Rhode Island Fly Fishing

Rhode Island fly fishing is made up mostly of saltwater fishing opportunities for striped bass and bluefish. Rhode Island is legendary for its surf and estuary fishing. Narragansett Bay is a major feature of the state’s topography. Block Island, known for its beaches, lies approximately 12 miles (19 km) off the southern coast of the mainland. Within the Bay, there are over 30 islands. The largest is Aquidneck Island, shared by the municipalities of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. Among the other islands in the Bay are Hope, Prudence, and Despair.


Rhode Island has sandy shorelines facing the open ocean. Some of its southern beaches, like those around Charlestown and parts of Westerly, typify these classic surf locales. Not far from here (as the locals are fond of saying, nothing is far in Rhode Island) you can find rocky outcroppings like Watch Hill and the headlands around Newport and Jamestown. Little Rhody als has sizable baysplenty of public access to the shore.

Below is a look at some good places to fish (by no means exhaustive).

Watch Hill Light House

Watch HillWatch 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.

Metal Lipped Swimmers work big time at Watch Hill! because there is a lighthouse and a constant beam of light, I find that Tattoos 2.5 ounce swimmers in the lighter colors are a good pick. You’ll need the bigger ones to reach the good water.

When fishing eels, try to let them sink as close to the bottom as possible without hanging up. I like to cast, let the eel sink, and count off the seconds (this technique is known as the “count-down method.”) so I can get an approximation of how long I can let it sink on each subsequent attempt. I have noticed that many of the stripers that I caught and kept here have had small lobsters among their stomach contents. I have a theory that the fish here are nosing down to feed. Whether or not my theory as to why is correct, is debatable, but I seem to catch a lot more fish when I employ this technique than to when I do not.

Now it seems the tide is down, and it’s time to try our luck at the next spot on the list of our evening’s festivities.

Fly Fishing the Striper Surf
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Fishing the Connecticut and Rhode Island Coasts
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Fly Rodding the Coast
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Fly Fishing the Surf: A Comprehensive Guide to Surf and Wade Fishing from Maine to Florida
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  • 224 Pages - 06/04/2013 (Publication Date) - Skyhorse Publishing (Publisher)

Fresh Pond Rocks

After parking at Ningret Refuge, (at the end of East Beach Road) walk back down the dirt road (not the beach) to Blue Shutters Beach, (in the fall you can park at Blue Shutters, but not in the summer) cut through the parking lot on to the beach and turn right, from there it is about a five-minute walk to Fresh Pond Rocks.

Being the first structure, a lot of bait tends to congregate among the rocks. When the wind is out of a favorable direction (i.e. West/Southwest/South) and fairly light, whitewater makes up along its outer perimeter. The combination of bait and turbulent water creates feeding opportunities for bass and bluefish.

I like to fish Fresh Pond at mid-tide. At high tide, the white water makes up a little too close to shore for optimum fishing. And, if you go at low tide, you’ll find that so many rocks are above water, you’ll hang up repeatedly. Fishing during the middle stages of the tide places the whitewater right over the drop-off about 50 yards out. This allows the angler with decent casting ability, to cast beyond the rubble field and whitewater, allowing him/her to gain control over the presentation piece and bring it through the “strike zone” perfectly. It should be noted that many capable anglers prefer high tide at Fresh Pond – I suggest that each angler try this spot at different tide stages and determine for themselves what they prefer.

As with any spot, there are tricks one can do to improve productivity. Here, the biggest mistake I have seen people make is the tendency to fish either side – but not the middle. The middle of Fresh Pond Rocks, you see, is a minefield of boulders. Casting a $14.00 swimming plug is not advised, unless of course, you own a tackle company. The fish, however, have no troubles negotiating rocks that are placed in close proximity to one another – to them it’s just another day at the office. One night, in October 1994, with a favorable, light southwest wind blowing, I was fishing the minefield from atop my favorite flat-topped rock. Another angler to my left was fishing a swimming plug to the clean, beach side. He watched as I caught three keepers in about half an hour, the biggest of which topped the scales at 28 pounds. I told him the fish were inside the rocks and invited him to fish next to me; he declined, stating he was sure he would lose his plug. I was fishing eels on a single hook and had no such worries.

