Beavertail Lighthouse: Fishing Jamestown’s Famed Beacon
By Joe Lyons
IIt’s for good reason that Jamestown’s Beavertail Lighthouse is one of Rhode Island’s most famous striper haunts. Located at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, the lighthouse affords superb angling opportunities for surf and boat anglers alike.
When the last Ice Age departed, it carved the island’s craggy shores with steep cliffs and pronounced points — all custom-made striped bass habitat. Even the names of the spots within Beavertail’s constraints echo with fishiness — Lion’s Head, Slippery Rock, Long Stand, and Bass Alley.
Some of the biggest fish in Rhode Island’s sportfishing history have come from Jamestown’s shores, including, for a time, the world record surf-caught fish.
For the surf angler, Beavertail affords a distinct advantage seldom encountered — The ability to hit deep water and retrieve across multiple drop-offs. Walking along the edge of the rocks at low tide, the first thing that one notices is just how immediate and steep the drop-off from shore is. The beauty of cliff fishing is that the topography of the cliff is often mirrored in the sea. At several points along Beavertail, the shore angler, with adequate casting ability, can easily reach water well over 15 feet deep. In many places on the retrieve, a lure is going to come back across these drop-offs, where gamefish take up position.
I’ve walked along the shore on bluebird days, and noticed school after school of baitfish passing within a yard of therocks, already in water over 6 feet deep. It was for good reason that the old time stripermen erected bass stands at Beavertail — The fish are here, and they are close to shore.
The bass stands are gone now, only rusty remnants of support beams remain. The striped bass however, is here and with each season the fishing gets better and better. The glory days of classic striped bass fishing are upon us once again and Beavertail is a great place to fish for them.
While not written in stone, most of the spots around Beavertail are best fished under a light southwesterly wind, during the top half of an outgoing tide. But this is a loosely defined rule, and not every spot fits this wind/tide profile. I find that the areas farther away from the point are better during the mid-tide stages, specifically areas like Yellow Dirt and Slippery Rock. The areas towards the front of the point, like Bass Alley and Bass Rock seem to be best just when the water starts to dump out of the bay after slack high tide. But the beauty of fishing this or any point is that it provides the angler with the versatility to change sides quickly and experience significantly different conditions. Use this to your advantage and stay mobile. If you find yourself with too much wind or too little, move to the other side. With all the structure available, it is unwise not to try moving around a bit.
Most of the regulars who fish Beavertail use medium-heavy spinning or conventional gear. For surfcasting, a 9- to 11-foot rod, spooled with 20-pound-test line is standard. Due to the ever-present rocks, long, heavy leaders are a necessity. Use good quality line, and check it for nicks often. Needlefish, Gibbs Danny Plugs and the new Yo-Zuri swimming plugs, in addition to bucktails and tins are all good lure choices.
In the spring, boat anglers who live-line “buckies” (herring) score big fish. In the summer, chunking or live-lining Atlantic menhaden is also a proven producer. If you fish from boat or shore, spring, summer, or fall, the venerable live eel is a great choice.
For night fishing at Beavertail, it’s hard to beat live eels. Boat and shore anglers alike attest to the deadly effectiveness of this bait/lure. I say “bait/lure” because in Rhode Island, the eel is the bait that is fished like a lure. The local method is to grab the eel, using a towel or rag, and then strike the eel against a rock, or the end of a bait bucket, to stun it and render it unable to tangle itself around the leader. The eel is then hooked under the jaw and out behind one of the eyes, and cast and retrieved, much like one would a needlefish plug, only much slower. When you feel a hit, lower the rod tip to enable the bass to move off without feeling the line. When the line becomes taught again, set the hook with a couple strong upward thrusts.
For boat anglers, Beavertail affords many opportunities for bluefish, blackfish, striped bass, and, in the summer months, bonito and false albacore. A favorite spot with the boating crowd is the area around Newton Rock, located about 500 feet directly off the point. Fishing plugs or eels around this structure when there is a light southwesterly breeze is a proven producer. The currents around either side of Beavertail Point are quite strong, so it’s a wise angler who exercises caution when navigating the point. Night fishing from a small boat around Beavertail, while highly productive, is not recommended for novice boaters.
The Baby Stiper Bomber, a floating/shallow diving, surfcace swimmer, works very well at Beavertail
Long A Magum (top) $7.50 Buy
Long A Minnow (bot) $5.75 Buy
The Reverse Atom was a very popular lure at places like Beavertail, and it still produces. In it’s hey-day, it was considered a big-fish lure. With the return of larger fish during the 2003 season, I saw a renewed interest in this lure.
Reverse Atom Black: 12.99 Buy
As for which side of the point is preferable, it depends on when you go and from which direction the wind is blowing. The east side of Beavertail, facing Newport, is the most popular and the bass stands were erected on this side. But the west side is productive, too. I prefer the west side when there is a westerly wind, or when there is a big sea on as a result of an easterly wind. The old charter boat captains who fished around Jamestown in the 1960s had a saying, “Late moon, late tide, west side.” That meant that whenever there was a high tide occurring late in the evening that corresponded with a late moonrise, they preferred fishing the west side of the point.
The last decade has seen an explosion in the popularity of saltwater fly fishing, and the rocks around Beavertail, with their close proximity to deep water, make it a first-rate flyfishing locale. Ray Smith is a local pioneer in the art of cliff fishing. Ray devised a pattern, the White Water Witch, just for this type of fishing, and it still produces. This simple, black pattern, with a red throat and jutting collar, makes a contrasting profile when fished through the white foam at a cliff base. The pattern inspires some aggressive strikes when fished in this manner. The fish seem to come out of nowhere and take the pattern, often times very close to shore. The White Water Witch, or some other high profile, dark colored pattern, should be in the box of any fly rodder tempting Beavertail’s shores.
Fishing tackle headquarters on Jamestown is Zeek’s Creek located on North Road (telephone: 401-423-1170). Zeke, who has been there forever, knows all there is to know about fishing around the island. Zeke also has a great historical perspective on what gamefish in residence will do, and he’s usually right. Zeke can set you up with line, rods, bait, plugs — anything you may need. And, if you do not score any fish for the table, swing back and pick some up, as he does a good trade in fine seafood.
So, if you find yourself in the area, and feel like trying your luck around Jamestown’s famed beacon, I heartily recommend it. Whether one chooses to fish from a boat or from shore, cast a fly, spin fish, or use conventional tackle, Beavertail is sure to please.