RI Fishing Report: 6/26/2015

School Bluefins Explode Close: Block Island East to Browns, South to Dump

Mark Sherer moves into first place of the PBR Fishing Tournament  in the Bass by Boat division, catching this 54lb 11oz Bass on June 21st in Block Island!
Mark Sherer moves into first place of the PBR Fishing Tournament in the Bass by Boat division, catching this 54lb 11oz Bass on June 21st in Block Island!

It has generally been my experience—as long as I’ve chased and compiled fishing reports—that even in the seemingly “off” seasons, our fishermen will find at least one memorably good and almost entirely unpredicted fishery that takes the sting out of other disappointing (and predicted) opportunities. It has been, so far, a season of decidedly shaky striped bass odds, and a fluke fishery bad enough that more than a few of my seasoned sources are starting to fear that the enormity of drag and gillnet pressure in recent winters to our south is doing significant damage to the summer flounder stocks that have populated our spring/summer inshore grounds for more than a decade. The black sea bass are huge and scattered out well beyond their traditional grounds, thanks to incredible population density forcing them to fill in on less-than-ideal terrain. This would-be “bright spot” has served only to fuel concerns in every corner of the fishery–sport or commercial—that NMFS (NOAA Fisheries) has lost its collective, bureaucratic mind, particularly considering the apparent state of the other fisheries that remain virtually wide-open to over-exploitation.

“It’s being at the right spot at exactly the right time, where everything’s working….It’s not necessarily the best guys who are coming in with the best fish, it’s all timing: When the fish bite, everyone’s catching, and when they stop biting, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”
Snug Harbor’s Matt Conti on stripers, fluke, Thursday, June 25

As bleak as things have looked inshore to this point in the 2015 season, a monumental influx (relatively speaking) of school bluefin tuna—in conjunction with a strong start to the year’s sharking to our south—suggests that it might well be the near-offshore action that might yet memorialize this as a banner year of rod-and-reeling in South-Central New England.

As is always the case, it’s dangerous to extrapolate one week’s angling results out over the weeks and months ahead; but it looks like this could yet turn out to be a big year in the face of long odds. The trick (always, where tuna are concerned) is this: If you have any ideas about cashing in on the recent developments, the time to go is right now. You have to assume that whatever lights-out school bluefin action is unfolding within spitting distance of not just Block Island or Montauk but the mainland, will be cooked within a week—and be prepared to bask in the splendor that is your fishing life when the action this week is still going a whole month hence: Go early, go often, and keep going until it no longer makes sense.

From the chartering standpoint, if you’re toying with the possibility of a tuna mission, know that there are some top boats with rare open slots in the very near future. Don’t book a trip for a month from now with the expectation you’ll go out and cream the tuna. Get your @#$% together this week and snatch up a free day this week when you know there are tuna around close to port. Consider that if the trip yield in bluefin steaks is important to you that party and charter boats are allowed two school fish between 27 and 47 inches, another one in the much harder-to-find 47- to 73-inch bracket, and yet another (still harder-to-find) “trophy” (i.e. giant) bluefin per boat, per season. One or two fish will give you a meal or two or three, and there is of course the possibility of continuing in catch-and-release mode. Tuna fishing is, as it has always been, a blast, and if it’s on your bucket list, you should book a charter this week, not wait months in the hope that fishing will still be going on.

Mikey Wade at Watch Hill Outfitters reported a week of relatively steady striper action around the east end of Fishers, Latimers up through Lords Passage, and at other points around Fishers Island Sound. He noted Al and Emme Golinski, among other seasoned striper specialists, put up good numbers of fish on live baits (bunker or eels mostly) on “local” striper haunts—some of those bass in the 30s and 40s. Surf steadies held their own, mainly around Naps, with precious little landed eastward toward Watch Hill, and most of the action on plugs or eels after sundown. Thankfully, noted Wade, larger scup have begun filling in within casting distance of Watch Hill Lighthouse—the shorebound finally catching up to the small-boat scupmen after a couple weeks of slow picking. Speaking of slow picking, the fluke fishery isn’t exactly garnering rave reviews from anyone as this goes to press; but, luckily for those fishing between Quonny and the CT border, the scattered slabs that include enough jumbos to keep things interesting have witnessed nowhere near the insane fishing pressure the isolated pockets of summer flatties at Block Island, off Point Jude, Newport or Sakonnet, have seen in what hasn’t been a blue-ribbon season of sinker-bouncing thus far. Mike and company shot out south of Block in search of some school bluefin that have been generating considerable excitement over the last five days or so. Unfortunately for that crew, their trolling efforts came up empty, but they did encounter quite a few other boats that had hooked up with numbers of footballs—cookie-cutters, mainly, in the 40-inch range. Wade noted he and crew heard of or saw at least four makos to just over 100 pounds taken on the troll on Thursday.

