Fishing the Narrow River, Rhode Island

Howard Reed fights a Narrow River school bass from a marsh bank just below the Sprague Bridge. Photo Tom Richardson

The Narrow River (aka, Pattaquamscutt River) flows north to south for six miles through the towns of Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. The river is tidal from its headwaters at the Gilbert Stewart Dam, at the outflow of Carr Pond, to its mouth at the northern end of Narragansett Beach. And most of it offers great fishing!

A selection of flies that will get the attention of fall schoolies. Photo Tom Richardson

The main quarry for most Narrow River fishermen is striped bass. While large stripers can be caught as far north as Upper Pond—a 70-foot-deep glacial hole just below the dam—the most consistent action occurs from Middle Bridge to the river mouth. This stretch also affords the best shore-fishing access.

According to local expert Howard Reed, former owner of Galilee Bait & Tackle, fall striper action ramps up as the river fills with bait and boating traffic dwindles. Indeed, October and November are Reed’s favorite months to fish the river, as well as the best time to take a large fish. As a bonus, hickory shad are also available inside the river at this time.

Reed, an avid fly fisherman, relies primarily on 1/0 Half-and-Halfs and Clouser Minnows in chartreuse/white, olive/white and all-white. Much depends on the available forage, of course, so he also carries juvenile herring flies and sparse sand eel patterns for when these species are the prey du jour. Intermediate and sink-tip lines fished on 8- and 9-weight rods do the job in most cases. Reed also recommends all-black patterns after dark, and he has had success with mole crab patterns in the surf just outside the river mouth.

A bass swirls on the surface in the lower river. Photo Tom Richardson

Reed prefers high water for fishing the river, timing his trips around the last hour or so of the incoming tide and the first two hours of the outgoing. He believes that a lot of the bigger fish move inside the river with the incoming then drop back to the mouth as the bait is flushed out on the ebb.

It’s important to note the considerable difference—usually two hours—between the forecast tide in the ocean and the water level inside the river. Strong winds from the east or west can also affect water levels and currents. Further confounding things is heavy rainfall, which can muddy the river and fill it with grass, debris and an overabundance of fresh water. Reed advises waiting a few days for the river to clear following a storm.

Fishing from a skiff, kayak and canoe is a great way to cover a lot of water and work many different spots along the river. You can launch or rent a kayak at Narrow River Kayaks at Middle Bridge (open until October) then work your way toward the river mouth, targeting rocks, cut banks, pilings, deep holes and shoal edges along the way. Just be sure to factor in the strength of the wind and/or current, which can make for a strenuous return trip.

Farther south, a prime spot to launch a kayak or canoe is Sprague Bridge, which offers 24-hour parking on either side of the span and provides quick access to the last mile of the river. It’s also a great place to fish from shore, as the broad marsh bank south of the bridge offers plenty of room for backcasts.

Reed releases a small bass taken on fly. Photo Tom Richardson

As mentioned, the mouth of the river often produces outstanding action, as bass and bluefish often stack up in the channel or along the nearby beachfront. In the fall, schools of mullet often run the shore here, pursued by large stripers. The river mouth can also attract false albacore in the fall.

Access to this area can be gained via the parking lot at the Narragansett Town Beach, although be prepared to walk a half-mile to the inlet. The lot closes at 8:00 p.m. in summer, so you’ll need leave by that time or spend the night. If you want to fish after hours, you can park along the road outside the gate, but this lengthens the walk to a mile.

The mouth of the river fishes best from the top of the high tide to about mid-low, according to Reed. Prime times are sunrise and at night, especially during the summer.

Fishing the mouth demands caution, especially when the river is dumping water against the surf. Know what you’re doing, wear a PFD, and fish with a partner. Attempting to navigate the surf here in a kayak or small boat is inviting disaster, and plenty of people have gotten into trouble here.