Felicia Scocozza looked over the transom and marveled at the flashes deep beneath our boat. In the crystal clear water below, they seemed to slice through each other, some small and shimmering, others solid, long and thick.
I couldn’t look as deep being that it was taking all my strength to crank the handle on my fishing rod, which was doubled over the transom. As I reeled, however, Felicia described the flashes coming closer to the surface and morphing into the solid shapes of fish.
“You’ve got both stripers and blues!” she exclaimed.
Indeed, there were four fish in the six to ten-pound class at the end of our umbrella rig. There were no hooks with vacancies.
Such catches are more the norm than the exception for those who fish the waters surrounding Block Island, RI. Indeed, with its rocky bottom, strong currents, plentiful mussel beds, the waters here are exceptionally productive even though they see a lot of pressure. Not only can you catch bass and blues here, but false albacore, bonito, blackfish, sea bass, scup, fluke, winter flounder and, of course, the ever-popular cod, are taken on a regular basis during their respective seasons. Head offshore and you can also tangle with mahi-mahi, longfin albacore, shark, tuna and more.
It would be no stretch of the imagination to call the Block Island area some of the most productive fishing grounds in the entire northeast. Charter skippers from Montauk, NY, Connecticut and Rhode Island all head here on a regular basis to join the small fleet that calls these waters “home.” That’s because the fishing is often worth the ride. Add into the mix that fishing licenses from NY, CT and RI are reciprocal – meaning you don’t have to buy a Rhode Island fishing license to fish here if you already possess a fishing license from either of these states – and there isn’t even any red tape to cut through before wetting a line.
A LITTE BACKGROUND
Located just 17 miles from Montauk and 13 miles off the Rhody coast, “The Block” covers a scant 10-square miles. Hilly and rocky with scattered sandy beaches, it boasts only a single town, New Shoreham, which has the distinction of being the smallest town in the smallest state in the USA. Originally called “Little God’s Island” by its Native American Manisses inhabitants (and sometimes called ‘Bermuda of the North’) by current residents, it is home to roughly 1,000 year-round residents.
Of course, this place is no secret to Long Island anglers, although I am constantly surprised that so many of the people who know about its piscatorial productivity have never actually fished here. Especially when you consider that Block Island has a “big fish” fish reputation. I’ve poked around here since the late 1970’s trying for everything from winter flounder to sea bass, porgies, blackfish, fluke, stripers, blues, false albacore, codfish, shark and tuna and have rarely returned disappointed. In fact, over the years, these waters have given me some really big thrills with sea bass to 6.5 pounds, winter flounder to 3.5 pounds, porgies topping 3 pounds, blackfish to 9 pounds, cod to 25 pounds, stripes topping 40 pounds, bluefish to 17 pounds and fluke to 8.5 pounds. Most of this action, even with the cod, has come by boat from high points on the hilly bottom along the Island’s south side in less than 60 feet of water. A few have also come from the harbors and open beaches. To be sure, there are no shortage of fishing opportunities here both in terms of targets and access. This is a fisherman’s Mecca.
BLOCK ISLAND CALENDAR
Block Island is one of the few places in the northeast that can boast an honest year- round fishery. During the colder months, of course, visits to the Island are few but charter boats, open boats and large private boats make the run to fish the perimeter for cod and, in season, blackfish or sea bass.
Starting in January or early February, cod provide the initial bite on clam bait fished over rocky humps and mussel beds. By mid-March, anglers will find some winter flounder around where and early visitors to the Island’s shores may even turn u p a few in Great Salt Pond.
Warming temperatures in late May see stripers invade the area, literally surrounding the island by early June. The bass stay throughout the summer and right into the fall, joined by bluefish. Both of these predators can be caught by fishing chunk bait at anchor, drifting live eels, jigging diamonds, trolling umbrella rigs or parachute lures, and plugging tight to the shorelines. You’ll find the action best no matter the method if you work channel edges, rips and ledges. If you like to cast poppers or plugs for bass, consider working in tight to the island, but be very careful of all the rocks. Visit any near-shore area you intend to fish in daylight first before daring to venture out for linesiders after the sun goes down.
Of course, summer is also time for fluke, sea bass and porgies. You’ll find no shortage of these species whether fishing from the shore or from a boat in 20- to 60-foot depths. With any of these inshore species, keep in mind that Block Island waters sport some pretty strong currents, so plan your fishing trips to coincide with the beginning and end of the tide when a softer push should make holding bottom a little easier.
For offshore fans, a run of only 10 to 12 miles can put you into shark action while a slightly long run should find tuna and other pelagics on the prowl.
FALL IS PRIME TME
The currents around Block Island run strong, so try and plan your fishing trips to coincide with the beginning and end of the tide when current strength is least. You’ll generally find the bass and blues holding in large rips and along channel edges, well off the beach during the daytime. The summer flatties can also be found in rips, but seem to prefer smaller ones with less current push than the bass and blues. For codfish, blacks, sea bass and scup, anchor up over a hump in 25 to 60 feet of water – deeper during the coldest and warmest months, shallower in the spring and fall – and get your boat positioned during slack tide so you will be ready to take advantage of the bite that usually begins as the tide swings around.
Heading into the fall right now, Block Island is in prime form for angling success. Already, false albacores and bonito are showing regularly for shore-based anglers around the Coast Guard Station. The striper bite has been a bit slow getting started this year, but should gather strength during October, and there is little doubt that big bluefish will be mixed among them.
“When it comes to shore fishing in the fall, I try to keep the wind in my face as much as possible when targeting stripers, blues and false albacore,” says Hank Hewitt at Block Island Fishworks Bait and Tackle (www.sandypointco.com; 401-466-5392).
“As a rule for fishing the fall put the wind on your chin to start and get lines wet. Try your luck Charleston Beach, Dorries Cove, and Grace’s Cove on the west side of the Island. The Southeast side was the most dependable spot for bass and blues this summer. Other hot spots are the rip at the North Light Point where you have a shot at bonito and false albacore.”
If working from a boat, Hewitt suggests staying on the south side during the fall run. Black Rock is a great starting place for drifting live eels, as is the Hooter Buoy.
“If you want to fish lighter,” he added, “Hurley’s Cape Cod Sand Eel jigs are absolutely dynamite.”
Block Island has two other fall surprises you might not have heard about. First, winter flounder are available in Great South Pond. These are substantial fish that often measure between 14 and 18 inches long. Try for them with Gulp! Sandworm pieces on a single hook bottom rig.
The other surprise is a solid fall squid run that’s underway right now.
“The squid here are crazy right now,” said Hewitt just before we went to press.
At night, you’ll catch plenty of small ones but during the day they’ll stretch the tape to a foot or more. I had one that measured 18 inches the other day. Most of this action is right in Great Salt Pond.”
For more information on a Block Island visit, check out the Block Island Tourism Board website. For additional fishing information, Block Island Fishworks Bait and Tackle is a truly great resource. In addition to supplying bait, tackle and info, they can also help you book guides, charters or rent a kayak.