This week we celebrate a new summer season of hunting for fish fat, flat, blue and weak.Thankfully, weakfish are returning to Southern New England. Also called squeteague or sea trout, they are aggressive predators who move into shallow reaches of Narragansett Bay to spawn. Their stocks were hit hard over a few decades from the usual suspects of commercial and recreational pressure so now they are listed as depleted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Back in the day, or at least 1980, commercial landings were approximately 36 million pounds. Since they average only a few pounds at best, that’s a lot of weakfish removed from the fishery and that was just one year.
Weakfish, sea trout, squeteague; whatever you call them they’re returning
They have a typical estuarine diet of crabs, shrimp, mumichogs, small mollusks and the like. Fly anglers rely on shrimp patterns to fool them while spin guys do well with thin Epoxy Jigs and small plastics. Given their soft mouths, hence their nickname, hooks can tear through them quite easily. At least one was landed in 2020 in the Narrow River and there were several reports over the last few years of catches in the Thames and lower Connecticut Rivers. Randy Degrace landed a few this week which were photographed, released and made famous on social media. That’s the perfect way to treat squeteague for a few years. If their stocks can rebuild and avoid being hit hard by southern shrimp draggers, we just might see lots more of them.
Big fish continue to be landed in middle and upper Narragansett Bay. There are schools of bluefish all over The Ocean State but not in any real numbers just yet. Early stripers arrived along the south shore, saw brawling crowds where surfcasters saw Narragansett’s beach parking fees so they all split to follow schools of Loligo squid into the bay and points east. Even with squid largely headed offshore now, stripers have stayed to feed heartily on menhaden schools around the capital city. The Bay is designated as a Menhaden Management Area which means RIDEM first needs to identify a minimum of two millions pounds of pogies in the bay before they will allow commercial draggers to move in. “Biomass estimates, fishery landings information, computer modeling, and biological sampling,” according to RIDEM, along with using spotter pilots are used to determine the amount throughout the season. “If at any time the biomass estimates drop below 1.5 million pounds, or when 50 percent of the estimated biomass above the minimum threshold of 1.5 million pounds is harvested, the commercial fishery in the MMA is closed,” RIDEM wrote in a recent press release. It’s heartening to see so much attention being given on a regulatory level to forage fishes like munnohquohteau, loosely translated from the Algonquin word for fertilizer.
Brian Hall erased a year off the water with back to back nighttime catches of big stripers falling for his famous eel rigs in the Taunton River. Tom Houde has landed 346” of stripers for The Striper Cup, placing him solidly in first place with second place angler Mike Kelly of Portland, Ct. with 344”. By this printing, those numbers surely will have increased. Captain Robbie Taylor of Newport Sport Fishing Charters put sport Phil Capaldi on a beast of a striper on a bluebird day. Captain Taylor and his enviable beard has been rewarding clients with limits of blackfish and has moved smoothly into a very strong bass season.
“The 13″ Hogy Blamber paired with a 12/0 barbarian swim bait, slow twitch, retrieved in skinny water was deadly,” said the not to be outdone Randy Degrace who released the weakfish to bring in two giant stripers on his go-to Hogy baits. Randy has been cleaning up in some shallow waters on northern reaches of The Bay after sunset that could use some cleaning up for sure.
Jason Anctil is finding fat largemouth and fat Narragansett Bay striped bass
“Yesterday was my very best day of striper fishing ever. I had five fish, only one was a slot/keeper fish. Everything else was over slot. The biggest was 44″ long and weighed 33 pounds. So awesome to catch, take a few pictures, and watch her swim free!” So said Jason Anctil because if there are fish around, Jason will find them. And because he’s always, “One bite away.” With a busy work and family schedule, largemouth are usually his target but with so much fine weather, he went to sea with live pogies and had a record book day on Narragansett Bay.
Big bass are flooding into Boston Harbor and points north. Cape Cod’s local fly fishing ace at Fish Northeast’s tackle stores in Plymouth and Green Harbor, Jonathan Fallow, is easing into retirement on his new boat, the Knot II Blue, finding large stripers up to 40” and is itching to swing his new 14 weight fly rod when tuna arrive. Captain Jon Fischbein of Maine’s Great Salt Charters has been finding stripers in 51 degree waters with Shimano Coltsniper Jerk 5.5” 140F plastics in green mackerel patterns. It’s a great sign to see decent sized fish that far north in early June; hopefully local baits will stay local so not all those big cows go north for the summer.
Flat fish have been tough to find but they are on top of sand eels in fifty feet of water, or so. Most reports are of a few around the usual Bay islands, a few falling for squid strips and a few more than hoped being under keeper size. Sandy spots around Block Island seem to be producing some larger fluke and numbers are increasing with a few days of rising water temperatures.
Then there’s Greg Vespe. Good Lord.
Just when you thought the fluke bite was weak, Greg shows us all how it’s done. Well done Greg, well done.
With fair weather holding tight, it’s time to fish Rhode Island or get on the road.