I can’t believe that we’re already in July. I know it’s cliché to say, but it seems like just yesterday we were eagerly awaiting warm enough weather for the first open water fishing trip of the season, and now we’re staring square at the Independence Day holiday. Well, fortunately for us all, July offers lots of fishy options; here are just a few to be found in Southern New England.
I am going to begin this month with striped bass and for good reason. I feel that year in and year out, your single best window to land an enormous striped bass—I’m talking fish that push the upper limits—takes place in the first two weeks of July. The location I suggest that you fish is no secret to anyone who even moderately targets striped bass these days, and it’s the waters off the southwest corner of Block Island. There is no single factor that attracts large striped bass to these waters, but the combination of structure, converging currents, ample food options and more, most certainly factor in on its productivity.
If you’ve never fished for striped bass—and as a reminder for those who have—the targeting and possession of striped bass in Federal waters is prohibited. Federal waters begin 3 miles from shore and are also referred to as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ.) This puts Southwest Ledge itself in Federal waters and therefore off-limits for striped bass, but I can assure you that there are plenty of fish to be caught legally inside of 3 miles from the island. You are allowed to transfer striped bass legally harvested inside state waters back to your home port through the Block Island Transit Zone but know that you are not allowed to stop for any reason if in possession of striped bass unless you or your crew needs medical care. All fishing gear must be stowed while in transit, and this includes the removal of any hooks or lures from the end of all rigged rods.
With that out of the way, we can now begin the fun part: fishing!
Targeting Block Island striped bass is no different than anywhere else in that all the usual methods will work including casting artificial lures, trolling and fishing with live bait. Despite being 12-plus miles from the mainland the waters around the island are shallow. This means that when fishing live bait such as eels, porgy or bunker, a ton of weight is not required. In many places no weight is needed, but when I need a 3-way rig to help the bait find bottom I seldom use more than 6 ounces with 2 or 3 generally being more than sufficient. Many anglers use nothing more than a 1-ounce egg sinker ahead of their bait.
Recent years have seen a surge in popularity of fishing “rubber eels” for big Block Island striped bass. I did some research for an article several years ago pinning live eels against their rubber counterparts and came away with some enlightening results. For the experiment, a group of anglers were split into teams using only live eels or the rubber version, and in the end, the results were nearly even with many 30- and 40-pound stripers being duped on both methods. The biggest fish of the experiment, however, was a 55-plus-pound striper that I landed on the rubber imposter—my largest boat-caught striper to date.
For this type of fishing, I prefer spinning gear with the Tsunami Carbon Shield II model TSCHDII801XH-B paired with either a SaltX 6000 or Tsunami Evict 5000 spooled with 40-pound braid about perfect. Jighead weights run from 1 ounce to 3 ounces just be sure the one you select is built on a heady duty hook! I exclusively fish JoeBaggs SPJ or Gravity Tackle Atlas heads with 1.5 ounces seeing the most use. For the rubber, I stick to the same two manufacturers as the jigs—JoeBaggs Block Island Eel or Patriot fish, and the Gravity Tackle GT Eel.
To fish the rubber eels simply cast the bait away from the boat, find bottom and either bounce it as you drift along or slowly reel back, making sure to always stay within a few feet of the bottom. Hits are usually bone-jarring, so be ready and keep the battle brief before releasing the fish as they do not handle long battles in the warm waters of the summer very well.
Ok, enough with stripers, July also marks the time to head east in search of tuna! We should start to see accessible “inshore” bluefin running the waters from the Ranger to the Gully to the shipping lanes and points north remaining more accessible to boats hailing from the Cape. The last few years have seen excellent action here on smaller, schoolie bluefin with fish under 60 pounds extremely common, as well as the occasional giant popping up like the one we hooked, fought for over 2 hours, and proceeded to break off last July while fishing the Gully. Most boats arrive around sunrise, looking for whales and bait, and follow the fish and the fleet around for as long as the fish continue to feed. Speed jigging is usually employed early in the day with the Nomad Streaker an extremely popular choice last year. Match jigs of 100 to 200 grams to corresponding spinning rods, reels in the 14000-class spooled with 50- or 65-pound braid, topped off with 80- to 100-pound fluorocarbon leaders, and you’ll be ready to get in on the action. If you have the space, try dropping a soft plastic like a Ron-Z or Hogy down deep and leave the rod in a holder for “Rodney” to fish as you drift along. This rod might not only save a slow day, but a lot of times the biggest fish of the trip falls for the dead-sticked rod.
If the jig bite never materializes, or the combo of sun and boat pressure puts the tuna down, trolling with spreader bars and/or ballyhoo is a solid and popular ‘Plan B.’ Be sure to keep a rod rigged with a jig and another with a popper or stickbait while trolling if you find a school of active fish. A friend employed this method last July and added a pair of 100-pound-class yellowfin to his box when a school of fish popped up and he was ready to capitalize.
If inshore fishing is more your game, or you don’t have the time to dedicate to a run offshore for tuna, July has you covered as well. Fluke fishing should finally be coming into its own with numbers of fish to be had off the mainland coast of Rhode Island from Watch Hill to Point Judith. This area gets pounded hard each season so finding a limit can be challenging at times. If you’re willing to put in a bit more time, head towards Montauk or the south side of Block Island as generally, this is where the larger fish can be found. Black sea bass season is now open, and scup is open year-round, so expect plenty of bycatch between doormat bites. At the entrance to Long Island Sound, there is always some fluke to be had around Fishers Island. I’ve done well along the south side of the island when hunting fluke, and as this is another premier striper spot, it pays to have a rod rigged with a spook if you encounter a school of bunker.