by: Joe Lyons
Up the tide, down the tide, all season long, Rhode Island’s south shore holds the possibility of trophy fish. But with twenty miles of oceanfront, much of it distinguishable only in its sameness, where should one begin? Which tide and time of year is best? What wind direction? Fortunately, one can never be one hundred percent sure. For most fishermen, finding the fish is almost as rewarding as reeling them in. One thing one can be sure of however, given the lack of structure, these fish will be on the move most of the time. As Conan Doyle’s Holmes was fond of saying, ” The game is afoot!”
From Matunuck Beach to Watch Hill Lighthouse, few areas of any substantial structure exist. Though the long stretches of pristine beaches are pleasing to look that, and attract hordes of clam cake munching tourists, they hold few ambush opportunities for Mr. Linesides. With average tides running around 3.5 feet, the pronounced cuts, bars and drop-offs do not develop along the beachfront to the same degree that they develop along the Cape’s beaches. Due to these facts, one will notice few surfcasters sporting Rhode Island license plates will be found fishing with sand beneath their toes. Indeed, perhaps the only time one will see fishermen lined up along the beachfront is migration time. Traditional Rhode Island surfishing is done from a stone platform. It’s no coincidence that most of the premier surfishing locations in the “Ocean State” support some type of rocky structure. A quick look a map of Rhode Island’s coastline will reveal that at each end of every stretch of beachfront, their lies a productive fishing locale. Three of these areas are Fresh Pond Rocks, Weekapaug Breachway, and the famous Watch Hill Lighthouse.
When To Go? The Darker The Better!
As with any type of shore fishing, wind and tide conditions will factor in greatly. Any of these three spots will produce fish given favorable conditions. Along this area of the Rhode Island coast, the fish begin to set up residency around the first week in June. Though these areas will produce earlier the season, it can be a “catch-as-catch-can” prospect. Expect a temporary slowdown in early August through early September. Things pick up in early autumn however, as the cool nights stir the instinctual need for fish to “bulk up” for the long trip south. Expect the night tides to produce into early November and the day fishing to hold up till Thanksgiving. Wind conditions of light South, West, or Southwest around 10 mph (with light south being a personal favorite) – are all considered favorable. Surf conditions on the order of 1-4 ft. are preferred with 2-3 ft. being about perfect. Moonless tides in the dead of night with favorable winds produce the best, with dusk and dawn productive as well.
For surfishing, a stout spinning or conventional stick spooled with 20-25 lb. mono or, 30 pound Power Pro, is about as close to ultra light as you should dare to go. A good pair of waders, or hip boots and splash pants, equipped with Korkers and leak proof, foul weather top and hat (as you will be in some “splashy” situations) is essential. For fly-fishing, a 10-12 wt. rod of medium to heavy action, spooled with floating or intermediate line, is the weapon of choice. Regardless of what method you decide to apply, keep in mind that these are rocky locations that require long (3 ft.) leaderswith 50 lb. test leader material being the standard for spinning and conventional, and 30 lb. test being the benchmark for fly fishing.
For traditional spin or conventional fisherman, Eels are (by far) the preferred item on the menu. For hooks, a #7/0 offset circle hook works especially well, snell the hook onto a three-foot length of 50 lb. mono. The circle configuration is resistant to hanging up, which allows one to retrieve the eel super slow through the boulder fields. Run the hook under the jaw and out the back of the eel’s head, slightly behind one of the eyes. If you are queasy handling Mr. Wiggly, try a Super Strike Bullet Plug, Gibbs Stubby Needlefish or Danny Plug (small) works well. Be advised however, that eels provide the best opportunity for a trophy. Preferred plug colors are dark green, light green, and black. If you find yourself fishing when the sun comes up, snap on a trusty Kastmater or Super Strike Popper.
If you’re using the long wand, eel patterns, and black deceivers work well. Use big flies tied to quality hooks, as these fish will test your tackle. Again, use as long and as heavy a leader section as you can successfully turn over and present.
First Stop: Watch Hill Light House
Watch Hill, though an old money enclave with rabidly enforced daytime parking restrictions, supports two outstanding fishing spots, Watch Hill Lighthouse and Napatree Point. When you go to Watch Hill, park in the designated areas. (The strip mall parking lot – off hours only -or downtown on the street.)Wherever you park, remember to keep quiet, respect people’s property, and help to keep this beautiful spot on the list of accessible areas. I like to get 100% suited up beforehand so when I park I can quickly grab my gear and be on my way. After parking, walk up the hill, past the Watch Hill Inn’s parking lot to your first side street on your right. A small sign states that non-resident vehicle traffic is prohibited, but pedestrian and bicycles are allowed. The walk is manageable, and less than ten minutes one-way.
I like to fish Watch Hill at the top end of the tide, as it gets pretty bony (Bony: Rhode Island fishing slang: A place with many rocks in the water where one can lose their lure very easily.) once the water starts to ebb. Two Hours either side of slack high is good, but the two hours after high is generally better than before. Make sure you are using a tide chart for Watch Hill, not Newport, as there are significant differences in tide times. The near sides, (East) directly under the Lighthouse and out buildings are favorites, with the “Point” a close second.