Another trick one can employ here is mobility. Often times I have seen people come here, pick out a rock and cast straight out, never moving from rock to rock, or fanning out their casts in multiple directions to cover as much water as possible. It’s surf casting 101, (I know) but I’m still amazed that someone will go to all the trouble and expense of outfitting themselves with great gear, buy a $25,000 truck to fish out of, drive an hour and half to get to the spot, only to cast at one spot all night long.

Additionally, one should concentrate their offerings to the up-current part of the point and let the current move the bait/plug/fly into the down-current side of the point. What I mean is, if the shoreline current is moving west to east place your presentation to the western side of the structure. Let the current aid you in presentation, fish tend to nose into the current on the down-current sides of structure and wait for the current to provide them with feeding opportunities. Lou Tabory, author of Inshore Fly Fishing, at a lecture I attended recently, described these down-current areas that fish hold in as “feeding lanes.” It’s a great term – and a very accurate description. A big problem I’ve noticed since I’ve started guiding is that many anglers just blind cast – without thinking about where or when they are going cast. A good fisherman makes deliberate presentations.

During the fall season the CRMC (Coastal Resources Management Council) issues permits that allow for four wheel drive vehicles to access the beach either through the sand trail (accessed via Ninigret Refuge parking lot) or in some years, through the Blue Shutters Beach parking lot. Be advised however, that you must possess all permits and have all required equipment on board at all times.

If there is any down side to fishing this spot, it has to be the fact that the presence of so many rocks means you will loose some big fish. Once I caught a large bass here that fought me from rock to rock. By the time I landed the fish she was banged up pretty bad, abrasions were visible up and down the sides of the fish. Another time, I went to pull my leader by the barrel swivel in order to beach a good fish only to have the 50 pound material break; dead center. The bass, which I estimated was in the high 20’s calmly, turned and swam, back out to sea. Upon examining the leader material I noticed it was near breaking at several points and that I was lucky even to have seen that fish.

Well, it appears were almost out of fishable water here, time to head south on Route 1 and try our luck drifting into the outgoing tide at Weekapaug Breachway.

Weekapaug Breachway

I like to go to Weekpaug in for the last two hours of the outgoing tide. The water on all but the most neap tides will run fairly strong for approximately 75 minutes beyond low on the chart. I like to fish the near (east) side, but will fish the far (west) side if there is a crowd. As the water exits the “shoot” it turns east (left) and the current parallel’s the shore.

Drifting plugs, flies, or eels are effective as well as chunks and jigs. Cast into the current, open the bail (or free spool), and feed the line out smoothly. The fish most often hit at the end of the drift, just when the momentum from the tide lets up. When they do, close the bail, lower the rod tip, wait for the line to become taught, then set the hook with a couple of good upward thrusts of the rod. A fish hooked in an outgoing breachway current will fight much harder than usual so be patient and keep your head. Pick out a landing spot, and a backup landing spot before you start fishing and let your fellow fisherman know you are fighting a fish with a hearty, “Fish On” call.

While fishing here in a gale in about five years ago – I had to cut a fish loose. The fish was cornered in a rock on the inside of the Breachway; there was just no safe way to get down to land it. It was the right decision, and one that people don’t always make. One time, while I was fishing on the east side of the inlet, a young fisherman got his boot stuck in a rock while trying to land a fish. That happens every now and then, the problem was that every five minutes or so, a rouge wave would come in. I told him to get out his waders and I would help him up to a dry rock. He barely made it up in time. Had he waited another 30 seconds and he would have been looking at a compound fracture. When fishing the stones, especially fishing alone, don’t take chances.

Salt Pond

Considering all the fishing opportunities we are blessed with along Rhode Island’s South Shore, one gem is often overlooked. Salt Pond, the tidal estuary that sprawls from its upper reaches in Wakefield to its confluence with the ocean at the Harbor of Galilee, is a resource underutilized by all but a few sharpies.

In early spring, fishing around the islands along the channel can produce some of the largest winter flounder you’ll ever see. As spring continues, school bass begin to arrive. Their initial appearance is usually outside the west wall. Eventually they discover the warmer water and the feed bag the inner pond provides.

