This season, before the ice takes over, salt ponds are where it’s at.
Salt ponds are teeming with ducks, geese, stripers and bait fish. Roads have cleared, parking has eased, boat ramps are open and there’s plenty of big pond-side windows with their shades drawn down ‘til Spring. An impending few months of relentless northwest winds will make you pick your day and earn a spot over rock piles and slightly warmer waters but there are holdover stripers in there so if you have the patience, gear and the right partner, this is the time to go fishing.
Captain Jerry Sparks and I paddled kayaks in search of holdover bass twice this past weekend and were rewarded with clear skies, some shelter from hard winds on open waters and a mess of nice fish from 12” to 30”.
Chasing birds over bait on a sweet bluebird summer morning in a center console is one thing but in a kayak, with 35℉ air and cold fingers with a hard wind in your face, getting from point A to point B can be challenging, even downright awful. But that’s the point: it’s time to get out, it’s December, no snow has fallen and fish are there for the chasing. Cleaning gutters can wait.
Both mornings started with the sound of shotguns blasting from blinds on Matunuck Beach Road. Our economy can keep chugging along, the Dow can grow to whatever but for an outdoors-man, there’s nothing so sweet as the sound of a 12 gage reminding us that hunters and fishermen were here long before farmlands were plowed asunder for endless second homes.
Over two days we found fish at the channel above a restaurant where bass held on deep hole edges and tight to where currents burst through the rocks. Incoming tides brought a bounty of bait fishes, many of which were quickly picked off by circling gulls. Countless stripers followed our Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows right to the boat, turning away only at the last minute.
A fat 24” bass was caught and released right below the tall house where gulls relieve themselves for the winter. It was a one cast fish; clearly he was laying in wait for a meal to pass by. We found more bass just a few clicks north of the channel as well. Fishing from a kayak without a stern motor can be tricky in fast moving water but it if you position yourself just so, you can glide along the edges to swing baits to mimic the flow.
Captain Jerry fought the biggest bass of the Friday adventure, right to the edge of his Eddyline kayak. He’s a seasoned fisherman, captain and guide who just loves the skinny waters of our southern coast and fast rivers of Connecticut. He sees water, light and temperature differently than most. He sees positives and negatives to each part of a pond. He sees the next move. Reeling in a 20” fish in what appeared to be a semi-deep pool, he was already advising that the sun should have warmed up a dozen yards of mud flats to the west of our position. His catch wasn’t even a catch and he was already processing conditions for the next cast.
Back at the big fish, Jerry reached for his leader to bring the beast aboard and well, you know how the story ends. That big fish, and it was a big fish, bit through the leader at the exact moment he was about to grab it by its big mouth.
Decades of experience can still fail you in that moment of December excitement when a large head with your D.O.A. lure in its jaw falls back into the pond because you hesitated for a moment. A moment too long. It was exciting to see such a brute come out of just a few feet of cold saltwater. Even having lost the landing, we both enjoyed it coming to the surface and outwitting both of us. I’ll always put my money on Nature winning.
Accessing salt ponds can be tricky. Spring’s blossoming brings an unwanted annual ritual of public R.O.W. signs mysteriously jumping up from their frosty footings to lay prostrate and hidden in tall grasses. It’s a curious coincidence, the arrival of snowbirds and seasonal landowners with the disappearance of important public access and open parking signs. To help with this, our Coastal Resources Management Council has worked tirelessly to identify, map and announce public right of ways and their work is easily available on the web. You can go to their website and click on the prompt for the ArcGIS map where they have created a comprehensive and easy to use map of state-managed access places.
Public access can be a problem. While Benny’s has done a banner business selling KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, this cold season is the right time to seek out and use places where where we are entitled, in fact we pay for all that entitlement, to use the shoreline. A tip of the camo hat to CRMC for including a section on how people can be involved with the identifying of or protecting legal right of ways.
Local towns like Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown and Westerly should always make public access a priority. Our Constitution wisely included protections for the other 99% to dip toes and clam rakes in a shared resources.
Article 1, Section 17 of our constitution states, “The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore”.
By the time the Patriots and the Dolphins took the field, Captain Jerry and I had caught and released more than 50 bass of all sizes. We were fortunate to enjoy two perfect December days of sun and fish. During this season of limited sunlight and hard winds, it behooves us to use what is rightfully ours and go fishing. Or hunting. Or clamming. Or anything else that keeps us connected.
This piece originally appeared in the Southern RI Newspapers. © 2017 todd corayer