By: Joe Lyons
At the southernmost most portion of Rhode Island’s rocky eastward shore, lies the pink-granite landscape of Narragansett. Blessed with superb access and an entrenched tradition of trophy bass fishing, this fisherman’s paradise lures enthusiasts from up and down the Striper Coast. Beginning in mid-September, as the full tide of summer ebbs toward fall, the nomadic “Bassaholics” begin their annual pilgrimage to Point Judith. Equipped with camper back buggies sporting bumper-mounted fish caskets and pool cue conventional sticks, they’re a serious bunch. Look closely as you walk by one these vehicles; take note of the over-sand access stickers from Nauset Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Island Beach, N.J. and a myriad of other famous striper haunts. If one were to go to Montauk in November, you’d see many of the same players. Even a casual observer could quickly conclude that they’re not here for their health: it must be primetime in Point Judith.
As the coast of Narragansett sweeps southward, past Black Point and Scarborough Beach, it turns east sharply and creates a distinct point. This promontory, Point Judith, and the surrounding inshore hazards were the sight of so many shipwrecks in colonial times that the area earned the name “Graveyard of Ships.” From as far back as revolutionary times a various array of warning lights have been maintained at Point Judith. A wooden light was constructed in 1806 and blown down in the Great Gale of 1815. The current 51 ft. octagonal brick structure was erected in 1816 and is still operational. Presently, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains an active duty station at Point Judith and conducts tours by appointment (401.789.0444). The site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, affords some spectacular vistas of Rhode Island Sound and is considered a must see among lighthouse hobbyists.
Any fisherman armed with even a cursory knowledge of structure should begin to drool at the sight of the “Point” and its surrounding formations. A quick look at the U.S. Geological Survey Map reveals quick drop-offs and scores of submerged rocks, all the telltale signs of prime striper habitat. The near, or east side, usually supports white water and an angler can pick and choose among dozens of wading, shore or rock perches.
In addition to Point Judith’s natural advantages, man has helped out with the creation of the Harbor of Refuge’s East Wall. The wall, built to protect the villages of Jerusalem and Galilee in the event of hurricanes and nor’easters, extends as a trio of semicircular seaward barriers to provide safety and create the Harbor of Refuge. The openings, or “gaps” as they are known locally, between each segment of wall permit boat traffic in and out of the harbor. Wind and current serve in conjunction with tidal flow between the gaps to push bait alongside the wall creating a fish trap on the backside of Point Judith in an area known as Camp Cronin. Indeed, the areas of Point Judith, Camp Cronin and the East Wall are so close in proximity to one another that they are almost always fished together. Both Point Judith and Camp Cronin/East Wall have ample, free parking and twenty-four hour access.
The square, barnacle-encrusted rocks of Point Judith remain blissfully unaware of the trend in modern sport fishing towards light tackle. If you want to experience the thrill of losing a big fish attached to an expensive plug, by all means, bust out the ultra light! One of the reasons for the success of the “meat hunters” of the 60’s and 70’s was that most of them employed conventional gear spooled up with heavy line. Indeed, many of them worked the same holes and surf edges that you will be attempting. While fly and light tackle fishing will produce, regular, old-fashioned surfcasting works best at Point Judith. A medium to heavy action surf stick 9-11 ft. long spooled up with twenty to thirty pound line is the order of the day. Check your line often but particularly after fighting a fish. I have often had the line nicked in several places after fighting only a marginal keeper.
Long casts usually produce the best results, as the fish are often are in that no-mans land that is slightly too far a cast for an average shore angler and perilously close for the average boatmen. Usually, the big fish tend to hit out near the end of the cast. The hooked fish will then invariably run even further out, then, if you stop her, you have to fight her rock-to-rock, all the way in. So, with distance in mind, one should make one’s plug selection from the aerodynamic variety. Employ Pencil, Atom and Polaris Poppers in the day, Needlefish, heavy Eels, and large surface swimmers at night. One more factoid worth mentioning: If you score on one tide, you likely score on the next as well. The fish do not seem as influenced by ebb and flood as they are by stage sage and water level.
