Block Island Stripers From The Shore

 

“Block Island Stripers From The Shore” first appeared in the October/November/December 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide — sadly, the last issue of this regional gem. I consider Block Island to be sacred fishing ground. Some of my favorite fly fishing memories have been created along its shoreline.

My grandparents had an old map of Block Island in their basement. To my young eyes, it looked like a pirate treasure map from a story book. (I wasn’t too far off – the notorious Captain Kidd was known to frequent the island and its waters.) Then, there was the curious name. Why Block? It was shaped more like a pork chop than a cube. (I would later learn the island was named for Dutch explorer Adrien Block.) It was small enough to be charming (7 miles long and 3 miles wide, situated 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island) yet substantial enough to have been around since the last ice age.

Then there were the magical names of its shoreline and landmarks: Pots and Kettles. Rodman’s Hollow. Black Rock. It all sounded like a fanciful netherworld inhabited by wizards and elves.

The wondrous reality is that from May through November, Block Island is home to Morone saxatillis. And if the year, moon, and tides align, you can reasonably expect an unforgettable encounter with a striped bass on the fly from the shore.

A feisty Block Island school bass taken on a dead drift using a small, sparse sand eel pattern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Where to fish. Finding a place to fish on Block Island is a good news-good news scenario: many possibilities, ample public access. You can find most of these spots on an online map. Note that there is no camping on Block Island, and no sleeping in vehicles.

Crescent Beach stretches several miles north from the ferry landing in town to Mansion Beach. The sandy bottom makes it a popular place for sight fishing. Some people bring ladders, but most anglers are content to walk and wet wade. Mornings – the beach crowds start building around 11am – and late afternoons are the best times to try your hand at stalking a cruising fish. If you see a substantial number of bass during the day, it usually means they’ll be around at night, too.

You’ll find structure, waves, and current like this along much of the island’s shoreline.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Sandy Point is the spit that juts out from the northern tip of the island. Currents from Long Island Sound and Cow Cove smash together, creating the dangerous – and sometimes deadly – North Rip. This is the place where Block Island angling legend Ben Lubell lost his life in the early 1980s. Take a lesson from Ben, and never wade in the North Rip. Stay out of the water and the wash at Sandy Point.

Those same lethal currents can also make for great fishing, acting as a conveyor belt that delivers helpless bait to waiting mouths. Local historians will tell you that Cow Cove got its name when the island’s first settlers forced their cattle to swim ashore there. Noted author and fly tyer Ken Abrames says with a smile that the name really comes from the size of the stripers that have been taken there over the years.

The Great Salt Pond was once a brackish, landlocked lake. A channel was dug in 1895. The pond offers the fly fisher a rich diversity of angling opportunities, from shallow flats to deep water drop-offs to pinch-points to river-like currents. The channel at the Coast Guard Station, also known as the Cut, is the most popular fishing spot on the island. However, popular doesn’t always mean best, and parking is often limited.

West Side. Charlestown Beach runs along the middle of the west side of the island. When it’s on, gird yourself for a bad case of striper thumb. The largest blitzes I’ve experienced on Block Island – both in numbers and pounds per fish –have taken place along Charlestown Beach. The West Side is also home to Grace’s, Dorie’s, and Cooneymus Coves. All are rocky bars that are in fly rod range at high tide.

South Side. The stretch from Black Rock Beach to Mohegan Bluffs features the kind of rocky structure that stripers like to frequent. However, both surf and prevailing winds can be a challenge to fly casters.

Some final words of advice and caution: never fish an area you’re unfamiliar with at night. Reconnoiter it first in daylight at the same tide you’ll be fishing. Don’t venture out in rough surf. And fish with a friend.

Flies and gear. Sand eels, squid, and silversides are the predominant inshore baits, so bring plenty of flies that match their action and profile. Sand eels start out small – 2” or less in early June – and grow as the summer progresses. I favor sparse, impressionistic patterns like Ken Abrames’ Eelie and Big Eelie. I tie the Big Eelie in a wide range of color combinations, from the original white/yellow/olive/blue to blue/black/purple. I make them about 4 ½” long, and stripers relish them all. It’s hard to go wrong with any simple, slim-profile baitfish pattern.

I’ve caught more Block Island stripers on the Big Eelie than any other pattern. This is the fly’s original color scheme.

Culton_Block_BigEelie

~

It’s not uncommon to find both smaller (2”-3” long) and larger squid in the Great Salt Pond. And while I’ve never done very well using big flies on the Block, I always bring some foot-long eel patterns, because one day I’m going to find that 50-pounder. Crab and shrimp flies designed for bonefish will also work quite well on Block Island’s flats.

