Block Island Light Tackle Stripers

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Block Island fishing regulars are no doubt familiar with Captain Chris Willi, who runs Block Island Fishworks near New Harbor. Willi is also an accomplished guide who specializes in pursuing stripers, blues, albies and bonito on light gear around the island, and he has some good advice for anglers who want to catch striped bass on light spin and casting gear.

“The specific spots that hold fish change every year,” he says. “In the past few years, the fish have been all around the island. Therefore, you have to move around to find them. On my boat, we’ll hit every point, cove and boulder pile as we work around the island. The island is only 10 square miles, so we can cover the entire shoreline in a half-day trip.”

Willi reveals that the east beaches, which are ignored by most fishermen, can produce excellent action in the early season, plus the area is protected from winds from the west and southwest. He likes to set up in less than 15 feet of water around areas of eelgrass beds and fan-cast topwaters lures such as Zara Spooks, Super Strike Needlefish, pencil poppers and big soft-plastics such as Slug-Gos and Fin-S-Fish. Top colors include bone, pink-and-white, rust and charteuse. Swimming plugs such as the A-Salt Bomber in yellow-over-white can also be productive.

Cape Cod Sand eelSince a primary forage of bass in the spring is sand eels, he especially likes the soft-plastic Cape Cod Sand Eel, rigged on a one-ounce jighead. Bouncing this lure along the sandy bottom and over eelgrass patches can produce fast action off the beaches. Best colors are pearl or bone, rainbow trout, olive-over-white and bubblegum.

The same lure will also work when fish are stacked up along the North Rip. However, if you have a small boat, only fish the rip on a calm day, as it can be dangerous. If conditions allow, you can have one crewmember stem the tide ahead of the rip while the angler hops a jig or fly through the rip in 10 to 15 feet of water. The bass will usually be ganged up on the backside of the rip.

Other early-season hot spots include the edges of the Coast Guard channel leading to the Great Salt Pond and the numerous boulders along the island’s south shore. However, be careful when working the shallow stones, especially if a swell is running.

Once water temperature climbs above 70 degrees, fishing the shallows becomes a pre-dawn game. However, mid-day action can still be had in deeper areas such as Southwest Ledge and the West Ground. In the latter area, Willi drifts in 30 to 80 feet of water using soft-plastics rigged on 1 ½-ounce jigs. With jigs this light, you have to cast well ahead of the drift so that your jig can reach bottom by the time you are directly over it.

Whether he’s casting or jigging, Willi prefers spinning gear. He uses Penn Battle II reels filled with 20- to 30-pound braid and a three- to four-foot wind-on leader. The rod is a seven-foot, two-inch Shimano Terez rated for 20- to 50-pound test or a seven- to seven-foot, six-inch, medium-heavy Tica.

Willi adds that the clear water surrounding Block Island often demands the use of light leaders. In other words, if you start getting refusals on 20-pound fluorocarbon, try scaling down to 12- or 15-pound test.

For late-breaking fishing information on Block Island, drop by Block Island Fishworks or give them a call at (401) 466-5392. As mentioned, Willi and his staff can arrange for half-day and full-day fishing charters, as well as action-packed variety trips for the whole family. — Tom Richardson