RI Fishing Report: 7/31/2015

Tog Opens 8/1; B.I. Bass Explodes off SW Corner

“…There are not enough adjectives in the English language to properly describe the beauty, the cunning, the speed, the agility, and the awesome power of that handsome, silver-clad, mussel-crunching, seaworm-thieving, drag-melting, rod-snapping gladiator among New England saltwater panfish, the noble scup…”
Watch Hill Outfitters’ owner and self-appointed scup spokesman, Mike Wade


Christian at Watch Hill Outfitters noted the fishing has been pretty solid on most fronts, though there hasn’t been any one fishery lighting the local angling world on fire over the last week. One relative bright spot—not a new development, exactly—has been the dense stacks of scup on most of the crunchier structures off Watch Hill Light, around the reefs on the more moderate tides, and up the line eastward toward Weekapaug and Quonny, the latter stretch harboring plenty of the muscular, silver-scaled gladiator of New England saltwater panfish. Per the norm in scup fishing, the trick isn’t so much finding a pile of cooperative porgies, but zeroing in on a pile of right-size scup to work on. For the uninitiated, there are several simple ways to be sure your baits don’t summon a pulsating legion of micros. First, if you mark a massive stack and immediately start bailing 5-inchers—but see evidence of some jumbos in that mix—try drifting through the zone rather than anchoring up; no matter what, only chum for scup if you’re sitting on the mother lode of 2-pounders, as setting a chum pot in a mixed school will often get the smallest fish so horsed up that they’ll strip your hooks clean literally before your sinker has contacted seabed. Use larger hooks, too: instead of the store-bought high-low porgy set-ups featuring hooks you might put to work on the sunfish grounds, try making your own rigs with #1 or 1/0 wide-gaps that will hold a bigger morsel of squid or clam belly. You might also experiment with some bluefish or sea robin strips that seem under some circumstances to deter the midget scup and get attention from the pie-plates. Christian confirmed that there are still pogies dumping out of the mighty Rio Pawcatuck, and milling around the harbor side of Napatree Point, sometimes with large blues or better bass in tow. Speaking of Naps—or Weekapaug for that matter—you can find some decent shoreside fluking casting and retrieving simple drift rigs armed with squid or various little live baits right along the bottom. For the boat guys, best fluking of late (sizes and numbers) has been off the SE Corner of Block, up to 3 or 4 miles down, where the keeper ratio is light years ahead of the South County beach. Sea bass are still piled up more places than they’re not piled up, and if you want to invest a whole hour in securing your limit, you can probably find a 4- or 5-pound mutant if you rig smart, mix up your baits, and stay with the stick-and-move approach.

There have been numbers of bass from schoolie size, along with fair numbers of bluefish, patrolling the Watch Hill Reefs and surrounding hard-bottom high spots around the eastern end of Fishers. Block Island is the still the place for big bass in semi-reliable numbers, but the success of your eel-drifting efforts will depend on your ability to read the tides—fishing the ends of the tides on the moons, and the strength of the flow on the quarters. If you’re new to Block Island bassing, you can actually get a pretty close approximation of the tides at the SW Corner/ SW Ledge by looking up a tide table for Silver Eel Pond on Fishers Island, rather than trying to calculate lags based on the standard Newport or Narragansett tides in the local papers.

Capt. Chris Willi at Block Island Fishworks echoed a familiar sentiment among most of the folks who are involved in the day-to-day business of RI sport fishing, commenting that there’s a surprising amount of fishing opportunity on most angling fronts, especially considering the time of year (August on the doorstep), which traditionally coincides with a conspicuous lull in both the striped bass and fluke fisheries. Willi went on the explain that he and clients have, over the last week, encountered quite a bit of topwater striped bass and bluefish action underwritten by good numbers of school-size to 32-inch bass and blues of various sizes. These morning and evening surface feeds have cropped up around almost every stretch of Island shoreline—the North Rip, Clay Head, Mansion Beach to Scotch, Old Harbor Point, Southeast Light, Black Rock, Southwest, Gracies, etc. A growing fleet of live-eel devotees has been channeling a massive amount of effort off the SW Corner, with folks who know the lay of the land managing to locate some concentrations of larger to trophy-sized bass on various small pieces at specific points in the tides, especially over the last week. The fluke fishing has been fair to good tight to the Island, but most of the serious fluke-hunting man-hours have centered in the deeper somewhere around three miles due south of SE Light, with fits and starts of better fish also passing through around the East Grounds. There have been problems with the drifting mats of nasty brown weed that have rendered certain tracts of bottom borderline unfishable at certain points. Willi noted he had one encounter with bonito about three weeks ago, and another guy had a second confirmed tunoid encounter a short time thereafter; but in the three weeks since, no one in the Island fleet has had a confirmed run-in with either green bonito or false albacore—and that includes the outside spots like the Mud Hole, Tuna Ridge, etc. Sea bass are still thick, and tautog opens this weekend, August first.

Matt Conti at Snug Harbor reported continued daytime trolling action down around the Shipping Lanes south of the Dump, where his offshore regulars have been day-tripping for mostly smaller yellowfins with the occasional 50- or 60-pounder mixed in, plus mahis, wahoo, marlin, and other warm-water mystery meat. Capt. Lou DiFusco and crew on the Hot Reels boated an impressive 90-pound wahoo almost a week ago now. As for the canyon action, there have been rumors of yellowfins and a few intermittent bigeye encounters in and around Hydrographer’s, and an even slipperier scattering of alleged catch stats from points way-the-@#$%-east–the 200-plus-mile steams that sound pretty close to ridiculous for handfuls of the same yellows you could probably troll up inside the edge north of West Atlantis and the Tails. The much-anticipated Tri-State Canyon Shoot-Out is coming right up, so there should be some sharper detail to pass along in the next couple reports.

