If you have spent any time fishing the beach for stripers this year, you know it’s been slow. Really slow. One here, one there with the occasional keeper to keep you in the game. It’s been slow enough that even the great surfcaster Steve McKenna might get skunked one night and that really doesn’t happen very often. Bluefish are still hanging around, there are a few of both in the salt ponds and the breach ways always seem to produce fish this time of fall. The spectacular blitzes of false albacore from Watch Hill all the way to First Rock in Narragansett have kept boaters on the move. Most of these are being caught with Deadly Dicks, Swedish Pimples, both tied directly to the leader with no swivels, and white soft baits like Sluggos, Bass Kandy Delights and Zoom Fluke’s. Galilee’s west wall continues to be a hot spot but it seems to really change by the hour and the tide.
Narragansett Dock Works is set to start construction on the Saugatucket River Fish Passage Improvement project in Wakefield, now that sufficient funding has been secured. According to RIDEM’s Andres Aveledo, work will actually begin at the Palisades Mill, making needed changes to that fish lift system. Some materials may be staged at the Main Street site in advance of that project, which will commence in a few weeks. Repairs there include removing part of the existing fish ladder, creating a fish resting pool and building an improved ladder system. This is an exciting project with the potential to make a real difference in the survival potential of herring, shad and maybe even American eels. In a perfect world, all the work and all the money will result in more people watching fish migrate to their natal waters instead of watching other people getting soaked trying to help fix what Nature already had figured out.
Since traditionally the next eight weeks or so are the hot time for shore anglers and migrating stripers, it’s also a great time for fishing tournaments. Tournaments and contests certainly are not for everyone; not all have a competitive side and certainly many folk’s fish not solely for reward of a nice catch but for the chance to get away from the grind, which may actually include lots of other fishermen. That being said, there are a few classic tournaments whose attraction and success are due to their locations, management, prizes and mission.
The 21st Annual Surf Club Fishing Tournament had its beginnings with the Pioneer Valley Boat and Surf Club, tucked away in the western Massachusetts town of Agawam. Coincidentally, this also the home of master lure maker, frequent guest speaker, trade show fixture and inventor of the Whip-It-Eel, Al Gag. Small world, indeed. Club member Jim McKeough helped start the whole deal back in 1993, as an excuse for some friendly competition with the Hartford Surf Club. A few dollars got your club in and monies raised were donated to worthy causes.
The rules are simple and the focus clearly is on having some fun with other fishermen. Fishing begins at 6pm on Friday, October 17 and ends at 8am on Sunday and is from shore only. Waters are open from Napatree Point to the Narrow River in Narragansett with a few official weigh stations along the way. Prizes are determined by combined weight of the three heaviest fish in both striped bass and bluefish categories. As the bass fishery has changed over the last few years with regard to population status, numbers of fishermen, over-exploitation, etc., there is talk of possibly making this a catch and release contest but for this year, it will be a landed weight.
Typically about ten to twelve teams compete; so far this year nine are registered. Local groups like the RISAA and the RI Mobile Sportfishermen Club are annual entrants who have also been fortunate enough to trade the King of the Surf trophy back and forth over the years. Currently, the Pioneer Valley folks hold the trophy and Jim thought the only group which had not earned the trophy yet was The Narragansett Surfcasters, so that does put some good natured pressure on a very good group of guys.
A breakfast follows at the Andrea Hotel in Westerly after legal fishing has ended and Jim laughed that the parking lot is always packed for this with anywhere from 85-110 people. If you are a fishing club member or have thought about joining a club, perhaps this is the opportunity you needed. Given the low pressure, emphasis on fun and the offering of a big breakfast with a bunch of other guys in two day old clothes, wet sleeves and a head full of stories about the fish they almost caught, this sounds like a first class initiation into fishing tournaments, for all the right reasons.
Several very different regulation changes to stabilize striped bass populations were proposed at recent ASMFC meetings. Reading them completely and understanding the ramifications of each can be tricky as each had varying components to reach timed biological targets. As such, the RI Salt Water Anglers Association, which represents more than 7,500 recreational fishermen, has decided to change their “preferred options” for “proposed Draft Addendum IV to Amendment 6 of the Atlantic Striped Bass Fisheries Management Plan and to resubmit this proposal to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).” No longer supporting the option for a slot limit and a two fish maximum, the group now supports the fastest path to reductions in fish mortality and stabilization of the spawning stock biomass, which means the maximum reductions in the first year, beginning January 1, 2015. They also unanimously voted to support a limit of one fish per day with a minimum size of thirty inches. This second vote is a compromise to increase the minimum size allowed but in a way which does not unfairly hurt some bay fishermen’s chance at taking home dinner once in a while.
Groups like RISAA are a strong voice not only for recreational fishermen but for the health and management of our local fisheries. Their members offer valuable, real-time information from our waters and sadly often provide some of the few warm bodies at hearings and meetings. They also are registered with the Surf Club Tournament, so to the Narragansett Surfcasters and in the words of my young son, “Oh, it’s on!”