Fishing Rhode Island - On the Cheap
by Joe Lyons
n the last few years I've noticed that more and more affluent people are taking up surfcasting. It's a fairly recent phenomenon - as far as I can tell, but there are few better barometers of the direction of the sport than the marketplace. The tackle industry has introduced several very high-end reels - some of which approach the eight hundred dollar range, while custom fishing rods and expensive factory rods have become more evident with each season.
Surfcasting destinations - like Martha's Vineyard, Block Island and the north shore of Long Island are now visited in-season and off, for the primary purpose of fishing from shore. More and more doctors, investment bankers, lawyers - some of whom hail from the trendiest of zip codes - are discovering surfcasting in ever-increasing numbers. The leading national magazines are re-thinking the shore fishing demographic and have subsequently moved to include coverage of surf and jetty fishing for the first time in many years.
It was only a matter of time. Surfcasting was overlooked for many years. It was not too long ago that if you wished to be a serious striped bass angler you needed a boat. But the resurgence of the striped bass has improved the chances of shore anglers while the increased cost of fuel for boats coupled with a severe lack of slip space in marinas up and down the striper coast has taken much of the gleam away from the prospect of boat ownership.
But I'm happy to report that surfcasting is still an inclusive sport. Fish are not impressed by your rod and reel or the make of your sport utility vehicle - surfcasting remains, at its essence, a low tech sport where a persons understanding of his quarry and its place in the natural world is most likely to lead to success. And down the road, whether surfcasting continues to enjoy a renaissance or not, surfcasting will continue to attract strong individuals, not swayed by fashion - like it always has.
Fortunately, in Rhode Island, shore anglers are still, more often than not, working class people and there are many ways for a person to enjoy a surfcasting mini-vacation without breaking the bank. If you are traveling from New England and you have some flexibility, it is possible to visit Rhode Island on short notice when conditions are right. In Rhode Island, a "right" set of conditions usually means an established or developing southwesterly wind flow.
Coming when conditions are right for fishing - as opposed to convenient for the angler - is the most important decision you can make. Rhode Island's south facing beaches and inlets light up when a southwest wind flow develops and the fishing becomes much more reliable and easier to decipher.
If you are planning a visit for the spring run, I recommend June as the best month to do so. By June water temperatures are right around optimum and the weather is usually quite reliable. By June, the prevailing winds have turned into the southwest and the fishing has turned on. You'll be able to target resident fish as well as the late migrant's in route to their northern part of the striped bass range. Indeed, one could throw a dart at the month of June on the calendar and the odds are good that conditions would be favorable on the date it struck. Rhode Island June waters hold an abundance of baitfish - including herring.
Night fishing the points and inlets under favorable condition is always productive but there is a day-bite also. Narragansett locals are well aware of just how productive mid-June mornings can be. One of my favorite condition sets for June mornings occurs when fog rolls in off the sea. This happens quite frequently along the flood plain of southern Rhode Island but particularly along Point Judith. Sea fog conditions arise when we have a favorable spread of temperature and dew point combined with a very light southwest wind. This phenomenon occurs often - and serves to glide the sea fog inshore. From a surfcaster's perspective, the incoming fog tends to lengthen the morning bite, sometimes for hours. Whenever I hear the weatherman forecast foggy conditions that should "burn off" by mid morning - I head for Narragansett.
By June, the fish are in residence, but the tourist-season has yet to swing into high gear. The motels and restaurants are all open but it is still possible to fish the most popular places without crowding. Once you move away from the most famous spots - particularly on the weekdays - you'll find that you have the shoreline virtually to yourself. It is possible to have consistent day and night fishing places such as Matunuck, Charlestown Beach and along the Newport shore.
Along RI Route 1 - the main thoroughfare that parallels the south coast - you can find any number of hotels and motels. One perennial favorite with fishermen is Phil & Ann's Sunset Motel in Charlestown. Phil & Ann's (Old Post Rd. Charlestown, R.I. Ph. 401-364-3321 www.philandannsmotel.com) has become something of a barometer of Charlestown's fishing conditions - when it is filled, you know the bass are in. Phil & Ann's offer both rooms and efficiencies. Off-season rates for efficiencies can be had for as little as $60 a night for two people. Phil & Ann's has many regulars that visit annually and there is a good spirit of camaraderie among the fishermen.
Another motel, The Charlestown Ocean View Motor Inn, (5407 Post Road Charlestown RI Ph: 401.364.0080) also welcomes fishermen. "Fishermen account for 90 percent of our business in the fall," said owner Charles Brooks, at the Ocean View, anglers can rent a room with two queen-size beds, a kitchenette, and cable TV for $49.95 a night in the off season.
While the south coast of Rhode Island is dotted with motels, hotels, and efficiencies if you come in-season and they are filled - don't lose hope. Given the fact that the state is less than one-hour's drive at its longest point, you could stay away from the shore - where prices are considerably less - and commute to your fishing destinations. The centrally located Warwick area has many chain hotels like Spring Hill Suites Warwick (14 J. P. Murphy Highway West Warwick, Rhode Island 401.822.1244) and Extended Stay America (1200 Division Road, West Warwick 1-800-804-3724) that come complete with kitchenettes, cable television and Internet access. Travel time from the Warwick area is less than one would think - I live in West Warwick and so long as I go in off hours - I can be at Beavertail State Park and fishing in under a half hour. For the non-fishing members of the family, the Warwick area offers movie theatres, shopping and wide variety of restaurants without the tourist-trap prices.
