When it comes to fishy spots, you’d be hard-pressed to top Block Island. That’s partly because this chunk of glacial till sits smack in the middle of the migratory routes of many game fish, including bluefish, bonito, and false albacore. However, among most Block Island anglers, striped bass rank supreme.
Since the island is literally surrounded by prime striper structure, it’s possible to catch fish virtually anywhere. Further, the cooler ocean waters surrounding the island hold stripers throughout the summer, unlike shallower inshore bays and estuaries, which often grow too warm for larger bass.
The first school-size stripers typically arrive off Block Island in mid- to late May and the fishing usually continues strong through the summer, with the July full moon being prime time for trophies at night. In September and October, the fish bulk up for their southward migration, often sparking some of the best fishing of the year. The action can sometimes last deep into November.
Sand eels and squid are the primary striper forage early on. Effective lures at this time include tube-rigged umbrellas and parachute jigs trolled on wire line or leadcore line. The umbrella rig simulates a school of sand eels, while the parachute imitates the pulsing action of a squid or herring. If using the latter, always place a long strip of pork rind or similar fluttering “trailer” on the hook.
The biggest stripers often target large prey such as eels, menhaden, lobster, and scup as the season progresses. This is a good time to live-line menhaden (aka pogies, bunker), scup or troll big tube lures and bunker spoons. Productive spoons include the No. 19 Tony Acetta and the Huntington Drone.
The most common daytime technique for catching large stripers and bluefish around Block Island is trolling parachute jigs, tube lures, and spoons on wire line. However, this can be a tricky method to learn, so consider booking a trip with a charter captain who specializes in wire line before trying it yourself.
Trolling speed is critical! The slower, the better (two knots is about perfect). Also, pay close attention to your depthsounder, as you’ll need to adjust the amount of line let out behind the boat to keep the lure swimming a few feet above the level of the fish or the bottom. Figure on one foot of depth for every 10 feet of line, more or less. In many places, such as along the south side of Block Island, the fish will hug the bottom, so you’ll need to make sure your lure is swimming very low and slow. If you are not tapping bottom from time to time, you are not getting deep enough.
Trolling also works well in the rips. If you mark fish on your sounder, note the depth at which they are holding in the water column, so you’ll know how much line to let out. Pull your lures a few feet above the fish, since they will be looking upwards for baitfish and squid being swept overhead by the current.
Live-lining eels, scup, mackerel, and menhaden—if you can get them—is another productive method for taking big stripers around the island, especially during the summer. A live eel fished just before sunset or on a night tide, or a live scup fished below a balloon, can be incredibly effective. Note: remember to use a circle hook when fishing live bait, in accord with current regulations.
Live eels have produced many enormous bass over the years, especially at night. However, night fishing from a boat is best practiced by those who know the local waters intimately. Fishing eels from the surf is a lot safer, but still requires caution and finesse.
In water over 20 feet and/or in strong current, a three-way rig weighted with a bank sinker is a good way to present an eel or other live bait from a boat. However, you’ll need a slightly beefier outfit—something rigged with at least 30-pound-test braided line and six feet of 50-pound-test fluorocarbon if fishing around rocks.
Position the boat upcurrent of the spot you want to fish, —eg., a rock pile, boulder, or drop-off—lower the eel to the bottom and drift along with the reel in gear. The circle hook is designed to catch in the corner of the fish’s jaw once the line tightens, so wait for line to be pulled off the reel before lifting the rod. Otherwise, you might pull the hook and bait out of the striper’s mouth.
Southwest Ledge is perhaps the most popular spot for taking big bass from a boat. This series of ledges and rocks extends from the southwest corner of the island to the R “2” buoy. Live-lining eels, trolling tube lures and parachutes, bucktailing, and yo-yo jigging all work here.
Note that Southwest Ledge extends into federal waters, where striper fishing is off-limits. Therefore, be mindful of where you’re fishing, as the Coast Guard often patrols these waters, and may check your catch. Also, the current can really rip over the ledge, which often creates big seas when the wind is blowing.
The North Rip, which extends from the pointed northern tip of the island, is another productive spot for boat fishing. Current is everything here, and the outgoing tide is favored.
North Rip is a very popular spot, so be respectful of other boats in the area, many of which will be trolling the ripline. Also, use caution, as current and wind can kick up big seas here. This is not a place you want to fish in the dark, in the fog, or in a northeast wind!
You don’t always need to use heavy tackle and big lures and baits to catch bass around Block Island. Anglers who want to catch striped bass on lighter spin and casting gear, as well as fly gear, have plenty of options.
The relatively shallow water along the east beaches is a good spot for light tackle. This area can produce excellent action in the early season, plus it’s protected from winds from the west and southwest. The best way to find the fish is to fan-cast topwaters lures such as hard-bodied stickbaits, needlefish and pencil poppers, or big soft-plastics. Top colors include bone, pink-and-white, rust and chartreuse. Swimming plugs such as the A-Salt Bomber in yellow-over-white can also be productive. In the fly department, large Clouser minnows, Rhody flatwings and deceivers will do the job.
Sand-eel imitating soft-plastics, rigged on a one-ounce jighead, can be bounced along the sandy bottom and over eelgrass patches for fast action off the beaches. Best colors are pearl or bone, rainbow trout, olive-over-white and bubblegum.
Some good early-season, light-tackle hot spots for shore fishing include the channel leading to Great Salt Pond and the island’s rocky south shore. In the fall, the former can be a good place to take false albacore.
Later in July, deeper (40-60 feet), rock-bottomed areas such as Southwest Ledge and the West Ground can hold good numbers of fish for light-tackle anglers. Locate the fish on your depthsounder then jig soft-plastics rigged on 1 ½- to 2-ounce jigheads. When using light jigs, you need to cast well ahead of the drift and let the lure sink for perhaps 15 seconds or more, so that your jig can reach bottom by the time you are directly over it. This allows you to present the jig vertically among the school.
A final note: the clear water surrounding Block Island often demands the use of light leaders, particularly in shallow water. If you are getting refusals on 20-pound fluorocarbon, scale down to 12- or 15-pound test.
A Rhode Island saltwater fishing license is available online for $7 (resident) or $10 (non-resident) at saltwater.ri.gov. A license is not needed if you plan to fish on a charter boat or if you hold a saltwater license from a neighboring state.
G Willie Makit (401) 466-5151
Rooster (401) 439-5386
Block Island Sportfishing (401) 487-2425
Bait & Tackle
Block Island Fishworks (401) 466-5392