BLOCK PARTY

An­glers Hunt Gi­ant Stripers and Chase Bluefin off This Iconic North­east Is­land

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Dave Morel

“This one felt dif­fer­ent,” my friend Chris Duva told me. Duva and his bud­dies had al­ready caught sev­eral good-size striped bass that sum­mer evening off Rhode Is­land, but then he hooked into some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent: “This one peeled line off the reel much more eas­ily than the oth­ers.”

The cap­tain tried to po­si­tion the boat di­rectly over the fish, Duva re­lated. But the fish had other ideas. The drag sang as the rel­a­tively light braid dis­ap­peared into dark wa­ters.

“I didn’t want to lose this fish be­cause I just knew I had my per­sonal-best striper on the other end,” he con­tin­ued. “I tried to stay fo­cused as I fought the fish but wor­ried about the jagged rocks and sharp ledges be­low.”

Fi­nally, af­ter a stress­ful 15 min­utes, Duva saw a flash be­low, il­lu­mi­nated by the boat’s T-top lights. “I inched the fish closer to the sur­face, and the cap­tain fi­nally lunged and net­ted my big­gest striper ever. The fish hit the deck, and we all stared at this beau­ti­ful mid-40-pounder. That’s why we come to Block Is­land!”

STRIPED BASS MECCA

Pop­u­lar with tourists, and ac­ces­si­ble only by boat, 10-square-mile Block Is­land sits 12 miles south of the Rhode Is­land port of Point Ju­dith. It’s also very ac­ces­si­ble from Mon­tauk, New York, re­quir­ing only a 14-mile run north and west to reach the is­land. Sum­mer is usu­ally the time most an­glers head to Block Is­land, but fall can be just as pro­duc­tive. In fact, we’ve caught fish as late as Oc­to­ber.

Block has al­ways been a great striped bass des­ti­na­tion, but over the past seven or eight years, fish­ing for huge tro­phy bass has ex­ploded. Science-based the­o­ries sug­gest that mul­ti­ple ro­bust year classes have con­trib­uted to this suc­cess; sev­eral fish over 60 pounds are caught in Block’s wa­ters each year.

When I was a kid grow­ing up and fish­ing the wa­ters of New Eng­land with my dad, I read about many le­gendary striped bass lo­ca­tions in the pages of fish­ing mag­a­zines and dreamed about vis­it­ing those spots one day. They in­cluded: Plum Is­land and Cut­ty­hunk, Mas­sachusetts; Race Point at Cape Cod; Mon­tauk; the Hud­son River; and the Chesapeake Bay.

Block Is­land re­cently joined that list of elite des­ti­na­tions. Block is one of the few places on the planet where an an­gler not only can po­ten­tially sur­pass the revered 50-pound mark, but also have a le­git­i­mate shot at land­ing a world record. How­ever, catch­ing a fish of this

enor­mous stature is never easy, no mat­ter where and how you fish for them.

Block holds two fa­vored hot spots for an­glers. On the north side, the well-known North Reef ex­tends from the is­land to­ward Rhode Is­land’s main­land. This sandy shoal pro­duces great rips at the peak of the in­com­ing and out­go­ing tides where fish can am­bush bait. The sur­round­ing depth changes from 70 feet to 30 feet, and then up to 13 feet. Good num­bers of fish can be caught by drift­ing eels or squid-im­i­tat­ing ar­ti­fi­cials, and some­times even by ver­ti­cal-jig­ging big irons.

Slam­mer blue­fish also move into these rips in July, and jump-start some fan­tas­tic topwater ac­tion and bot­tom­fish­ing. Also, North Reef — and all of Block Is­land — lies a mere 40 miles from the lo­ca­tion in Long Is­land Sound where Greg My­er­son caught the cur­rent all-tackle world-record striper of 81-plus pounds in 2011.

On the other end of the is­land sits the

renowned South­west Ledge. A first glance at your chart plot­ter sim­ply shows the South­west Ledge as an area some­what shal­lower than its sur­round­ing wa­ters. How­ever, depths out­side the ledge drop to about 70 feet, jump­ing up to about 35 feet on the ledge. When an­glers fish there for the first time, they’re shocked to find fast-mov­ing cur­rents, con­fused waves and of­ten-gi­ant swells. This is not an area for small boats or the weak of heart.