Asked about the state of the striper and fluke fisheries as of press time, Matt Conti at Snug Harbor offered the following thought: “It’s being at the right spot at exactly the right time, where everything’s working,” he says. “More than in other seasons, it’s not necessarily the best guys who are coming in with the best fish, it’s all timing: When the fish bite, everyone’s catching, and when they stop biting, it doesn’t matter how good you are.” Conti added that what stripers have been around the Island have been good ones—30s and 40s and 50s, really nice fish—and that’s not usually the case in June. On the other hand, there just haven’t been any real concentrations of fish in any one area thus far. Things have been much the same on the fluke side, though there are loads of little fish around almost everywhere and no real numbers of bigger ones anywhere specific. There has been a sizeable fleet of flukemen gaggled up around the mouth of the Sakonnet River.

As noted elsewhere, there’s been quite a stir over the last several days about the numbers of school bluefins in the low-40-inch class. These fish have been spotted and caught all over the place, from just outside Point Judith Light and south of Newport (not far) to Browns Ledge (outside Sakonnet), all along the 30-fathom curve in places like Sharks Ledge, the Gully, or Coxes and southward all the way down to the Dump. Conti echoed the age-old wisdom that “you never catch the ones you see,” and added that it’s perfectly fine to troll blind just about anywhere you’ve spotted some surface commotion. To state the obvious, while a few guys have connected casting at larger piles of breaking fish, you’ll help your cause in a big way if you resist the urge to chase the fish you spot on the surface all over hell and creation. Instead, troll a mixed spread of smaller single lures, smaller shell-squid bars or daisy chains, cedar plugs, Marauders and other deep swimmers, focusing more on the related signs of life—the bait, birds, mammals, etc—than to the tuna themselves.

The sharking has also been quite good. Capt. Lou DiFusco and crew on Hot Reels boated a 289 thresher—the fine detail of that catch scarce—while others have come back to port with makos north of 100, including a 150 that a guy brought to the marina in a small boat, suggesting there are toothy critters on the near-offshore grounds right now. Canyon reports—what few there have been—suggest there are quality yellows around (40 to 60 pounds), though not necessarily in textbook 8-degree breaks.

Sam Toland at Sam’s noted some improvement in the local “out-front” striped bass and bluefish activity. He mentioned the area south of Brenton Reef and Elbow Ledge as two areas that have surrendered numbers of striped bass, most of those fish in the teens and low 20-pound range. The bunker, according to most reports, are moving down the Bay, and it wouldn’t be surprising if at least some percentage of the bass around the Bay mouth are drop-downs from the earlier bite in the upper Bay. The blues are around in abundance, too, with some fish in the 2-pound size and another bunch in the 7- to 9-pound bracket feeding on abundant bait along the Aquidneck Island oceanfront. The fluking, said Sam, has been a major disappointment to date this season, with Sakonnet “about the only game in town,” according to most of his fluke regulars. He added that there’s been a fleet of almost 50 boats climbing all over that prime slab real estate of late—another pretty solid indicator that the state of our summer flounder resource may be considerably less solid than many would expect. “I think that for all the concern about striped bass in the last couple years,” Toland commented, “it’s probably fluke that are in the most trouble at this point.”

Scup fishing is good and getting better for boat and shore anglers alike along the Newport, Jamestown, Narragansett rocks. The black sea bass population in our fore is insanely, disgustingly massive—which is great because you’re not allowed to keep a one of that species. No, go kill a striper instead because all indications are that the coastwide population of that species is hovering just below lid level in the garbage can of biological oblivion.

The bright spot—because even in the darkest hour of fishing, there always seem to be one fishery thriving—seems to be the school bluefin tuna activity anywhere from the 30-fathom spots south and east of Block on down, from Coxes all the way into the Dump. While a number of his bluewater guys tuned fish on Wednesday, Sam decided to make a quick run out on Thursday morning, sticking a pair of school tuna—one on a small single lure, the other (which he released) on a squid bar—in the NW Corner of the Dump. A majority of the fish taken over the last few days have hovered right around 40 inches. Toland also relayed the results of a canyon run he made last Thursday: He left Newport around 4 a.m., put lines in just short of the Dip around 7 a.m., and put the sixth legal yellowfin for the two-man crew in the boat right around noon, and was back at the dock mid-afternoon. All those fish, taken on the troll, came out of the cold side of a break that jumped from 64 to around 66 degrees—more evidence that there are no concrete temperature guidelines for yellows, especially in the early season.

Be sure to check back every Friday for a new RI Fishing Report by Zach Harvey!