One of the Rites of Spring to light tackle enthusiasts and fly fishers alike is the annual worm hatches the pond hosts in May and early June. These hatches can be witnessed in secluded areas such as Billington Cove, around and between the islands and on down the pond to the beach area and sand bar flaking the channel approaching the D.E.M. docks in Jerusalem. This stretch is often lined with flycasters and ultralight spinners especially at first light and dusk. Further up into the pond everything from canoes and kayaks to twin engine fishing machines dot the area to present their offerings. Witnessing these little stripers gorge themselves on the tiny worms as they scoot along the surface is indeed an event.

As spring transcends into summer the worm hatches wane and small baitfish such as silversides become the staple of small bass.

Meanwhile, the bigger fish are moving into the pond in mid to late May and through June. Best results occur along the channel from the islands to the breachway at George’s. Slow and slack tides, an hour before until an hour after high and low have keeper bass on the prowl.

Lots of Spots to Fish

The famed ecorich salt ponds like Winnapaug, Quonochontaug and Ninigret along Rhode Island’s southwest shore are a literal fly-fisher’s horn of plenty.

Similar to these are a host of shallow-water flats found all along this small state’s coastline that are about as pristine as any in the tropics. You can sight-fish in many of these areas, and except that your prime target is striped bass, you could easily imagine yourself in the Keys or the Bahamas. However, stripers are not the only headliners that cruise Rhode Island waters. Bluefish, bonito, weakfish, fluke, false albacore and even bluefin tuna can all be taken on fly within this tiny state’s borders.

Of course, Rhode Island’s inshore fishery is the most accessible, and fly-fishers will find enough diversity in species, locale and technique to satisfy just about every preference. For newcomers to this area, I recommend rigging three complete outfits: one with a floating line, a second with an intermediate and a third with a fast-sinking line, regardless of the size of the rods. Obviously when you’re shorebound, carrying this much gear is impractical, so quick-change lines like shooting heads are the best alternative. This is not to imply that you can’t focus on one particular technique.

For example, if you decide to concentrate exclusively on surface action with poppers and sliders, you can stick to a floating line. But this selectivity has inherent limitations. Unless you are a hard-core devotee of one specific method, it makes sense to be prepared for changing conditions, which you’ll definitely encounter in Rhode Island waters.

I remember a very productive day of fishing the rips off Watch Hill. We were hooking stripers on almost every drift over Sugar Reef, using fast-sinking lines to connect with them since they were feeding on squid about 15 feet deep.

Suddenly, without warning, birds started working the surface. My friend who was running the boat picked up an outfit with a floating line and a popper and was into a fish on the first cast. He fought it boat-side, released it, repositioned the skiff, made a second cast and hooked another bass. Fishing topwater didn’t account for the most fish that day, but those violent strikes provided the most exciting action. We would have missed it if we’d had only fast-sinking lines.

Seasons

True to the character of saltwater fishing in New England, the Rhode Island fishery is really a three-season affair. Depending on weather, spring fishing can begin around mid-May, and, though there are no precise demarcation dates, the summer season is generally acknowledged to start near the end of June. The fall fishery that has gained legendary status is associated with the tourist exodus and the beginning of the school year after Labor Day weekend. This season is also very weather-contingent, usually coming to a close around mid-November.

Spring

Spring is the ideal time for light-tackle and sight-fishing opportunities. The ocean is still cold, but inshore tidal creeks, salt ponds and back bays are beginning to warm. This warming means that food sources like crabs, marine worms, shrimp, eels and juvenile sand eels show up, and stripers and weakfish follow in hot pursuit. A few seasons back I even enjoyed a mixed bag of schoolie bass and fluke while working a chartreuse-and-white Clouser on the sandy flats in Little Narragansett Bay behind Napatree Beach. Initially most fly-fishermen regarded fluke as bycatch, but after experiencing their readiness to take flies, increasing numbers of fly-anglers set their sights on them. The weakfish are a lot harder to target than stripers in these waters, but the ones you do connect with often prove to be quality specimens. During the first two weeks of June last year, White and some of his friends caught quite a few 10-pound-class weakies in the East Greenwich area.

Much of the spring action continues on into the warmer months, with the added spice of greater concentrations of bluefish. In the past, summer striper fishing traditionally was a nighttime affair, but over the past several years, this has not necessarily been the case for fly-fishers. Many of the bigger bass, in the 20-plus-pound class, are taken at night and mostly on bait, but in these clean, clear waters there is plenty of daytime action to keep you busy. The tides are always important, but they are especially critical during the day, and the key is to try to fish moving water.

