Dog Day Dogma
July 15, 2020
Don’t let the summer doldrums get you down! Try these warm-water tactics and you can enjoy action with a variety of game fish in Narragansett Bay through the steamy months.
By Captain Dave Monti
It’s midsummer and the heat is on. It’s the dog days of summer, the period between July and August when the water temperature in Narragansett Bay can climb to 75 degrees—and even higher in the shallow coves and salt ponds.
When the water gets that warm, compounded by poor flushing of the bay’s north-facing coves, the oxygen level drops and fishing in many areas can be challenging, to say the least.
So, what’s a summer angler to do?
As a charter captain, I’ve often had to find fish for customers during the toughest conditions, so I know it can be done. Here’s some advice on beating the heat in Narragansett Bay.
Fish Where the Fish Are
A major key to catching fish during summer is water movement. The bay water is warm, so you have to fish areas that are flushed often and feature deep structure or “edges.” This includes channel drop-offs, bridge abutments, rock clusters, jetties, outcrops, points of land and wrecks, preferably in 20 feet of water or more.
The deep shipping channels, from the southern tip of Prudence Island to Providence, serve as “fish highways” as they sweep baitfish in and out of the bay. Productive spots with good current flow include Warwick Point, Providence Point, Sandy Point, the T-Wharf on the southern end of Prudence Island, Popasquash Point in Bristol, Sally’s Rock in Greenwich Bay and Quonset Point in North Kingstown. The Jamestown and Newport Bridge abutments also serve as fish magnets, as they are washed by swift currents and provide good structure for game fish and their prey.
Perhaps the best way to score during the height and heat of summer is to target bottom fish such as black sea bass, scup and summer flounder (fluke). This can be great fun for the entire family, and may even yield some fish for the table. Bottom fishing can be done while drifting or anchored over structure. Moving water is most important, which is why I like to fish two hours before or after high tide. Some of my favorite places to bottom fish during the dog days are the waters off Warwick Neck Light, Providence Point, the northern tip of Prudence Island and the T-Wharf.
Another good spot to anchor is General Ledge, a third of a mile northeast of the Jamestown Bridge. The current here is strong, and the ledge sits in about 30 feet of water, surrounded by 45- to 60-foot depths. This is one of my go-to places to catch scup and sea bass when I have children onboard and need to hold their interest. Similar ledges, humps and rock piles are scattered throughout the bay. Indeed, it’s often rewarding to study a chart and investigate likely areas where the bottom rises to within 20 or 30 feet of the surface from much deeper water. These spots almost always hold bait and game fish.
Drifting under and around the Jamestown and Newport Bridges can also be a great way to score with fluke and sea bass. A favorite spot is the area just south of Rose Island in 20 to 30 feet of water, near the G C “1” can, where the water drops abruptly to 60 then 90 feet. The rocky bottom on the south side of Rose Island, closer to shore, also holds scup and sea bass in summer.
Fishing for fluke below the Newport Bridge can be good, too. Depending on the wind and current, I will fish either the north or south side of the bridge. Both ends of the bridge are productive. The idea is to stay close to the bridge abutments at the start or end of the drift. Strikes often occur along depth breaks and where the current is strongest.
Best Tackle, Rigs & Bait
The tackle side of the equation is pretty simple. All you need is a double-hook (high-low) rig above a bank sinker, or a standard fluke rig on a three-way setup. You can buy pre-made scup, sea bass and fluke rigs at most tackle shops for about three to five dollars apiece.
The natural bait you’ll need is readily available, too; seaworms, squid or clams will all do the job. I often start out with multiple rigs and bait types, with each angler fishing a different bait until we figure out which one the fish want. Only use small pieces of bait when fishing for scup and sea bass. Both species are master bait-stealers, so you need to set the hook quickly when you feel them tapping.
When targeting fluke, I believe in larger baits. I typically fish three- to five-inch strips of squid, with some other type of natural bait to hold the squid in place, such as strips of fluke belly, bluefish, sea robin or scup—basically, whatever incidental species I happen to catch that day.
For summer bottom fishing, I generally use light tackle. Spinning or conventional reels matched to light- to medium-weight rods and 15- to 20-pound-test braided line is all you need. Use just enough weight to hold bottom.
Dog Day Blues & Bass
To catch bluefish and striped bass during the summer months, the same rules apply: find a combination of structure and moving water. However, it’s also critical to locate a concentration of bait, be it juvenile menhaden (peanut bunker), bay anchovies, silversides or adult menhaden (bunker, pogies).
I’ve had great success by trolling tube lures on leadcore line and weighted with a one- to two-ounce keel sinker rigged between the line and a five-foot monofilament leader. The keel sinker helps get the lure down to where the fish are holding, and also prevents line twist. I find that red, amber or bubblegum-colored tubes work best, especially when the hook is tipped with a live seaworm.
Tube-and-worm trolling works well along the steep channel edges at Popasquash Point off Bristol and the fast-moving water off Conimicut Point. Once again, you need to be there when the water is moving, not at high or low tide. The best period is two hours before or after slack water. Trolling in Greenwich Bay works well for bluefish, especially in the northern part of the bay along the 15-foot contour line. The waters off Sally Rock, on the south side of Greenwich Bay, are also worth trolling. The edges of Ohio Ledge, which extends north of Prudence Island, can hold fish as well.
Live eels are one of the most effective summer baits for stripers, day or night. Hook the eel through the roof of its mouth and out one eye. I use circle hooks, which generally catch in the corner of the fish’s mouth, making release much easier. Some good spots to drift eels for summer bass include the jetty at Coddington Cove in Middletown, the Newport Bridge abutments, Brenton Reef and Seal Ledge.
Live menhaden and scup are other top summer baits. The latter can be caught on small pieces of squid fished over hard bottom or rock piles, but need to be of legal size to use for bait. Menhaden can be snagged with a weighted treble hook or gathered with a castnet. With menhaden, hook the bait through the bridge of its nose and let it swim around with the bait school. You can also anchor and chum the fish in with chunks of bait, or drift chunks of cut menhaden or scup around the bait schools. Some anglers use a nylon fishfinder weighted with a bank sinker to get their chunks to the bottom in deep water.
No matter what technique you go with, fishing early in the morning—preferably before dawn—will yield the best results during the summer dog days. Also, don’t forget to try different spots, and look for new places that other anglers run past on the way to so-called greener pastures. These could be summer day-savers for years to come!