On the bot­tom lie jagged ledges, rocky ar­eas and big boul­ders — all per­fect habi­tat for am­bush-feed­ing stripers, and all prime for wreak­ing havoc upon fish­er­men and their tackle. If the stripers co­op­er­ate and feed at the sur­face dur­ing day­light hours, fish­ing can be fast, fu­ri­ous and amaz­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, that’s rarely the case. Most of the time, the big­ger fish hang out in their rocky liv­ing rooms and lazily wait for din­ner to flow to them in the swift cur­rents.

METHOD TO MAD­NESS

The cap­tains who con­sis­tently catch fish over 30 or 40 pounds at the South­west Ledge try to po­si­tion their boats di­rectly over pro­duc­tive ledges and boul­der fields so the lines work straight up and down. When a fish hits, the an­gler can fight the fish ver­ti­cally and not be hand­i­capped by a lot of scope that can drag over the bar­na­cle-en­crusted rocks.

A typ­i­cal tackle setup would in­clude a 5000- to 8000-size spin­ning reel, medium or medium-heavy 7-foot rod, 30-pound braid, and a 40-pound fluoro­car­bon leader with 1 to 3 ounces of weight and a 5/0 cir­cle hook. But some suc­cess­ful an­glers choose lighter 20-pound main line and 30-pound fluoro­car­bon lead­ers — much lighter than ever tra­di­tion­ally imag­ined for this type of fish­ing. I know one cap­tain who uses only very light 15-pound braided line with no leader at all.

“There are a num­ber of tech­niques used to tar­get and land these large fish, rang­ing from trolling ex­tra-large ar­ti­fi­cials [such as para­chute jigs, um­brella rigs, tube lures and bunker spoons] on wire line to light-tackle drift­ing live or nat­u­ral baits over spe­cific struc­ture,” says well-known Block Is­land char­ter cap­tain Jack Spren­gel. “The most suc­cess­ful cap­tains and crews un­der­stand how to adapt their pre­sen­ta­tions to the spe­cific and sub­tle in­flu­ence that dif­fer­ent phases of the tide can have on fish, for­age and struc­ture alike. They get very spe­cific with de­tails.”

Some cap­tains even switch from braid to mono to avoid higher-pitch har­mon­ics in strong cur­rents, Spren­gel says. In some cases, an­glers trim down to the light­est lead­ers, hooks and weights when large bass feed higher in the water col­umn on smaller baits dur­ing the less-in­tense moon phases.

“The key fac­tor in all meth­ods, when tar­get­ing sub­sur­face-hold­ing stripers, is main­tain­ing both a con­stant phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to your pre­sen­ta­tion and a men­tal un­der­stand­ing of where your bait is as it re­lates to the con­tour of the struc­ture be­low,” Spren­gel con­tin­ues. “Be­ing con­stantly aware of your pre­sen­ta­tion al­lows the an­gler to ad­just to changes in the bot­tom like snags or drop-offs and to be pre­pared for the mixed bag of ‘takes’ a striped bass can of­fer.”

Some­times, 50-plus-pound bass do lit­tle more than open their large bucket mouths, cre­at­ing a vac­uum that eas­ily in­hales the bait.

The an­gler feels only a tap or light thump on the rod tip. “Other times we’ve seen a few dead­sticked rods in rod hold­ers, fish­ing an eel from a prop­erly po­si­tioned boat on the drift get smashed down­ward by fish in the mid-30- to low 40-pound class so hard that even some of the high­est-qual­ity rods ex­plode.”

Re­gard­less of the type of take, at some point dur­ing the fight, a striped bass en­gages in a blis­ter­ing power run be­fore set­tling in, hope­fully straight be­low the boat. That run makes or breaks a catch, Spren­gel says. Us­ing its huge tail, large head and all of its shear body mass, “it makes a nerve-rack­ing long run, of­ten down­cur­rent, swim­ming up and over or down into any rocky snags or struc­ture it can find. Trust me, this will fully test your tackle and your an­gling abil­ity,” he says.

Proper boat han­dling, ag­gres­sive an­gling tech­niques and a fast-act­ing crew are key when one of these freight trains de­cides to head for the hori­zon.

