For August, for heat, for placid sunrises and windy afternoons, for stripers searching and gorging, for the peace of a kayak drifting slowly as to invite a nap, we think about salt ponds. For August, high sun and shortening days does not mean slow fishing, in fact it means a change in opportunities.
Salt ponds are backwaters, shallow and deep, curvaceous and muddy, where stripers, bluefish, shad and eels thrive in areas of high oxygen, plentiful foods and roiling currents. South County is blessed with several salt ponds, all with different personalities and challenges. Winnapaug is the furthest west and while it does not share as many great fishing stories with the others, her waters are clean and there are shellfish to be raked in open areas.
To the east is Quonochontaug Pond, or “Quonnie” as locals call her. There’s a well maintained boat ramp near the breachway for putting in boats, canoes and kayaks but tides should be respected. Quonnie is deep in spots, bone dry at low tide in others and salty throughout. Stripers and bluefish will smell bait on the incoming tides as they lurk along those marvelous edges where currents and lunar pressure push small fish against sandy banks. That’s where you need to be with your kayak, seven foot medium heavy rod, twenty pound test braid and handful of lures. You’ll want some sand eel imitations, some rattling crankbaits and for those special windows when winds retreat, birds circle and waters get fishy, a few top water splashers in yellows, silvers and whites. Even when the bite is slow or seemingly empty, crashing a popper like a MirrOlure will very often draw big bass strikes from pure, natural instinct. Walk the dog a bit, pop it along a few times then pause, give those big fish a chance to nail it, but not for too long, then pop it again three times before a momentary pause again. This will infuriate fish. Much of a salt pond’s magic is that it’s all there before you: the waving structure of eel grass beds, drop off’s carved by strong clockwork currents, birds calling birds and you to the bait and scenery enough to mesmerize you through high sun doldrums and moments of welcome rest from paddling and catching. If you venture outside, remember the power of currents and tides and that you’ll likely catch more on the outgoing flow.
Ninigret Pond, alive with fish of all species and sizes, is fed by the infamous Charlestown Breachway, which ensures passage to Block Island Sound, whips tides across mussel encrusted, algae blanketed lumps of granite and boulders and entices bass to feed out front and and all along. Often the best fishing will be had at the very southern end but there are strange, unwritten rules out there. Fishermen, at all hours, understand a rhythm of rotation, where you can step up to the plate, make one cast and then move aside. It’s an odd tradition and one which can be circumvented by merely fishing from either west or east just before you reach the end. Bass and bluefish can be found along the eastern corner and inside the channel, although typically on that outgoing tide. There is much more to explore and enjoy inside the salt pond with no rules of engagement. The Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association offers pond tours with experienced, passionate guides who will introduce you to her natural magic while you scope out great locations to catch and release. Take advantage of Ninigret’s twists and coves with her shallows and belly’s because that’s where the big fish live.
A bit farther east is Potter Pond, with here long reach, stands of hardwoods and reeds, eelgrass beds and a fast, boiling channel smelling of seawater and Cap’n Jack’s clam cakes. Access for paddlers can be had at the end of Lake Avenue and Washington Street, where there’s a bit of parking and a maintained albeit steep, access. Potter’s is a wonderfully healthy salt pond, rich with fish, invertebrates and shellfish. This has been an exceptional year for large holdover bass and an astonishing amount of young of year stripers as well cruising her flats. Because the first reaches from the access are relatively shallow, keep a supply of Cocahoe Minnows, small Rapala minnow imitations and D.O.A. jig heads with 4” jerk baits. Salt ponds may be teeming with small baitfish so it’s critical to match your bait to what you see over the side.
Keep a few ten or twelve inch wire leaders in your kit for those moments when bluefish ride an incoming tide. They’ll easily tear through your gear but also can be
Point Judith Pond is a massive, four mile long spread offering countless locations to troll a 16” red tube tipped with a sandworm, cast a small popper for stripers clinging to channel lines or throw a tan shrimp imitation right tight to reeds, hoping to trick a fat hungry striper. Bass, blues, scup and fluke will move throughout the pond so the fun is in the chase.
Save for some late afternoons with fleeting, thick shadows of high cumulonimbus clouds, poised like giant anvils overhead, threatening an end to a good summer day, August weather is fair and kind to boats. Paddling a kayak into a salt pond this month is a wise choice for drifting up on focused bass and relentless bluefish, feeling warm breezes pass over tall grasses and coming to understand how fantastic and important those shallow lagoons are to our environment and our love for fishing through all seasons.