Fall

As is true for most of the Northeast, autumn is the time to be out fishing here. Seasonal migrations and feeding blitzes occur in both spring and fall, but are more intense during the latter. Maybe it’s because nature programmed predator species to bulk up for the lean winter months ahead, but whatever the biological trigger, anyone who has wet a line in the Northeast in the fall knows the action can be phenomenal. Montauk, which lies just across Long Island Sound, reputedly is the place to be at this time of year. However, this is a relatively small area, which means crowds of people whether you’re on the beach or on a boat. From the standpoint of solitude, I prefer Rhode Island. In my experience the hordes of blitzing, bruiser-class bluefish are as great there as you’ll find anywhere, and the boat traffic is usually nowhere near as heavy as in more popular locales.

And you can’t forget the tuna. The false albacore action this past fall was not as good as I’ve seen, but on some days fair numbers of them showed near the Newport Bridge, and we even got into bonito. As with the bluefish and striper blitzes, the days I did find them, the boat traffic remained relatively light. Bonito tend to be far spookier than albies and as a result are often more highly sought after by fly-fishermen here. Anglers in Rhode Island regularly encounter them when conditions are right, and with these fish the more shots you get, the better your chances.

September

The month of September signals change for both the Summer season and the angling in southern New England. Shortly after Labor Day, weeknights along Rhode Island’s shores find only locals and a remnant population of tourists. As daytime air temperatures dip slightly below those of August, and water temperatures peak mid-month and start to drop, parking at some of the more popular fishing spots is no longer at a premium. Along the coast in September nature shows us the first clear signs of Autumn: migrating birds and fish along the coast, and inland, subtle hints of the upcoming season beginning to appear.

October

In preparation for their migration south, striped bass and bluefish congregate into large schools along our shores. The baitfish they prey upon will also be assembled into large schools and when the two collide, angling can be spectacular.

As air temperatures drop during October, many mornings along the shore will find the ground covered with a frosty coating. The air is clean, fresh, and invigorating. October’s weather does not tire a fisherman out as fast as the hot, steamy days of the preceding months. Water temperatures drop steadily during October, which seems to change the way striped bass and bluefish feed. In the previous months they fed actively during early morning and evening hours and these were the best times to fish. Bright skies and calm seas, moreover, seemed to drive them away from shore during the day.

In October this pattern changes: the cooler water temperatures increase gamefish activity during the daytime. In preparation for their migration, they begin feeding heavily and for longer periods of time. Many days fish seem to feed continuously on large schools of bait throughout the day, even under the brightest skies and in the calmest of waters. Often when stripers or bluefish have corralled a school of bait, they will drive it right up on the shore and feed in very shallow water. Such feeding frenzies are not uncommon during October, and the frenzy can last many hours. When these blitzes occur, the feeding fish are sometimes very showy. Boils, breaks, bait, and birds, each working frenetically and at cross purposes, are often the hallmarks of these frenzies. At other times, however, active feeding can go unnoticed by the casual observer.

If the bait is thick and the water deep enough, the gamefish may only attack at the bottom of the bait, with only slight boils evidencing the attack. At these times, linesiders may only be keying on crippled baits, and may be less likely to reveal themselves. Without any surface activity the presence of birds is unlikely, so don’t always count on birds to locate fish for you. In fact, stripers and bluefish will often feed so close to shore that a boil or slight break is barely discernible from the wash or undertow of a wave breaking over a rock or against the shore. This can be true even on the calmest days.

Much of October’s fishing is done in relatively calm water. The predominant winds begin blowing from the west and northwest which tends to quiet our waters. On calm, bright, days fish may be active, but may be reluctant to expose themselves by coming up from the bottom to feed. The use of a sinking line, or a split shot attached to the leader may do the trick where a simple floating line may not.

