Under the Jamestown Bridge

By Zach Harvey

Some places, for all their fishing potential, see almost zero fishing pressure—and not even because their potential is unknown. I think particularly with less experienced fishermen, the tendency is to head for the known spots where there will be lots of boats or other fishermen—in short, immediate confirmation that they’re in the right place, and doing what must be the right things because they can watch a dozen other guys doing the same thing (and catching fish).

May and June, as squid move up the Bay and spent herring drop southward, you can jig or chunk some substantial fish working night tides around the bridge pylons.
May and June, as squid move up the Bay and spent herring drop southward, you can jig or chunk some substantial fish working night tides around the bridge pylons.

As we get more time on the water—the only real way to learn fishing—we start to see the potential in the uncharted areas, and realize that if we want to catch fish consistently, week in and week out, we’ll sooner or later need to learn more than a handful of spots. Scouting, tedious as it can be when ten stops yield zero fish, is awfully gratifying when, on the eleventh drop, three rods go off, you hit the man overboard function on the GPS, and unearth a top-secret new spot.

One area with a load of potential is the stretch of water around the Jamestown Bridge. On a given weekday afternoon, we’ve watched boats run south, eager to turn the corner and fish out in front of Point Judith or the Newport oceanfront. Friends and I will point our bouncing rods into the water and try to look nonchalant until a boat passes, and we can safely slip a net under a nine-pound fluke or 38-inch striper.

Of course, the bridge—the “new one,” or, before it succumbed to the power of explosives and gravity, the old one—is in no way a new waypoint for the Bay’s fleet. Back in the era when river herring were still a legal, and lethal, spring bass bait, live-liners would tie off to the pylons and drop a fresh “buckie” into an ebbing current, often attracting the notice of some slob striper holding her ground on the down-tide side of the concrete footing. In more recent seasons, sharpies new and old have learned to work a bucktail or diamond jig in that same zone, sticking stripers from sub-legal size all the way up. Others chunk the area with impressive results. Just as in the old days, a good time to work beneath the western spans is when spent (post-spawn) river herring are dropping seaward out of their respective natal estuaries. As the weeks advance, blues of all sizes enter the mix to the dismay of some, the delight of others.

Not all the bottom south of the bridge is red-hot for fluke, but there are channel edges and choice patches of gravel bottom along the western edge of the West Passage. On the east side, there’s variety of structure—boulders, kelp forests interspersed with even areas. Fluke are plentiful on both sides. Scup, sea bass and occasional blackfish pile up on the east side. In spring, the shallows on the west side see cruising bodies of bass as squid, spent river herring and adult bunker run north or south.

In July, the fluke fishing can be outstanding the 15- to 25-foot depths on the west side, though the best way to get the relatively abundant larger fish is to drift live baits like snapper blues caught in the various harbors from Wickford north. North of the bridge, on an incoming tide with a light south or southwest wind back the tide, you can make long drifts along the north-south drop-offs along the channel edges, catching some surprisingly large fluke, scup and the occasional sea bass or weakfish as you go. Setting up close to the pylons of the new or old bridge can offer fine chunking for bass or blues, or you can dunk crabs close to the structures (or in tight to the abandoned lighthouse just north of the bridge) and catch some quality blackfish in the fall.

Point is, there’s a lot going on from one mile south of the bridge to a mile north of it, and an incredible diversity of structure. It’s not an overnight study, but it’s ripe for the scouting when the waters out front turn sour.