On the Rhody South Shore, there’s no such thing as “too rough” for surf stripers.
Fall storms and big blows can deliver some of the best surf fishing of the year. They can suddenly transform a placid and fishless oceanfront into a wild sea of wind-driven surf that is alive with bait and feeding stripers. It is that stretch of Rhode Island oceanfront, often referred to as ‘the South Shore’, that sees some of the best stormy fishing in late fall as masses of baitfish and stripers migrate southward along this section of coast.
The South Shore is a unique stretch encompassing roughly 20 miles of beachfront that stretches from Narragansett to Westerly. Its uniqueness lies in its varied terrain. You’ll find stretches of sandy beach, rockpiles and boulder fields, mussel-bedded cobble bars, breachways that empty coastal ponds and prominent points that offer fishing from multiple directions. Fall storms will greatly affect where you can fish and the South Shore diversity gives you lots of choices as well as reliable access.
Many fishermen make the mistake of shying away from stormy weather. “Too rough” are often the words spoken from novice fishermen when stormy weather arrives. My response is that it is never too rough as there is always good and safe fishing to be had if you know where to look. In my experience rough seas and a wind-driven, white water surf often lights up a shoreline. It’s almost as if the charged up weather charges up the fish.
My strategies for fishing stormy fall weather centers around two key factors; location and presentation. Finding a place that you can fish safely and where there are likely to be stripers feeding is the location piece. Then you have to figure out how to present your lure in the spot and it has to be something that can cut through the wind and hang in the surf; that’s the presentation part.
A Stormy Example
In the cycle of a big fall storm, which is usually a nor’easter, it is the beginning of the storm that usually offers the most productive fishing. I remember one such event that happened a few years ago that I call “the snowstorm blitz”. It was mid-November and the fishing had been slow for a week or so. The forecast the night before had called for rain turning to snow as a nor’easter barreled up the coast. When I got up that morning it was a balmy 60 degrees and the forecast suddenly changed as the snow was forecast to arrive much later. I just knew this would be a big day, so I got all my stuff in the truck and headed to my spot along the Narragansett shoreline.
When I got there, it was still warm with a freshening southeast wind and light rain. I got my gear on and walked down to the shore. There I was greeted by flocks of birds diving. The water was dark with bait as far out as I could see. Masses of peanut bunker were moving along the shore with striper whirls here and there. I snapped on my wooden egg and bucktail jig combo and began fishing. It was fish after fish with the majority of the fish hefty schoolies along with some keepers in the mix.
After an hour or so into it, I noticed the temperature beginning to drop as the increasing wind started to turn to the northeast. The surf also picked up with white water everywhere. I kept fishing and catching on just about every cast as the fishing intensity increased with the nasty weather. As the afternoon wore on, the wind got stronger and the air got colder, and it began to snow. At this point my hands were so cold I was afraid I would let the rod go on the cast. I left a pile of fish and headed back to my truck. It was a long, slow ride back home with several inches of snow piled up on the roads in the evening rush hour.
As an addendum to this story, I returned to this fishing location the next day. By now, the storm had passed and there was now a big blow from the northwest. The water was still rolling but it was roiled with sand and weed. There was not a bird in sight, no bait and no fish to be had. The beginning of this storm produced the best fishing as it usually does.
Dealing With Dirt
One issue with fall storms is that they can really roil up the water with sand and weed, rendering the surf unfishable. The start of the storm will always offer the cleanest water. Sandy beachfronts are especially vulnerable to sandy water. If I am fishing a fall storm with the wind in my face I tend to head to rocky locations along the oceanfront. In those places you will find the cleanest fishable water.
The South Shore also features several breachways or outflows that drain the many coastal ponds that exist along this stretch. These flows offer clean water on the outgoing tides regardless of the roughness. These places can also offer great fishing but are often crowded with fishermen. Safety also becomes an issue on the breachway jetties as a pounding surf and big waves can set up a dangerous situation. Proceed in these places with extreme caution. One safe place I like to fish in a storm is inside the breachway. Many fishermen ignore the places “in back” but these can be very productive and safer bets than the rough water out front. They can also be very productive spots in the daytime as well as at night.
The other key to fishing fall storms is using the right stuff. This is not a time for light tackle and even heavy tackle will be put to the test in a rough surf with a lot of current. I also tend to use heavier and bigger artificials. I do very well on big bucktail jigs (typically 1 to 2 ounces) spiced with a plastic tails or grub tails. These cast well into a stiff wind and work well in breachway currents, along ‘drop-away’ beaches and in deep rocky spots. I have done well along many of the South Shore beaches with big bucks at the start of a storm. Where the water is shallow, I might turn to a wooden egg float with a smaller jig (1/2 or 3/4 ounce). The egg and float work particularly well when the bait is small. Other big plugs that will cut into the wind like a pencil popper or a large needlefish are good choices if you want to use a plug. Metal is also a good choice.
Note that there have been times in which I have fished stormy weather and found fussy fish on small bait like peanut bunker or bay anchovies right in close. In this situation a finesse approach might work best. There have been times when I have cast a small Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow or a Yo-Zuri Hydro Pencil into a stiff wind and stormy conditions and caught lots of good-sized stripers. These won’t cast well but how far do you need to cast when you have fussy fish in white water right at your feet?
That period of time from mid-October into November can be a stormy time to fish along the Rhode Island South Shore. Nor’easters and big southwest blows occur with regularity. These storms often charge up the fishing. If you use these storms to your advantage by fishing the right spots and the right lures, these storms can deliver some epic results.