A number of years ago I had the fortune of connecting with “Iron” Mike Everin and Pete Graeber down in Newport, RI. The conversation focused on strategies for finding success along Rhode Island’s rocky shoreline. At the time of our conversation, Mike and Pete mainly focused their fishing on the rocks of Newport and surrounding areas, but their thoughts and strategies work for any of the rocks along the Ocean State and beyond.
Mike finds more bait, fish and action along the rocky shoreline from Narragansett up to the Massachusetts border. Stripers have a wide diet when it comes to food in the rocks; if herring or bunker are not around, stripers don’t have to worry because they can feast on crabs, lobster, scup, blackfish, cunner and more. Lobster pots found close to shore are a good area to fish as this means there is structure that holds a wide variety of bait.
When scouting areas, Google Earth has long been a tool used for highlighting specific rock structures. “Rocks never change. Whether it’s 10 years or 100 years, they’re going to be there and so will the fish,” said Pete.
Time on the water makes a huge difference. Mike and Pete urge anglers to go fishing as much as possible to learn the patterns, tides, bait and fish movements. Anglers who are on the water regularly can uncover and capitalize on patterns and opportunities. These situations can be hard to experience when only fishing once a week.
Both anglers situated their homes within easy reach of the water so they can take advantage of a hot bite. Mike jokes that if fishermen don’t live within five minutes of the water, they should move closer. He knows how tough it can be to catch fish if one is not on the water night after night, which really is required for consistent catching.
Timing is critical for success. Pete has some spots that are only productive for 20 minutes, so he will run out at night when the tide is right and be back to catch the tail end of a 30-minute newscast on television. This is why it’s so important to fish regularly, to learn a spot, learn the tides, currents, bait movements and know how and when the fish will be in the area. If either guy has a good night, he will fish that spot three to four nights in a row to capitalize on the fish holding in the area.
Neither angler wants to waste time casting around. Unless there are rocks, drop-offs or other forms of structure, these two want to maximize their time and focus on specific spots. Of course, these spots took time to learn. Mike recommends scouting spots before fishing them, at different phases of the tide, look at the spot at low tide, mid tide and high tide. Learn the movement of the water, watch the bait and look for safe landing spots that are easy to access while fighting a fish. Look for rocks, rips and white water. Uncover three or four of these types of spots in one area and then fish them for three to four nights in a row. If the spots don’t produce after three to four nights, move to other spots.
Look for edges where there may be rips and white water; look for drop-offs and fish those edges. A great example is a rocky point. Mike casts along the edges of the point, working his lures in the whiter water where bass will be searching for an easy meal. He’s not going to aimlessly cast out into the wide-open deep water.
Focus on specific spots. For instance, when the water starts to splash over a specific rock, Pete likes to focus on a zone within 10 feet or so around that rock. He also watches how the water moves and figures out the best angle to cast to the specific rock and work the lure in the zone. He calls this precision casting.
When it comes to fishing specific spots, Mike waits for the spot. He knows if a spot will be holding a fish and when it will be prime fishing in a particular spot. Pete fishes the same way; for his precision casting, he says often a specific rock will only be productive from one particular angle as the fish hold in one specific area around a rock during specific tides, such as the down-current side of a rock. The fish will take the offering so long as it’s within the fish’s zone of comfort and hunger.
Both anglers say they don’t waste too much time fan casting; rather they will pinpoint their spots and work them until they either catch one or two fish or are confident that no fish are hanging around at that point. Up to about two hours, they recommend moving on to the next spot.
As mentioned above, Mike prefers to have three to four spots in a specific town/area. It’s also important to learn more spots to have in your back pocket, in case nothing is happening in those other spots. He says that each town generally has three to four good spots for producing larger fish, and many others that are so-so. By fishing with friends, especially experienced anglers, you can level up your catch rates by covering more water and learning the ins-and-outs of specific areas.
So if you are scouting new towns, try to focus on three to four areas, paying attention to bait, tides, water movement, structure, what others may be catching and any other specifics that will help you improve while fishing. Of course, when moving into others’ areas, be respectful of how you fish if other anglers are already fishing there.
The waters around Newport, Jamestown and Narragansett are deeper and drop off more quickly than down in South County. Rocks in those areas provide easy access for the fish to feed, and easy ambush spots for stripers to hang close to where the bait is, hidden by the depths. The deeper water also provides fish with an easy escape route if needed.
One of Mike’s top times for fishing is right before sunset into dark. During the last half-hour of light before the sun sets, he finds the fish responsive to big plugs as they generate a lot of commotion and attention.
As for the lures and bait these guys will be carrying, it most likely changes depending upon the bait, tides, season, etc. At the time of our discussion, some of their mainstays included needlefish (both floating and sinking), Dannys and other metal-lipped plugs, bottle plugs around currents and outflows, Storm Shads for bouncing along the bottom and other soft plastics, metals and bucktails. Of course, ultimately it depends upon the location, too.
Mike works his lures faster in the deeper water and slows them down as they approach structure. Baitfish are nervous in deeper water because they have nowhere to hide from the larger predators. Stripers set up ambush spots on the edges where deep water meets the shallows, around rocks, rips and grass lines.
When fishing the rocks, Mike recommends heavy tackle to manage and land big fish. There is no room for light-tackle gear in this type of fishing. Anglers have to want to land fish, meaning while they scope out areas to fish, look for safe landing spots as highlighted above. Also, have the proper foot gear. The right cleats will make all the difference to keep one from slipping. And it’s good to fish with a partner to help with landing big fish or anything else.
There’s a lot more to scoring success in the rocks along the Ocean State, but these insights should help you start to improve your catch rates considerably. As many of us are guests in the state, be courteous to the residents – especially those who live along the water – don’t trespass, and don’t make a lot of noise or leave garbage behind. Be quiet and respectful, or access to the fishing locations could become closed.