If you rent or own a recreational vehicle, Rhode Island has several places to camp that are adjacent to some superb fishing areas. A favorite of mine is Fort Getty in Jamestown, RI. (Ph: 401.423-7211). Fort Getty has tent sites along with the RV accommodations and facilities for launching and trailoring a boat. Tent sites are only $20 and RV sites are only $30. From Fort Getty it is only a short drive to Beavertail State Park for premier surfcasting, or you can walk along the park's waterline and fish the waters of Sheffield Cove and Dutch Island. Mackerel Cove, a very reliable spot around high tide - is only a short walk away. Fort Getty's camping season is from May 15th - September 30th.
The Charlestown Breachway has seventy-five sites for RV's and self contained campers (no tents) along with public bathrooms but no showers. The fishing at the breachway is legendary so you'll need to plan far ahead if you hope to secure an in-season RV site. According to insiders, arriving early in the morning on weekday increases the odds that you will happen upon a vacancy. RV sites are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis with a minimum stay of one week with at least four days between visits. Camping season is from April 15th through October 31st. The breachway has a boat ramp and available parking for trailers.
Another camping area close to good fishing is Burlingame State Park. (Ph: 401.322.7337) Burlingame has 755 campsites, public rest rooms and showers. Campsites are available on a first-come; first serve basis and cost $14 for RI residents and $20 for non-residents. The park's camping facilities are open April 15th - October 31st. Burlingame has recently added four small cabins that are available per reservation.
As of late, Rhode Island has become more popular as an autumn destination for surfcasters wishing to experience the fall run of bass and blues along the Charlestown/Westerly shoreline. Last year, the Swamp Yankee Striped Bass Classic - a boat and shore fishing tournament that ran from September 7th through November25th - was a big success, particularly for a first-year event. The tourney had the cooperation of local business people and the Westerly and Charlestown Chambers of Commerce.
According to a recent federal study, there are 283,000 saltwater fishermen ply Rhode Island's waters with two-thirds of them hailing from other states. Roughly 125,000 of the fishermen are shore anglers. In years past visiting fishermen complained of a less than hospitable reception - if you have not visited the Rhode Island area recently I think you'll agree that this situation has improved greatly. The acknowledgement of anglers and their contribution to the local economy is well recognized, and in my opinion visiting anglers are finding that they are valued and treated very well by locals. Hospitality and friendliness are on a significant upswing as the communities of Rhode Island see visiting fishermen as lending a significant contribution to a short tourist season.
For straight fishing information and good service I recommend visiting Capt. Dons Tackle in Charlestown or Quaker Lane Outfitters in North Kingstown - both these shops are staffed with helpful owners and employees with a pulse on local conditions. When looking for an extended conversation relating to fishing conditions try to visit during off hours, as both shops can get very busy on a Saturday morning during the bass run. I have taken my share of phone calls and emails as well.
To ensure a good fall trip keep in mind that the best fishing typically comes during fair weather or during periods of mildly unsettled weather. For example, September fishing along the Narragansett and Newport shores is often red-hot on days where there is a steady drizzle while late October along Charlestown and Westerly has a dawn bite so dependable that you can wind your watch to it. Keep an eye on the fishing reports of the Providence Journal and the weekly report from the On The Water website - not so much to find precisely where the fish are, but to get a pulse on how the run is progressing and what the primary baitfish are.
Anglers who wish to visit Rhode Island during the fall run will be treated to a variety of surfcasting opportunities that can occur either at night or during the day. September is very good but requires more in the way of specific fishing knowledge. And while November - particularly the earl part of the month - sees the arrival of some whoppers, fishing can become spotty as weather conditions can turn unfavorable for extended periods. October typically marks the high-water mark with respect to fishing action and gets my nod as the best month to visit. The relative constancy of weather conditions combined with the presence of a variety of gamefish make for optimum fishing.
Even you choose to come during the high season of July and August you will still find striper-fishing conditions more than viable. Unlike states to the south Rhode Island's summer months do not constitute an off-season for striped bass fishing. You'll have to fish at night exclusively but if you are acquainted with Montauk, the New Jersey shore you'll find similar structures that fish well under familiar conditions. Regardless of the season, Rhode Island holds the possibility of a trophy and the assurance of a pleasurable trip.
Copyright © 2002 - 2013 Joe Lyons, All Rights Reserved
Articles by Joe Lyons
Joe Lyons has been a surfcaster for over twenty years on the rocks and beaches of Rhode Island and Block Island. An accomplished writer he is a regular contributer to several New England and Northeast fishing magazines. In 2002 he put his experience and knowledge to "good use" by becoming a professional surfcasting guide in Rhode Island and Block Island. Among his many clients has been Peter Kaminsky, the well known writer for the New York Times and author of numerous books on fishing and many other subjects.
Joe resides in West Warwick, RI 02893 and can be reached by calling (401) 615-2636 or by the Contact Us page on Surfcasting-RhodeIsland.com where you will find his complete Guiding information.