged bigeyes and mahis galore for one boat and crew out that way earlier in the week; but as a general pattern, the last two weeks have seen most of the canyon tuna life scattered all over hell’s half-acre—no one place holding any numbers of fish worth the fuel.
Elise Conti at Snug Harbor Marina was in high gear when I called to check in early Friday a.m., but was kind enough to free up the time to relay some current events before a riptide of customers pulled her back under again. She confirmed the good to excellent fluke fishing over at the Island in the 60- to 70-foot gravel and broken-bottom drift lanes outside SE Light and the East Grounds. One Jim Riccitelli pried loose a 10.46-pound doormat from one of the drifts in those vicinities, and there have been loads of jumbo slabs in the 5- to 9-pound range taken by various slab seekers taking the longer rides to Block over the last week. Some skippers have gotten the impression that some late-season reinforcements have pulled onto the striper grounds at both the North Rip and SW Corner in recent days; Island stripermen have been sifting through a wide range of striper sizes from as small as 22 inches all the way up to the mid-40-pound class. The fishing is not exactly balls-to-the-wall at this point, but you can pick away through a tide if you know the lay of the scattered “spots within the spots” around the North End and between, say, Black Rock to SW Point and all the way out “Southwest Ledge” to the Fence at the 3-mile mark. Bonito fishing that had tanked during a stretch of easterly wind that dropped out on Monday bounced back almost immediately, and from Tuesday onward, folks found plenty of pods of tunoids on the prowl topside—anywhere from out in front of the Harbor of Refuge walls off Point Judith all the way westward to Watch Hill. Tautog fishing has been a borderline struggle, with loads of microtog on the usual shallow-water rockpiles, reefs, and ledges very tight to the shoreline. The places that surrendered better catches of medium-sized specimens—the known hangs off East Matunuck, Five Cottages, Green Hill, or, the other way, Point Jude Light, Scarborough, and the Gansett rocks—have been picked pretty nearly clean at this point. If you want to scrape up some better fish, this is one point in the season—in a fishery that’s in a state of big-picture decline—you’re going to need to get creative, wander off the beaten path. Cod fishing that was pretty solid for the last three weeks-plus around the south side of Coxes Ledge, petered out during the easterlies early-week—that wind direction a reliable recipe for stirring up dogfish in epidemic numbers. Some of my other sources have noted the Coxes cod bite has been a function of a resident (i.e. groundskeeper) population—no bait-fuelled migratory component to the body of fish. The fishery, they maintain, is going to follow a natural trend of diminishing returns as a discreet population gets picked over by concentrated effort. Speaking of Coxes Ledge, that area has been the go-to zone for high-summer, mid-offshore mystery-meat missions. Folks carrying the gear have managed, quite consistently, to find a mix of cod, fluke, sea bass, sharks, mahimahi, and other species on full-day runs.
Sam’s in Middletown called the out-front bass and bluefish situation brutally slow for all but a handful of the sharpest small-boat guys who have continued to live-line and/or tube-and-worm troll the small, less-traveled humps and bumps. Thankfully, the lower end of Narragansett Bay, and notably Newport Harbor, remains chockablock full of all kinds of feed, including tinker mackerel, loligo squid, bay anchovies, peanut and full-size bunker, and small butterfish, plus snapper bluefish, choggies, mini sea bass and scup, etc. This forage bonanza has fuelled some very good fluke fishing for small-boat drifters and shoreside slabsmen—the latter working the state pier, the Goat Island Causeway, Fort Adams, and other access points for a surprisingly good number of keeper-sized flatties. There are some blues slashing and chopping their way through the bait schools, but Sam noted the only guys taking bass in the super-heated lower Bay are snagging-and-dropping—swimming big pogies directly below the roving bait schools. Some of Sam’s regulars have been taking mostly small mahis and the occasional slightly larger model working as close as a couple miles souoth of Sakonnet Point and other areas not far outside the mouth of the Bay. All kinds of small tropical visitors are showing up in the harbors. The canyon situation has been discouragingly slow, but folks continue to pick away at both cod and a mix of blue sharks and small makos, plus mahis, around the south side of Coxes; on the cod side, you’ll now cull through more sublegals for what keepers you put in the box. Black sea bass are…well….Blackl sea bass are…@#$-deep to the proverbial tall Indian—and an infuriating case-study in the bureaucratic disconnect between our current fisheries management protocols and the most basic sort of common sense.
(Ironically enough, common sense derived from widespread firsthand observation, a key component in scientific method that has no place in a management process that is admittedly “data-poor” and, even worse, research-budget-poor. The message to fishermen is, in essence, this: We need better data now! We’re not putting any money toward data-collection at any time in the forseeable future, though! And your observations have no place in the process!)