Before we begin I want to offer some insights regarding how and why I break the season down into these moon periods. I look at each period as 15 days which is, roughly, half of a month—it’s the seven days before, the day of the new or full moon and the seven days following. The moons have great influence on the ocean and the fish. The moons drive the tide timings and the strength of the current, they also drive the measurable height of the tide. For nighttime fishing the moon phases dictate how dark the night will be if there is no cloud cover. My own observations over 20-plus years fishing for striped bass from the surf, tell me that there is no denying the fact that these periods of stronger currents are usually the times when bodies of fish make a move, into or out of a bay, from one region to another or even just a few miles down the beach. These 15-day cycles are a manageable chunk of time that I feel we can offer enough insights to help you find the fish you’re looking for.
Striped Bass (Open all year, 1 fish between 28 and less than 31 inches per angler, per day)
First and foremost, the new slot limit is now officially law in every New England state, so anglers must release all striped bass that fall outside of the 28- to less than 31-inch slot. These new regulations became law ahead of Memorial Day weekend and will remain in effect until at least October 28th and we’ll see what the ASMFC decides at their fall meeting, they could extend the emergency measure for one or even two more years.
We are at the apex of the summer right now, which is typically the toughest time for striped bass and that’s bearing itself out, especially for the surfcasters. Surf catches across Rhode Island have slowed to a crawl and the successes we’re hearing about are comprised of mostly schoolies with a few fish into the mid-30-inch class. August though, often marks the actual beginning of the fall run in Rhode Island and, after a solid month of scorching temperatures, the cooldown we’re experiencing now, coupled with the fact that weather experts are calling for a cooler August, may mean that we see a rapid improvement in the inshore fishery. These late-summer cooling trends often serve as the trigger that sends the first wave of young of the year baitfish, like peanut bunker, out of their backwater nurseries to the ocean and it rarely takes long for the fish to find them. When this first movement takes place, you can expect to find good action on small topwaters like the Yo-Zuri TopKnock Pencil, Hogy Charter Grade Popper or the Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Popper. It’s also a great time to throw small paddletails like a 4- or 5-inch Tsunami Swim Shad or a 5-inch NLBN Paddletail. And of course, the decades of success on small bucktails cannot be ignored during this awesome time of year. Nighttime casters can use the paddletails and bucktails with great success, but they seem to be less bound by size and silhouette so expanding your offerings to include larger options like a Yo-Zuri Hydro Minnow, Super Strike Darter or Super Snax is sometimes the key to drawing strikes from bigger fish. Basically, it seems like the presence of abundant baitfish is just a reason for the stripers to venture back in tight and the bigger fish more readily after dark and are happy to eat off the super-sized menu when the opportunity presents itself.
For every woeful surf report in July, we heard at least one story of triumph from the boat crowd. For the first half of the month the reefs off of Aquidneck Island were alive with large striped bass with at least two 60-plus pound specimens caught and released in local waters—along with countless fish in the 40-pound class and a healthy handful of 50s. While this bite has cooled off considerably, there are still some great fish being caught in our waters. Many of the larger fish have transitioned into deeper water, hanging on deep structure, 40 to 60 feet. Targeting high spots surrounded by these depths is an effective way to hook up with live eels, chunks or large soft plastics like the GT Eel. Chunkers will want to make sure they’re well-stocked with strong leader material, we like 60-pound Seguar Blue Label because of its superior abrasion resistance, but whatever you choose, make it 50-pound test or heavier because these fish are often in gnarly habitat. You’ll also want to have a good backstock of circle hooks, we like 9/0 for chunking and 7/0 for eels, try the BKK Super Slide Circles or the Owner SSW’s, you’ll be impressed. Or you can take these methods of the road and head for Block Island where the summer striper bite at Southwest Ledge is putting out trophies like only Block Island can. As the month progresses, early mornings with some swell will present opportunities for topwater action, try the 7-inch Doc or 9-inch Doc, the 6-inch Game On X-Walk or the Shimano Splash Walk around some of breaking reefs for a shot at stripers of all sizes.
Predictions: This is a hard time to make a prediction because the weather is the biggest driver in how things will progress. By mid-August I will expect to see a dramatic improvement in the surf fishing for stripers, especially if the prediction of a milder August holds true. With water temps dropping a few degrees and the first wave of baitfish beginning to leave the bay, I will expect to see the inshore striper fishing kicking up a few notches as well.
