2015-08-06 / Nature

Snag a Little One, Catch a Bigger One

By James Merolla

A pogy snagger (also useable on other baitfish) was the hook of choice among anglers last week. A pogy snagger (also useable on other baitfish) was the hook of choice among anglers last week. The most important hook that anglers could have used last week in local waters was a pogy snagger.

For most, if not all, of the past week, large schools of pogies – the principal bait fish for striped bass and bluefish – were seen churning the waters of Tiverton and many other spots in Narragansett Bay.

Starting on Monday, July 27, and running into August, I personally witnessed the sleek silver fish popping, like fireworks, out of Nanaquaket Pond.

The sightings began when a longtime angler called the office of Newport This Week, saying he had never seen so many of the fish at one time. He said “tens of thousands” were being forced into Tiverton's Nanaquaket Pond; that the large tails of stripers and the fins of blues could be seen “slapping the waters” as they ripped into the schools.

He reported that “about 100 fishermen” had swarmed the area, snagging pogies with a large treble hook, designed for the task, and then drifting them to the outside of the schools of fish as the best way to attract stripers and blues. They smell the blood and see the struggling live baitfish as something culled for easy attack away from the sure swimmers packed together. Under a full blue moon on July 30, the fish had finally dissipated, but boaters filled the river, as did kayakers, and anglers. They fished, elbow to elbow, on the Nanaquacket Bridge in Tiverton, snagging, and then drifting pogies. Some said the large fish had left with only a few sightings late in the evening and early morning.

While reports of pogies – and very large ones indeed – are off the charts, many fishermen say this has been one of the worst summers ever for keeper striped bass (28 inches, one per day); that these large fish were here for only a very brief span in early May and then out to deeper waters. The bluefish population has remained steady, however, although the popular small snapper blues – known locally as "skipjacks" – have not been seen, three weeks after they usually appear.

The best fishing off Newport waters remains large fluke and sea bass “out front,” past the opening of the East Passage. They are being caught on clam bellies, squid and plastic lures added for color.

One fisherman named Tom, snagging pogies in Tiverton last week, has spent his entire life fishing. He said while he has never seen so many large pogies, he is extremely concerned by the lack of other smaller species in the bay – choggies, shiners and starfish among them.

“I have fished every year, all year, since I was 12,” said Tom, who is nearing 60. “Conditions have changed. Everything is late this year and some things didn’t happen at all. All bets are off. The climate has changed. Pollution in the bay is horrible and the small sea life is gone. I don’t know what the future of fishing here will be.”

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