De­spite his 30 years of striped bass fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Spren­gel says the species never ceases to amaze him. “Their abil­ity to adapt to dif­fer­ent sources of prey, water con­di­tions and com­pletely dif­fer­ent bod­ies of water is sec­ond to no other species on the planet,” he says. “Just by trav­el­ing a hun­dred-or-so-mile stretch of shore­line in New Eng­land alone, you can tar­get these fish us­ing dozens of re­gion­ally spe­cific tech­niques, each al­low­ing for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of this ma­jes­tic game fish.”

WHILE YOU’RE THERE

Although not nearly as ex­cit­ing to catch as big stripers, de­li­cious black sea bass and scup (por­gies) have shown up around Block Is­land in huge num­bers and in huge di­men­sions. One morn­ing when the striper bite shut down, I switched to medium-size con­ven­tional out­fits spooled with 20-pound braid, and dropped down small ver­ti­cal jigs and fluke squid rigs. We caught sea bass af­ter sea bass and lim­ited on fish in the 20-inch range.

An­other ad­van­tage of Block Is­land’s lo­ca­tion is its prox­im­ity to pro­duc­tive off­shore fish­ing. Pop­u­lar shark fish­ing lo­ca­tions lie about 20 to 30 miles from the is­land. The deeper wa­ters of

the off­shore canyons — such as Block Canyon, At­lantis Canyon and oth­ers — lie about 95 miles off­shore. These 1,600-plus-foot-deep canyons can pro­duce epic catches of yel­lowfin tuna, mahimahi, white mar­lin and even sword­fish dur­ing sum­mer.

In ad­di­tion to those pelagic species, bluefin tuna from 50 to 350 pounds mi­grate off Block Is­land in early sum­mer. Pop­u­lar spots in­clude the Dump, the Gully, the In­side Fin­gers, Coxes and Gor­don’s Gully — the clos­est of these lies about 20 miles off Block.

De­pend­ing on the time of year and pres­ence of bait, bluefin can be caught on any­thing from trolled spreader bars to trolled bal­ly­hoo. My all-time-fa­vorite method is run­ning-and­gun­ning to break­ing fish us­ing heavy spin­ning gear and pop­pers or soft plas­tics like Hogy baits and Ron Z baits. This type of fish­ing can be spec­tac­u­lar as fish ex­plode from the depths to blow up on your of­fer­ings.

In my opin­ion, cast­ing to big tuna, es­pe­cially when they’re hit­ting topwater baits, trumps ev­ery other type of salt­wa­ter fish­ing. It tests your tackle, en­durance and fish­ing skill, and can be the most re­ward­ing way to fish.

Whether you tar­get big stripers, gi­ant tuna or tasty bot­tom­fish, do your­self a fa­vor and plan a bucket-list trip to Block Is­land this year. You might just make the catch of your life­time.

ABOUT THE AU­THOR

Dave Morel is the pub­lisher of Sport Fish­ing and

Salt Water Sports­man, and an avid salt­wa­ter fish­er­man and en­thu­si­ast. He lives in Mas­sachusetts and has been fish­ing since he took the train­ing wheels off his bike.

Block’s two pri­mary hot spots for stripers in­clude North Reef, a sandy shoal that ex­tends off the north side of the is­land, and the South­west Ledge, where the bot­tom is jagged and boul­der-strewn, and the depth drops to 70 feet.

Tro­phy bass, like the beast above, can be read­ily found off Block. The all-tackle-record — an 81-plus-pounder — was caught in nearby Long Is­land Sound.

Ac­ces­si­ble only by boat, Block Is­land en­com­passes 10 square miles. Its orig­i­nal res­i­dents were the Nar­ra­gansett In­di­ans, but it was named af­ter a Dutch ex­plorer.

Block Is­land has al­ways been a top-notch striped bass des­ti­na­tion, with plenty of re­spectable fish like this one. But re­cent suc­cess­ful year classes have in­creased the odds of catch­ing a true gi­ant in the 40-plus-pound range.

Right: Old Har­bor lies on the east­ern side of the is­land and is more of a ferry port with some moor­ing op­tions and fa­cil­i­ties. New Har­bor lies on the western side. Both ports put you close to the fish­ing ac­tion.

The typ­i­cal tackle class for stripers at Block is 30-pound-test, though some cap­tains go lighter — as light as 15-pound. Left: Dur­ing sum­mer, bluefin tuna mi­grate past Block, com­ing as close as 20 miles. An­glers catch 50- to 350-pounders.

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