Windfall Profits

Block Island has always been a fishy place, surrounded as it is by boulders, reefs, sand shoals, mussel beds and other features that support a variety of inshore species, from striped bass to flounder. It’s not as if anglers need more incentive to fish “The Block,” but the 2016 installation of five wind turbines some three miles off the island’s southeast shore has raised the stakes considerably, as I discovered on a fall trip in 2017. My guide was longtime charter captain and Block Island Fishworks owner Chris Willi, who had graciously agreed to show me how the wind turbines were already attracting fish—sea bass, scup, fluke and bluefish—a little over one year after being installed. They are also attracting tourists, which pay good money to get an up-close look at America’s first offshore wind farm.

A brace sea bass taken from the towers. Photo AJ Derosa

As Willi explained, the turbine towers serve as fish-aggregating devices. It all starts with the growth of mussels and aquatic vegetation, which covered the tower legs shortly after they were installed on the seafloor. The growth provides a ready source of food and shelter for small fish, which in turn attract the attention of larger predators—namely black sea bass, striped bass, tautog, bluefish, false albacore and fluke. In future years, Willi expects the towers to also attract tuna and even mahi.

Fishing in the shadow of the giant towers and their turning blades is a surreal experience. Photo Tom Richardson

Currently, the towers are a sea bass hot spot, and we caught dozens of fish on metal jigs fished just above bottom on conventional gear. Curiously, the first tower we fished only held small sea bass, so we moved to the next one and started catching keepers. Apparently, the sea bass often school by size, so it pays to keep moving until you find some larger fish. Also, you never know when you’ll discover a school of stripers, bluefish or albies, which are also attracted to the structure.

There are no restrictions on fishing near the towers, although anglers need to make way for the boats that service the turbines. Also, Willi cautions anglers to keep their distance when they see workers on the platforms above, as a tool dropped from a height of 300 feet could prove deadly.

If bottom fishing isn’t your bag, trolling plugs and wire line around the turbine can produce big bluefish and the occasional striped bass. Live baits can also be drifted around the towers with good results.

To fish the wind farm with Capt. Chris Willi, contact Block Island Fishworks, (401) 466-5392 or (401) 742-3992.