Bring your favorite one- or two-handed rod. As with any island, expect windy conditions, and match your rod accordingly. The water I fish is typically 2 to 8 feet deep. A floating line gives me the option of presenting from the surface to the bottom in most places. I always bring my full-sink integrated line in case it’s insanely windy or I want to fish a deep channel.

Waders and studded boots are essential gear for navigating the rocky shores and jetties of Block Island. Lightweight and comfortable boots will make that one-mile slog down the beach a little more endurable. Keep in mind that Block Island is surrounded by cool water for much of the summer; you’re probably going to need a jacket at night. Use a personal flotation device and carry a compass – Block Island can get Transylvania horror movie foggy.

And for those rare nights when the wind lies down and the air is still, make sure you have a generous supply of effective bug spray. The no see-ums on Block Island are torturous.

When to fish. Every year is different, and as east coast striper stocks have ebbed and flowed, so has the fishing on Block Island. In the previous four years I have caught as many as 75 bass over 8 nights, and as few as 4. There’s no way to predict which island you’re going to get.

While you can certainly catch Block Island stripers in daylight, Ray Charles put it rather eloquently when he sang, “night time is the right time.” Because most of the water I fish is shallow, I favor the dark of the moon or cloud-covered nights. Of course, the best time to go fishing is when you can. Catching or merely fishing, Block Island is a unique and beautiful location – and you’ll quickly understand why it was named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places.”

Why I love fishing at night. This striper was part of a school of 10 to15-pound fish that set up on a shallow cobble-bottomed bar to ambush bait.

Culton_Block_Striper2

 

 

 

Summer Presentation: “The Little Things” at the Long Island Fly Rodders, Tuesday, August 1

Most fishing clubs go on summer hiatus. Not the Long Island Fly Rodders. In fact, they’ve booked yours truly to kick off their fall meeting season with “The Little Things.” I’ve heard rumors of a pre-meeting barbecue, so how can I resist?  Tuesday, August 1, 6:30pm, at the Levittown VFW Hall, 55 Hickory Lane, Levittown, NY. For more information, visit liflyrodders.org.

Speaking of presentations, I’m currently working on “The Little Things 3.0” and an as yet untitled one on how I fish for striped bass.

If you want to catch big stripers like her, pay attention to the little things. (Using a floating line and learning the greased line swing doesn’t hurt, either.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Block Island striper report: small is the new black

Another year, another seven days to chase linesiders in one of The Last Great Places. What each new season brings is always a mystery until you get out there, and then you can toss all the reports you’ve been hearing because they’re either spot on, nothing like that at all, or varying points of somewhere in between.

In 2017, I’d been hearing credible talk of voluminous schools of sand eels inshore and the Bass-O-Matic running on high. That sounded swell, but there were two x-factors to consider: we were coming out of the new moon into first quarter with a waxing gibbous and its bite-killing light; and the weather. Good news/bad news on both fronts. On the plus side it was cloudy most nights, so moonlight was not a factor. On the down side, it was windy. Like small craft warning windy: 20 knots sustained with higher gusts that pushed the limits of what is reasonable with a fly rod. And wind usually changes everything on the Block.

Like last year, I caught stripers every night. But the bargain of two consecutive years without a skunk was a preponderance of small fish. This was the first time in a decade that I didn’t take a legal bass out here, and I found myself longing for those schools of 15-pounders that would sit off the beach for 90 minutes, having their way with sand eels. I had two double-digit nights, then a six, then three singles, and wrapped it up with another half dozen. But 27″ was the largest bass I could muster.

Sight fishing from the beach during daylight was tough due to wind, but mostly to the clouds that made finding those elusive shadows a chore. What’s more, on the sunny days I spotted very few cruisers. I did get two fish to follow my fly, one of them a good 20-pounder, but in the end they both broke off the chase.

And then there were the Meatballs. I had enough nights where I enjoyed blissful solitude, but there were a few sessions where the Meatballs were out in force and in rare form. I’m usually the quiet sort on the water, but at one point on a certain night I was blasted so often by so many hundreds of lumens that I finally turned and barked, “Please stop shining that light on me NOW!” They left shortly after. I had a cigar to celebrate.

And that’s the thing about Block. Even when it’s bad, it can be very, very good.