The Fall Hole
Probably the most well known spot at Point Judith is the Fall Hole. After parking in the public lot, proceed to the left till you see a flagpole, from there, pick a path and descend towards the rocky beach. Once on the beach the Hole is roughly 250 feet further north, just where the oceanfront begins its curve eastward toward the point.
Like the name says, the spot is best during the fall migration. Though the Fall Hole will produce all year long, June is considered the best month of the spring with mid-September through October the best time of the fall. The Fall Hole is usually fished during the early stages of a dropping tide. The best fishing usually occurs during the early stages of an easterly wind. The east wind serves to push the bait in closer and increases the amount of white water. Too much, or extended periods of easterly wind render the spot un-fishable. The thinking is that the best time at the Fall Hole is within the first six hours of easterly wind before weed and waves become unmanageable.
While fishing the Fall Hole, on Labor Day of 1998, Art Lavalle hooked into a big striper on a dark green Gibbs Stuby Needlefish. The plug was custom outfitted with 3X strong treble hooks. The fish hit violently, and then took off in the general direction of Portugal. Arty got his plug back, sans fish and with two trebles that were better suited as corn-on-the-cob holders. Arty has had some experience with big fish, but this time he never turned the fish, or stopped its first run.
The Lighthouse Front
Located just to the right of the parking lot, almost directly under the light, The Lighthouse Front is very popular with those who like to wade. The white water makes up here on all but very weak southerly or northwesterly winds. At the near or east side, anglers typically wade out and fish the middle to low tide stages. Once positioned, try to fish the “white water edge” that magical zone where the waves just start to die. At the far or west side, anglers typically like high water. It is not necessary
to wade when fishing high water at the west side. Frank “Zinc” Zyons, (pictured) as friendly a fisherman as you’ll ever meet, likes the west side at high tide. He’s been fishing there for fifty years, so I’m not going to argue with him
Like the Fall Hole, this spot is utilized the whole season long with June and mid-September till late October considered best months. Any favorable wind that creates white water is good. Stay away from North –Northwesterly.
If I were thinking about fly-fishing I would pick the Light House Front as a first selection. Being in the water affords room to back cast and allows one to approach the fish. If you are lucky, and there is just the right amount white water, you can get pretty close to the break, and while it is bony it’s not quite as rough as some of the other locales.
A few summers ago a rouge blue shark hung around at the Lighthouse Front for several days after remnants of a tropical storm blew through. He was often seen fining just below the surface and cruising though the waves. Maybe he was disoriented or maybe he was on bluefish…. I don’t know. As if this wasn’t crazy enough, an ocean going shark close to shore, the surfers, crazier still, went out any way! No one was attacked and after a few days he moved off. A friend of mine who surfed with the six-foot shark said that you did not have to worry about swimming faster than the shark…just faster than your buddy!
To fish the next spot you will either have to walk a short way to the west, or pack up your vehicle and park in the Camp Cronin area. The “Pocket” also known as the “Gun Mount” abuts the East Wall. It is a literal corner created by man in the sea, an area that in the early stages of East wind becomes a fish trap. After parking at Camp Cronin, look down where the wall meets the beach and there it is.
The Pocket is good on most any tide stage with high water having a slight edge. The best time is night or first light. Wind conditions of light southeast or south are generally preferred. The main fish sign to look for at the pocket is the presence of bait.
Though the Pocket is a popular spot with those who like to fish bait, it can be plugged or fished with eels quite effectively also. Unlike the Lighthouse area, fish are often in quite close to shore at the Pocket. So it is a wise angler who stays alert and with a tight grip on the reel stem. A big fish here can hit scarily close. Additionally, the Pocket is quite deep and not nearly as bony. This affords the angler to employ a greater variety of methods than the two previously mentioned spots. The Pocket supports the use of metal and sub surface swimmers for spin and conventional anglers as well as light tackle and fly-fishing for those so inclined. I’ve seen bluefish trap a pod of bait into the corner and decimate the hapless victims. When bait is in the corner, especially at night, stick around because they are probably being herded in there by game fish.
