2015-05-07 / Nature

May Heralds Angling Saltwater Season

By Dennis Zambrotta

The month of May is when the local saltwater sport fishing season really kicks off. This is when almost all of the summer fish species migrate to Rhode Island waters, including striped bass, bluefish, blackfish (tautog), squid, summer flounder (fluke), and scup (porgy).

It all starts when tautog make their appearance in the rocky areas off Castle Hill and the west side of Fort Adams State Park. Although open season for tautog starts on April 15, they really show with good numbers as the first dandelions bloom in May. Tautog must be at least 16 inches long and a licensed angler can keep three per day. They are rocky bottom dwellers that feed readily on shellfish and crustaceans, and the local bait of choice is green crabs cut in half, placed on a size five or six blackfish hook and sent to the bottom with a two- to four-ounce sinker. Sandworms can also be used for bait but can be frustrating to use as they are easily stolen from the hook by other bottom feeding pests such as choggies and skates.

May is also the month when squid make their annual appearance in the areas around Newport Harbor. The waters around Newport have long been known as the squidding capital of New England. For as long as I can remember, local residents and visiting fishermen from myriad ethnic backgrounds have fished side by side at the Goat Island causeway. Fishing is limited to the north side of the causeway, a restriction imposed many years ago due to overcrowding during squidding season. The best lures for squid are squid jigs, made of plastic. They have a series of needle like pins at one end which will catch the squid’s tentacles when they grab for it. Anglers should use caution, as squid that have been hooked will release an inky liquid as they are reeled in. Local squid are considered a delicacy by calamari lovers, but are also caught to use as bait for local gamefish such as striped bass, bluefish, and fluke.

Striped bass and bluefish arrive in small numbers during early May, but steadily increase throughout the month. Local places to catch them include Brenton Point Park, Cliff Walk, Easton’s Point, Sachuest Point, and Fort Adams. The bag limit for striped bass is one fish per day at 28 inches or greater. There is no size limit for bluefish and an angler may keep 15 per day. Bass and bluefish can be caught with a variety of artificial lures and natural baits. Lures such as 1-2 ounce surface poppers, swimming plugs, and white lead head buck tail jigs in one-half to 1 ½ ounce sizes will catch the bass and blues. Natural bait such as squid, mackerel, and menhaden (pogeys, locally) can also be used by chunk fishing them on the bottom with a sliding sinker rig and size 5/0 to 7/0 hook.

Scup and fluke become more abundant toward the end of May. Scup must be 10 inches or larger to keep with a 30 fish bag limit per day. Fluke must be 18 inches or larger with an eight fish per day limit. Both can be caught with strips of squid fished on the bottom. Look for scup in the rocky shallows or over shoals and reefs in deeper water. The west side of Fort Adams State Park and the areas around Sachuest Point, Easton’s Point and Cliff Walk can be productive. Fluke tend to be caught in deeper water (30-50 feet) over sandy or gravelly bottoms or off bridges with moving water beneath, but are most readily caught drifting over the aforementioned bottoms by boat.

Please help keep local fishing areas clean by disposing of litter in proper receptacles or carrying it back home.

Don’t forget to purchase your Rhode Island Saltwater Fishing License. A license is required for anyone 16 years and older. Cost is $7 per year for Rhode Island residents, $10 per year for non-residents. A seven-day temporary license is also available for $5. The most convenient way to purchase a license is online at ri.gov/DEM/saltwater/ license.

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