I had high hopes for this fish — he went on the reel — but the tape measure didn’t lie and he came up an inch short. I mostly stuck with my usual eclectic mix of Big Eelies. This fish thought the Crazy Menhaden color scheme looked tasty. Kind of a neat stained glass effect going on in the water around him, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Unless there’s a specific hot spot, I always try to mix it up on the Block. I fished the east side and west side beaches, southeast side, off some jetties, in the Great Salt Pond, and — regrettably — the North Rip. I say this only because the Rip had been producing a consistent good bite if you had a spinning rod. The night I slogged out there was about the worst night for fly fishing you could imagine. The wind was rain jacket whipping-fast, and I had to cast my line backhand over my right shoulder (I’m a lefty) to shoot it into the rip, then feed line into the left to right current. So far so good. But, rats. Mung. Every cast. I took this shot when I got back to the truck. Yes, it was that hot and that humid and that foul. I love the Block, but walking a mile and a half in the sand for nothing will make anyone dour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

I discovered that striped bass have great camo against the sand and rocks — even when they’re dead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

A public service message brought to you by the National Spell Check Society.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

On the last night I caught bass two ways. First, off the beach, where I found a school of hungry fish feeding in the moonlight; then, inside the Pond on a flat with a team of three flies suspended in the film. (Floating line, of course, for both methods.) My last two fish of the trip came as the flies dead-drifted across the flat. That building pressure I felt let me know a striper was flaring his gills to suck in one of the small sand eel flies, in this case a 3″ Eelie in olive and chartreuse. See you next year, when one of us has put on a few more pounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

Farmington River Report 7/12/17: Jungle Boogie

It was positively tropical on the river today. The only relief from the heat and humidity was provided by the random cooling waves of fog that swept across my face and arms. The method was wet flies — and the trout weren’t having it. I fished three “gotta have a fish” spots and I blanked in all of them. (Well, kind of. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Spot A was a run in the upper reaches of the permanent TMA. It’s a long stretch that features shade, structure, boulders, depth, and riffles. Today it offered a couple courtesy taps from a JV salmon. Ugh. Off to Spot B, a ways downriver but still in the PTMA. This is a dump-in to a larger pool. It’s loaded with trout. Not a touch. Ugh squared. Off to Spot C, the snotty riffles, swift current and treacherous footing above B. There’s always a fish behind that rock, or in that black hole tight to the bank. Blanks, both of them. Do I hear a third ugh?

So I got stubborn and walked down to B, attached a BB shot above the middle fly of my team of three (S&G, Drowned Ant, Hackled March Brown) and bounced the flies along the bottom. Second cast, fish on the Drowned Ant. Then one on the March Brown. Suddenly, things were looking up.

All because I decided to get down, get down.

 

Farmington River Report 7/9/17: Swell fishing. Catching? Ummmm….

My Wet Flies 101 class won the weather lottery yesterday. Sadly, the price of the ticket was one of the worst bites I’ve seen all season on the Farmy. (I’m going with the cold front coming through the night before theory.) There was enough hatch activity (Isos and caddis) to keep our hopes up, and a few splashy risers here and there, but folks, it was tough sledding. The guys did a most excellent job of staying positive and refining their newly learned craft. Keep at it, gents, and you’ll have enough days that will make you chuckle when you think of yesterday. (Really.)

As an instructor, I find sessions where everyone blanks as frustrating as the students. So I fished the lower river on the way home. The run I targeted was located in a section that got annihilated by last summer’s drought. Yet, I took two beautiful wild browns in 30 minutes. The water was swift and snotty (not well-suited for a class) so maybe that was the difference.

Nature finds a way. This is the first fish. He clobbered the Squirrel and Ginger on the dead drift in a deep pocket. Love the way the wild ones hit and battle, and you just don’t get coloration like this at the factory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Celebrating summer

July is a darn good month to be an angler in these parts. I just returned from a week on Block Island, and while the fishing wasn’t great (spotty action and smaller fish) I did get into bass every night. Detailed report and pics to come.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to the Farmington, in particular to swinging some wets. The spring’s cool temps and voluminous water supply should make for some terrific wet fly outings over the next several weeks. Speaking of wet flies, there’s one more opening in Sunday’s UpCountry Wet Flies 101 class. Jump on it and become the envy of all your trout angling friends. You can’t sign up with me; you have to do it through the store here.

Speaking of jumping on things, if you’re planning on booking a lesson/outing/trip with me, best to inquire now. My days are filling up (two gigs next week) and I am going to jealously guard my personal fishing time. You know where to find me.

Client John with a fine example of what is possible on the Farmington River at noon on a sunny day in July.

Jon21%22er