The East Wall
The East Wall is quite long and very steep. It is pretty popular as a scup spot in the day with sinker bouncing crowd, but transforms itself at night into a classic striper haunt. Again, as with the Pocket, and Lighthouse areas, light easterlies in the early stages of development are most productive, but any favorable wind can produce. Don’t go onto the wall during a strong east blow as it becomes awash most of the time.
The wall is best fished during the last two hours of an out going tide. Light southeast or south winds are considered favorable. The Wall is actually best in the late spring and into June, as bait fish like herring start to drop out of the salt pond, but it produces well all season long. The wall can support many anglers but gets surprisingly little pressure at night. The main reason for the lack of pressure is that it is not a spot for novices. You need Korkers and a long handled net/gaff and a friend to help. The most popular spot on the wall is out towards the first bend about 450 feet from shore. But it is a wise angler who moves around.
Fishing live Eels of the East Wall is a most productive method. My friend Ron Olsen likes to make up Eel leaders with various weight slip sinkers threaded through. He then tries each out until he starts getting hits. The reason this method works so well is that it allows the shore angler to exploit the whole water column. He ties them using one eighth of an ounce up to half an ounce. Ron has caught a bunch of fish in the 30-pound class from the East Wall using this method.
Both the ocean and pond sides of the wall hold fish. One night, several years ago, when Ron and I were out on one of our Kamikaze trips we had this point illustrated to us most clearly. A kamikaze trip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is where one start fishing at dusk and goes until dawn. (If you get skunked you feel like killing yourself when its over.) It had been an average to slow night and not having been to the wall in quite a while we decided to give it a go. We fished the ocean side up and down the wall-trying eels, Plugs, the works. Nothing. Along about dawn we started hearing pops and turned around to see a large school of fish right behind us! We smoked them well into the daylight. I wonder how long they were there while we fished the ocean side assuming it was better.
A Word About Safety
In Striper Hot Spots, by Frank Daignault, the author makes mention of Narragansett as the number one killer of surfcasters on the striper coast. The last shore angler to perish in Narragansett was Dara Insisiengnmay who was fishing with a friend at Hazard Ave in September 1999. Mr. Insisiengnmay lost his balance, fell in and never resurfaced. Authorities speculated that he got pushed into one of the caverns below the rocks. It is not known if he was employing the use of Korkers or a C02 inflatable vest. While one can get into trouble fishing Point Judith, it is important to distinguish that Point Judith is not nearly as hazardous as Narragansett’s three respective avenues, Hazard, Newton and Bass Rock Road. I do not recommend fishing the avenues, particularly Hazard, unless accompanied by someone with local knowledge.
If you are going to fish the Point, especially if you’ve never fished it before, exercise caution. There are several things one can do to greatly reduce the risk of injury. First, if it is at all possible, bring a friend. The odds of two persons getting hurt to the point where they are unable to assist one another is quite slim.
In the case of fishing the East Wall, landing a fish alone on the steeply descending stones of the breakwater is a daunting proposal. My friend Ron Olsen recommends that one uses a net/gaff and wears hip or short boots and splash pants with Korkers because, “You don’t stand a chance if you fall off the East Wall in waders.” said Ron.
Lastly, consider purchasing an emergency CO2 inflation vest and keep the pull cord readily accessible. I can state from personal experience that having the vest and knowing where the cord is has helped me stave off panic in several situations.
The best fishermen are usually those who are percentage players, with a fixed philosophy on how to approach any given area. They see structure, wave action, consider present and past fishing conditions, temper all with extraordinary fish sense and come to an appropriate conclusion. Those anglers should see the area of Point Judith as a classic striper spot, with all the ingredients that make trophy soup.