Cod fishing, said Matt, is “unbelievable,” with big numbers of small and market-sized groundskeeper codfish feeding consistently out on Coxes Ledge among other places. He noted that many of the boats have been working small pieces around the SE Corner, but added you should be able to find keepers at the SW Corner or most other nuggets of hard bottom in the vicinity. The Mountains, he noted, would probably be a notable exception—a good place to skip on account of a pestilence of spiny gray ones hanging around there.

Closer to home, Conti has had several reports of big schools of tinker mackerel on the prowl anywhere from the Hooter off Point Jude Light across the mouth of the Bay; one customer reported spotting multiple sperm whales gorging on these prime baits. Speaking of, while the only bonito/false albacore reports that trickled in were a couple weeks back, we’re probably, particularly with the macks in town, about due for some form of tunoid activity not far from port in the next couple weeks. The only evidence that suggests otherwise is an utter lack of tunoid reports from the outside spots where the charter boats typically load up while targeting school tuna or sharks: Usually, you’ll hear about them outside before you see them inside, said Matt.

Fluking’s good outside Block Island’s SE Light and to a lesser extent, the East Grounds—both spots offering a reasonable shot at a doormat or a limit catch of keeper slabs. The local beaches? You’ll have plenty of action, he said, but “you’re gonna weed through a lot of Frisbee-size flatties between the fish worth measuring.”

On the striper side, the fishing has come up quite a few pegs climbing up the moon over the last week, with good numbers of cooperative specimens from 30 inches to the 30-pound range, and the sharpies doing a job on bigger fish on the inner reaches of the SW Corner drifting eels or other livies. Largest fish that came through the shop this week was 49 pounds, but there were confirmed reports of larger fish in the last three days. Reports from the North End have been scarce, but that’s not necessarily a reason to think there aren’t good fish coming out of the Rip on night tides—as they usually do in the first three weeks of August with precious little fanfare.

In wind farm news, a crew that had just driven pylons into bedrock off the east side of the Island, making ready to build the first wind turbine, managed to ram their massive metal handywork with one of the work barges, inflicting, according to one source, more than $1,000,000 in damage. That dull moment we’ve all been waiting for? Not this week…. Finally, tautog opens this weekend, August 1, at the summer-period 3-fish bag limit (per-boat maximum, regardless of the number of fishermen aboard, of 10 fish); the minimum size remains 16 inches.

Closer to home, the striper activity at the Southwest Corner and the high spots off the south side has been slow but reasonably steady, with a pick of mostly larger bass—high 20s to north of 50-pound range—and not too many smaller keepers around. The shop has been selling loads of eels, and with no recent reports of a bluefish takeover or dogfish swarms, that’s a pretty good indicator that folks are catching bass when the tides and winds align, creating good drift conditions. Fluking has been okay to good off Green Hill, Scarborough, and other areas along the south shore beaches. There are solid keepers along the deeper broken bottom off Jamestown, Newport, and Sakonnet. Word has it, though, that a massive mat of weed has choked off a good deal of the real estate south of Block that was turning out numbers of bigger fluke a couple weeks back. There are snapper blues around in some of the upper Bay harbors and inside Weekapaug Breachway, adding another prime live-bait option for doormat hunters willing to spend the time and energy to make bait ahead of their trips. Cod fishing is pretty good on Coxes, but we’re smack-dab in the middle of a major bait-clam crunch, making it tricky to secure a trip’s supply of groundfish candy.

Sam Toland of Sam’s in Middletown noted that a few of his regular bass sharpies have tonged big fish over at Block Island, drifting eels on the inside pieces off the Southwest Corner, since about Tuesday night. One crew came to the shop scales with fish of 52, 54, and 56 pounds on Wednesday night. While it’s difficult to calibrate the talent factor against the real-world abundance of monster fish on the Island grounds, Sam’s guys felt comfortable declaring the fishing right back to what it was during the stupid-fishing mayhem that unfolded last summer—albeit on a somewhat less dependable timeline. How the big-bass production will hold up as we drift down off this full moon is anyone’s guess as this goes out the door. The fluking is still way off from where it should be off Newport, but it’s holding together okay off the SE Corner at Block, and as far east as the East Grounds. Black sea bass are remarkably abundant and most bottom fishermen with time in the game are about ready to start shipping their fish to National Marine Fisheries Service, where the species is a piscatorial poster child for the unnerving disconnect between the bureaucratic machinery of the regulatory regime and a fleet infuriated by the absolute idiocy of forcing fishermen to whale on obviously damaged/downtrending stocks like fluke, bass, or tautog, and shutting them out of a directed fishery whose target species may soon be forced up onto dry land by a lack of available housing in our ocean. Outside, trollers have been chipping away at small yellows between Atlantis and the Fishtails; the guys who know how to do the chunk thing right after dark have been putting on some big trips.

Meanwhile, there are bunker in Newport Harbor and along the Sakonnet side, with some blues to the teens and some stripers in tow. Guys diamond-jigging the Newport Bridge pilings have been coming up with some gator blues as well. Ruomr has it there are snapper blues in Bristol Harbor, Apponaug, parts of Greenwich Bay, and some—not all—other harbors in the Bay.