Where Stripers Call
Having taken my first striper here over 50 years ago, I’ve gone full circle with Narragansett Bay
by Frank Daignault
or moving striper water you can’t beat the nooks and crannies offered by Narragansett Bay. With its mix of rivers, islands, deep channels, and salt marshes, this large estuary provides a nice balance of gamefish-friendly geography. In spite of robust development, the bay still has enough clean estuaries and salt marshes to produce prodigious amounts of bait. Between adult and juvenile bunker, worm hatches and grass shrimp thriving in the marsh grasses, there is always reason for both stripers and, later in the summer, bluefish to be there.
FAR FROM OPEN WATER
Old stories about bass and blues as far up the Seekonk River, a tributary to the bay, as under the Division Street Bridge are still being validated. This is really the mouth of the Blackstone River where water is actually brackish, but that lack of salinity has never hurt the fishing. To the east both the Warren and Barrington Rivers, which are really a split of rivers often fished by the same people at the same time, water is both cleaner and the topography more productive for bait. Runs of anadromous bait species – eels, herring, sea worms, mummichogs, and even shad, lure stripers yearlong. We make that point to emphasize that the fishing here lasts way longer than just in the spring over the herring run. Keep in mind that juvenile species produced here are dropping down both in summer and fall. It is not just a spring fishery, as is so often thought.
Because of the estuarine nature of these waters, there is no surf and these areas are protected enough to be fished both with a small boat (read kayak) and in waders even during the worst possible weather. It is better going in small boats because access is often limited by bizarre regulations such as is the case in Barrington where there is “No parking in the town.” You just have to be discreet and avoid brazen behavior that can create heat: for example, with poor parking choices, poor taste in behavior, and open drinking. Having fished these waters all my life, I continue to do so.
On the north-bound side of the Wampanaug Trail there is a park that has suitable pull-offs for your car. Signs deny access to non-residents, but just go fishing. Hundred Acre Cove - which is the waters east of this divided Route 114 - is a nicely protected estuary that holds good fishing until November.
North of the Warren River Bridge the river opens into a good pond. When the tide is rising, the bass come to the opening where the river feeds the pond with new water. Feeding fish will lurk in the current there just west of the nice point you can see on the east bank, right, when looking north. The bike path-bridge, previously known as the railroad-bridge, is routinely fished with worms and chunks on the rise in tide as well. Many 40-pounders have been caught in this area over the years. In recent seasons, what with all the great striper year-classes we have been experiencing, the fishing has held up all summer. So, again, it is not just a spring fling. And don’t let warm weather worry you over water temperatures. We have always caught bass at the warmest part of summer and late August, and water temperatures as high as 74 do not compromise the fishing in the least.
HOT SPOTS ABOUND
The key to finding good fishing is having a place to fish from shore - or from which to launch. Bristol Narrows is a popular launch site and during the drop in tide many shore fishermen drive right out on the bar to fish the vicious rip that forms there tolling bass and blues up from Mount Hope Bay. This place is so easy to get to, and so entrenched in the public domain for access, that no official would think of putting anyone out. Last season I met a bait fisherman there who told me he has caught monster bluefish on chunks for the last five years without fail. It gets no easier.
Ever since I was a young man, I have gone to Sabin Point in Riverside on the drop in tide with plugs and have also fly-fished there - very reliable. The prominent point is in a city park for East Providence and, as long as you are fishing, it is a go. There is a myriad of great spots in the bay, too many to mention here, so we only scratch the surface.
And, with boats the list of possibles is unwieldy from Rumstick Point to the rip between Patience and Prudence Islands. Admittedly, it must be said that boaters have the access advantage over shore fishers who have to forage somewhat. You have to read the water.
FISH KILL SCARE OVERBLOWN
Last August there was a fish kill on the west bank in Greenwich Bay that killed menhaden and varieties of indigenous shellfish and baitfish. No clear explanation has ever been advanced that is acceptable to all interested parties. However, there is a widely held belief that a combination of wind, the presence of high levels of nitrogen, and a resultant oxygen deficiency caused by an algae bloom were all related in bringing on the fish kill. It stunk, reportedly took paint off of shore homes and got a lot of media attention. Still, it was an event, and similar occurrences have been repeated many times along the striper coast. Laughably, there were precious few people fishing from shore or boats during the time when the “pollution” took place, but my wife and I had the best fishing of our season so close to there that we were astounded with our nightly results. Any time that you can take keeper bass to 20 pounds fly-fishing from shore with impunity, you have to wonder where heads are that are forecasting the world’s end.
BASICS – NIGHT CURRENTS
Have a good map of the bay and study it for narrow places where the water is forced to accelerate because of the tide. I salivate over the potential of the outflows, estuaries, and points that command a view of where currents build. The Sakonnet River alone can keep you busy for a month without ever fishing any other part of the bay. Fine, if you want to see these places during the day, but the trick to getting the most out of them are the quiet nights, when boat traffic is all but gone. As long as you are fishing outflows in the dark while the tide drops, you are going to find stripers, blues and some years, even weakfish (squeteague). Fly or plug, never worry about the fish seeing what you are casting.
Everything works, and that is a clear sign that a place is good fishing when you can use anything. Joyce and I have done a lot of plugging with satisfaction but the best of these places is with fly fishing because distance is rarely an issue and, face it, we don’t cast flies like we do tin. It just doesn’t matter.
SMALL FISH? GET REAL!
The biggest bass we have ever seen taken in the bay from shore in our family was a 41 pounder that took a chunk in June from the beach near Rumstick Point. Joyce almost needed a ride home that night. Back when only girls wore earrings, I took a 38 pounder, along with other two-handed fish, in the Warren River fishing the wrong tide in the early morning sunrise. Bluefish in the Providence River are big enough to eat your cat; it’s the same ocean. The point is that because the water is small, the fishing is not compromised. I have often wondered what people who live locally are thinking when they travel so far to get skunked for $1500 a week. These are good times in sport fishing and Narragansett Bay is, like so much of the striper coast, a viable choice.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
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Articles by Frank Daignault