As Good As It Gets: June’s Striper Goldrush

By Zach Harvey

On the averages, there is no better month in RI striper hunting
The beauty of June fishing is the sheer diversity of striper-rich scenarios all over the state’s territorial waters. The trick is usually more about controlling your own “grass-is-greener” thinking long enough to connect.
The beauty of June fishing is the sheer diversity of striper-rich scenarios all over the state’s territorial waters. The trick is usually more about controlling your own “grass-is-greener” thinking long enough to connect.

I guess this season isn’t a whole lot different from any other in at least one regard: Just when you start to call this one an oddball year, you remember that you’ve diagnosed most of them the same way at the outset. If last year was funky for starting so early—the West Wall and many other first-schoolie spots had numbers of fish by mid-March, 2012—this year has the look and feel of a late-breaker as this issue goes out the door to the printer. At least it would be a late-breaker had the fish, notably stripers and fluke, not filled in more or less on schedule, despite some lingering questions about the present whereabouts of all the bait these early migrants typically chase up onto the beach. There were fits and starts of herring early, some sand eels, some bunker up the Bay and a couple intermittent scratches of spring squid, all of which, barring the bunker in the Providence River, appears to have scattered for the most part here in the waning days of May.

If some of my squid-pundit friends are right about the moon that will have waxed full and begun to wane again by the time you read this, there’s a decent chance the squid we’ve come to expect in recent (albeit warmer) springs will have stormed the usual gravelly haunts along the south shore. Squid theory notwithstanding, even if there’s widespread agreement that things seem to running a couple weeks behind the average-year schedule, best bet will be to drop the whole two-weeks-behind bit from your early-June thinking—to fish exactly as you normally would, fishing the spots/ depth ranges whether or not your fishfinder marks bonanza levels of bait in those places. So far, at least, things look to be about where they typically are for this point in the season, and it would be infuriating to learn several weeks from now that the fish you’d assumed were riding a 14-day lag had occupied and then abandoned your early grounds while you awaited some theoretical push of fish stuck in a time warp, twiddling your thumbs and muttering about no bait and cold water.

The June moon - the full towards the month end - generally ranks among the most productive windows of an entire Block Island striper season.
The June moon – the full towards the month end – generally ranks among the most productive windows of an entire Block Island striper season.

Meanwhile, most of my surfcasting counterparts will be living something of a manic episode these next 30 days. As boat fishermen experience a wild array of bass-catching scenarios in June, seasoned surfmen fish the month-six suds with a sense of real urgency, knowing that in recent seasons, with no guarantees about the fall fishery, there will be few other points on the calendar likely to offer such consistent opportunity in herring-fed estuaries, along rocky stretches where squid congregate, and in or around the various inlets that carve up the South County sands.

As noted in last month’s striper update, one of the tricks to June striper hunting is trying to maintain focus on one or two of the seemingly endless “micro-level” bass scenarios, whether you’re working among the bunker schools in or around the upper reaches of Narragansett Bay, dragging parachute jigs on long wire lines and/or eeling Block Island’s North Rip/ Southwest Corner, or wading and casting one of the foremost estuarine spots where spawned-out river herring wash seaward into the maws of heavyweight linesides on patrol. Perhaps you’ll take advantage of storing your boat up in one of the West Bay harbors where you can round up some live bunker, then zip down the Bay to live-line, chunk, or yo-yo these baits on one of the nearshore reefs Between Beavertail Point in Jamestown and Warren’s Point in Little Compton. (Generally, as June wears on, Bay sharpies will find the first real heavies setting up shop on these reefs, landing fish between 25 and 40 pounds sometime between the second June moon and the Fourth of July.

Other striper nuts will focus their energies somewhere between Napatree Point, Little Narragansett Bay, and the Watch Hill Reef—the yet-unclear forage patterns, squid or sand eels usually, dictating specific tactics and tidal timing. And then there are the worm hatches—all the salt ponds, but Potters, Point Jude and Ninigret generally around the moons around dusk and into full darkness following hot, sunny days with mid-day low tides that allow protracted solar heating of the mud, summoning clouds of the writhing critters to the surface where bass of all sizes slurp them down in great filtered mouthfuls.