With each passing day in October, more fish will be present along Rhode Island’s shores. The peak fishing normally occurs during the second and third weeks along the Newport shoreline. October’s final two weeks find the peak fishing occurring from Narragansett to Watch Hill. Of course, all of this course depends upon the weather: cooler weather may hasten the peak activity while warmer weather may delay it. For the last two years, no peak to the fall run ever materialized. Fishing was spotty due to a lack of large schools of baitfish. Early in October a large number of stripers did move into the area near the border, not far from Westport, Massachusettes. They remained there until October 30th, then raced along the southern Rhode Island shore. For the two previous years the peak along the Narragansett shoreline occurred during the final week of October and the first few days of November (Oct 29th was the height of the peak for both years).

Some October days are nasty with gale force winds and big surf which make saltwater fishing nearly impossible. These are good days to visit tidal rivers that have fresh water feeders. Sea run brown trout enter these rivers in October to spawn. The first gravely river section up from the tidal river is a good location to fish. Sea run fishing is a good alternative to going home when you find the coastline is roaring.

Best Times to Fish

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 one to four feet are preferred with two to three feet being about perfect. Moonless tides in the dead of night with favorable winds produce the best, with dusk and dawn productive as well.

Flies to Use

Since the fishing is seasonal, so is the gear. To simulate the prey in the spring, you’ll need to carry an assortment of crab and shrimp patterns, in addition to the standard array of small (1- to 2-inch) Clousers and Deceivers, in your fly box. Six- to 8-weight outfits nicely accommodate this early-season fishery. For the shallows, floating and intermediate lines are the right choice, but if you want to drag the bottom for fluke, have a fast-sinking line on hand.

In the summer you’ll need to gear up a bit and move to 9- and 10-weight outfits. If you’d like to target the summer weakfish, plan on fishing at sunset and during the evening hours when they tend to congregate in the shallows over sandbars and in the back bays. Intermediate lines work best here, but during daylight hours they slide into water 12 to 35 feet deep, so you’ll also need a sinking line. For the weakfish, I recommend weighted flies like Jiggies and Half and Halfs. Stripers and blues head in during the summer as well, and it’s now time to move to larger flies.

When blues feed along with stripers, which happens frequently in these waters, you have to compromise. If you want to save flies and at least stand a chance of landing a big bluefish, you will definitely need a wire trace. However, I don’t believe I get as many strikes with the other fish when I use wire. In fact this past season, even the bluefish shied away from wire leaders. You’ll get more strikes with straight mono, but if blues are around you’re likely to get bitten off.

In late summer and early fall, albies, bonito and tuna start to show up. The two principal lines for this fishery are clear intermediates and fast sinkers. The intermediate works best when the fish feed on the surface, and some anglers use this line exclusively. But you’re missing a large window of opportunity if you forgo fast-sinking lines. These species spend most of their time cruising the depths. Even when busting bait on top, they usually dive down in search of other bait schools. You can pick up a lot of fish with a fast-sinking line, and 9- and 10-weight outfits are ideal for this situation. Some anglers choose to go much lighter, but all that does is exhaust the fish. If the bluefin move in, you’ll want substantially heavier rods. In fact, for the sake of the fish, you’ll want nothing but 12-weight or heavier rods, and you’ll use intermediate or sinking lines. The best patterns are larger baitfish flies to simulate the bunker or small bluefish they feed on.

Saltwater Hatch Chart

COMMON NAMESIZEARRIVAL/EMERGENCE
Herring5″ to 10″Early April
Shad6″ to 20″Early May
Cinder Worm3/4″ to 2″Mid May through July
Sand Eelup to 3″May through late Fall
Peanut Bunker (Menhaden)2″ to 3″Late July through October
Bay Anchovies1″ to 1.5″September through October
Sand Hopper (Amphipods)1/2″ to 1.5″June through Summer

Rhode Island Fly Fishing Articles & Resources

On the Water Magazine Fishing Reports
Up to date reports for RI.
https://www.onthewater.com/fishing-reports/2023/12/rhode-island-fishing-report-december-7-2023

Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association
The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association is a non-profit organization, created to provide a forum for recreational saltwater anglers…
www.risaa.org/

Rhode Island Fishing Forum- StripersOnline SurfTalk
https://www.stripersonline.com/surftalk/forum/21-rhode-island-fishing/

The Saltwater Edge Fly Fishing Co.
1077 Aquidneck Ave Middletown, RI 02842; 1-866-SWE-ORDER
www.saltwateredge.com

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