Image Courtesy of Sara Star Charters
Bluefish (Open all year, 3 fish per angler, per day, no minimum size)
It’s been a solid summer for bluefish from Newport over to Narragansett. The last few weeks have seen some very impressive fish taken, some into the upper teens. A lot of the larger fish have been taken on chunks or snapping wire. But if you can find a good congregation of larger bait, there’s a good chance you will find some gators tending the flock The calling card of the bluefish is hitting almost anything that moves so we recommend keeping things on the inexpensive side with baits like Cotton Cordell Pencil Poppers, Hopkins Lures,and the 5.5-inch Charter Grade Popper from Hogy. And if you’re really smart, you’ll swap out any treble hooks for single Zo-Wire Inlines. The shop is also well stocked with Steel Leaders and affordable pliers like the Admiral model from Danco or you can splurge and get yourself set up with Danco Premios.
Predictions: With a good crop of blues hanging in the general area of Newport to Narragansett, and with more baitfish movement likely in the coming weeks, I think we might be entering one of the better times of this season to target to true hammerhead bluefish.
Image courtesy of Rhode Island Kayak Fishing Adventures
Fluke (Open May 3 to December 31, 4 fish per angler, per day at a minimum size of 18 inches)
Against all odds, the fluke bite has bucked the five year trend and we’re seeing better catches on average than we’ve seen in quite some time. There have been two hot zones, the waters off of Misquamicut and the East Grounds at Block. But those that employ ‘short drifting’ over prime habitat are finding some fish outside the Sakonnet River and off of Westport as well. Anglers are finding limits amid many more shorts, but good action makes for a much more fun day of hunting for fluke. The Spro Prime Bucktail is the local favorite for fluke, but the Berkley Fusion Bucktails are also gaining popularity. When they’re in stock, the Poison Tail Jigs from Backwater Customs make a great teaser and are also great for fishing from shore. And don’t forget to stock up on your favorite colors of the Gulp Grubs and Mullets—some of the most popular colors include, white, chartreuse, new penny, salmon and electric chicken.
Predictions: Let’s be optimistic, I think the catch increase across a wide area may represent the fact that we have more fluke in our area than we’ve seen in many seasons. August comes in like summer and goes out feeling more like fall, which means more bait movement and I think that just might equal an even better fluke bite. Concentrate on areas where baitfish are on the move—like the breachways, like the passages out of the Bay—and you might find an even better bite.
Black Sea Bass (Open May 22 to August 26, 2 fish per angler, per day and August 27 to December 31, 3 fish per angler, per day with a minimum size of 16.5 inches)
By my estimation, sea bass have slightly underachieved this summer, could it be perception brought on by tougher limits? That’s definitely possible. The two fish limit makes a little harder to get excited about a day of sea-bassing and it’s even possible that the perception of a better fluke season is a result of more anglers choosing to fish for fluke as a result of the sea bass limit. With all that said, sea bass catches have still been good and, at some points, very good. Right now most of the best catches are coming from deep water, 100-plus feet. One of the keys when the fishing is tough is to branch out and away from the famous hotspots that get crushed all day long. Sea bass are very structure-oriented and even small rock piles that barely show on the screen are likely to hold fish. Another key, if you’re catching all shorts, move to another piece of structure rather than trying to wait out the chaperone. There are many ways to target these fish the simple hi-lo rig baited with squid crushes them, we have all the sinkers, hooks and leader material you’ll need if you want to go that route. For those that prefer to do it with jigs, you can get them on bucktails like the Spro Prime Bucktail or the Berkley Fusion Bucktails, you can send a Gulp Grub down on a jighead. Daiwa Zakana Jigs will crush the sea biscuits too.
Predictions: Status quo. I think the sea bass fishing will remain more or less the same for the next two weeks. One piece of advice; fish for sea bass and fluke on the same trip. Topping off a limit of fluke with two nice sea bass is never a bad thing.
Image Courtesy of East Coast Charters
Exotic Watch: Whenever we turn the page to August the anticipation for albie fever begins. The first albies of 2023 have already been landed in Nantucket Sound, but that’s not a starting gun for everyone to rush the area and start hurling epoxy jigs, these were isolated incidences, but it is a reason to keep an eye on the area and the reports through whatever channels are available to you. Bonito have been around Rhode Island for a month straight, although no one seems to be targeting them. The mackerel parade is also underway with chub macks invading all over Rhody and at least two Spanish mackerel landed from the West Wall over the past 10 days. In addition, we have triggerfish around and at least one cobia was landed as well. What does all this mean for the albie afflicted? What it really means is that you should go through your albie gear and start changing hooks, and filling in holes left over from last season. For trebles we offer the full gamut from VMC’s to Owner 3X Stingers to BKK Raptor-Z, many anglers swear by the sharper BKK or Owners, saying they very rarely lose a fish after hooking up. The shop is fully-stocked with soft plastics like Albie Snax (don't forget the Snax Hooks) and smaller Ron-Z. As well as a vast array of including Hogy Epoxy Jigs, Tsunami Fork Tail Jigs, Zakana Jigs and the wildly popular Exo Jigs from Game On, stock up now before the craze begins and things start melting off the pegs!