Regardless of your target area, your pet methods, or the time your life permits you to fish, there are things you can do to maximize your odds for success, starting with choosing your focus points carefully based on what you hope to accomplish, catch-wise.
You’ll of course want to research as much as you can ahead of your missions, gathering as much all-important local intel as you can to help you narrow your search. Consulting the “tackle shop of record” for the spot is a good starting point. You might pepper a shop expert with “generic” questions about the way a place works, then work to refine issues of timing or methods on your own time. Realize that there are some known prime windows this month. The new moon on June 8 and full on June 23 (as well as the days surrounding them) mean represent the periods of peak tidal current for the month, and often serve to concentrate whatever fish are around into larger schools, fuelling some of the month’s (and generally the year’s) best bass fishing. Surf sharpies fish hard up the dark (new) moon, while many of them struggle to connect around the bright moon—with the caveat that when heavy cloud cover extinguishes the glow, or pronounced wave action created by unsettled weather , the full can also give up major catches. Another piece of the moon puzzle is that migrating striped bass (among other species) will often capitalize on the energy savings by moving with these big tides, creating the very real possibility that you’ll be working on a new shot of fish around the moon.

June is prime time for Rhody's Charter Fleet.
June is prime time for Rhody’s Charter Fleet.

Many Block Island striper specialists—the boat contingent—hit the full moon hard around the SW Corner, as the week or so with the bright moon in the middle (call it the 20th to the 26th) has long been known to surrender the Island’s first bunch of 40s, 50s, and even 60-pounders.

Watch Hill also tends to witness an uptick in the intensity of striper-catching around the moons. Because of the sheer volume of water being compressed upward and inward, tides absolutely haul through the area. So one key to finding the best windows for catching the larger bass that tend to bunch up around the reefs is understanding the prime directive in big-bass feeding behaviors: To maintain stasis by feeding during periods of diminished current, when a big, calorie-conscious slob can move out of her chosen current-break in the lee of some stone or high spot, wallop a four-pound fluke or a half-dozen big squid, maybe a 2-pound blue, then return to shelter, having consumed significantly more energy than she spent to get the meal. Just as elsewhere, higher-than-usual moon tides serve to gather scattered shots of fish—school them up—so best windows are generally the ends of strong moon tides, when the flow subsides and eventually slacks before swinging around and hauling the other way. Though there has yet to be a major spring squid run as this heads to the printer, plan your Watch Hill Reef strategies around effective squid imitators—shell squids, single or mini daisy chains slow-trolled trolled topside (or deep using wire) along the face of a standing rip line.

Whether or not the loligo squid almost every Rhode Island fisherman has been harboring serious concerns over since May show up en masse, shore-bound anglers would do well to remember that key spring bait source—an overlooked ingredient in the food, seasonal timing and conditions mix that calls the fish into their spring haunts. Quietly every spring, many of the sharpest casters among the South County and Newport ranks stick their first good fish drifting squid in the current out in front of rocky perches along the Narragansett, Jamestown, and Newport oceanfronts.

Among seemingly a hundred other prime situations, drop-back river herring often fuel excellent big-fish odds in estuarine areas like the Narrow River in Narragansett.
Among seemingly a hundred other prime situations, drop-back river herring often fuel excellent big-fish odds in estuarine areas like the Narrow River in Narragansett.

All the chatter about no squid—and not a whole lot of other traditional spring forage for that matter—through May’s second half raises one important point relative to reliable striper strategies as we march into June. Given the endless layers of “match-the-hatch” theory—and the huge weight many anglers attach to identifying the type of feed stripers are keyed in on at any given time—I’ve been talking to a number of very sharp bassmen who chase spring fish by both land and sea (in waders/wetsuits and in various fishing craft). There’s agreement across the board that the bass have arrived in solid numbers pretty much right on time, along with significant numbers of early bluefish and even some surprise weakfish so far. It all supports the idea that, despite mounting concern over forage trouble—whether the squid, river herring, the mackerel, or the besieged bunker (in fact, what minor shots of sand eels came through earlier appear to have thinned out of late, according to several of my sources)—the fish are still finding ways to stay fed. Make no mistake: there’s still a bit of everything around, and the fish are responding to all kinds of natural baits and plugs that imitate all kinds of the former. Squid dupes like popping plugs in various shades of pink have been taking fish from Weekapaug all the way to the Kitchen on the north side of Napatree Point in Watch Hill. They’re taking diamond and parachute jigs at Block Island—probably frames, an array of plugs, and live eels, too. All the usual stuff’s working in the usual places. Bottom line? The whole baitfish situation makes for lively debate at the local tackle or coffee shop, but don’t let any of the wild conjecture talk you out of getting out there and staying with it.

I know of one surf-caught 51-pounder so far, and have gotten confirmed word of all kinds of bass from schoolie size (lots, despite all the despair about an utter lack of juveniles) into the upper 30-inch range, then a relative handful of heavier fish. And the best part is that we haven’t even gotten started yet.