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Rhode Island

Saltwater Fishing

Saltwater Fishing

The Lure of Surfcasting

By Nathan Andrews, Fisheries Specialist, RI DEM Division of Marine Fisheries

The crashing waves, the call of the herring gull, the smell of the salt air – not to mention the thrill of fighting a fish through the surf. This is what draws anglers to the briny shores of Rhode Island.

Surfcasting is an angling artform which typically involves casting plastic, wood, or metal lures. Casting these lures is accomplished with the use of a rod and reel into a tidal saltwater surf, tide, or current, such as the, ocean, bay, or estuary. Most Surfcasters throw a lure from the shoreline into the surf to entice the bite of a predatory saltwater fish.

Despite “Little Rhody” only amounting to 48 miles in length, the “Ocean State” is comprised of approximately 400 miles of coastline from Narragansett Bay to Block Island! Touting many shore-entry access-points and public land along its granite and quartz shores, Rhode Island is ideal for surfcasting and other shore-based fishing, including spearfishing and flyfishing. Anglers travel from all over the northeast to participate in Rhode Island’s recreational saltwater finfishing and do so from our many shoreline access-points. Rhode Island has many great manmade piers like the recently rebuilt Rocky Point Fishing Pier in Warwick, the pier at India Point Park in Providence, the Van Zandt Pier by the Pell Bridge in Newport, The Boat House Pier in Tiverton, and the Galilee Fishing Piers at Galilee Breachway East/Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett. Although these are great locations to fish and easily accessible for anglers of all skill levels, they are not “true” surfcasting locations.

Saltwater pier fishing and surfcasting differ, not necessarily in the species you catch, but rather in the tackle, technique, and access-points fished. Fishing from shore (whether it is a rocky coastline or sandy beach) allows the angler to move freely along the area they target. It also allows freedom to move with the fish as they chase bait up and down the shoreline. This in-turn gives you the ability to fish multiple areas, sandbars, and structure in a single trip, whereas a pier restricts your movement, and only allows for slight directional adjustments. Many pier anglers will rig their 5.5-8 ft heavy rod with a bottom-rig to catch fish such as scup, black sea bass, striped bass (bait rig), and sea robin. Surfcasters will also catch these species, except they will often utilize a 7-12 ft medium-heavy to heavy surf rod equipped with a slew of jigs and plugs to target striped bass (top-water), fluke, bluefish, shad, false albacore, mackerel, and green bonito!

When targeting striped bass and bluefish, a Spook or Pencil-Popper (top-water plugs) might be used to imitate a shad or menhaden that is injured on the surface. The idea is to stimulate a chase and get the predatory fish to strike at the lure. This is often achieved with a moderate jigging motion with the rod combined with a slow and steady reel. One great advantage of surfcasting is the ability to wade in the surf. One piece of gear that may not be completely essential, but is an advantage, is a pair of chest-waders. By using these to keep dry, surfcasters can comfortably enter the surf and reach further with their casting placement in most climates and seasons (situations vary). This is a key advantage of the surfcaster, and one of his or her defining characteristics. This style of fishing truly immerses oneself into the habitat of the fish, making the catch thrilling, and the release even more rewarding. There truly is no other sensation in the world like fighting a big striped bass in the surf. The initial strike of the fish will catch you off guard. As the striper runs, it will take drag and persuade you deeper into the surf as you hold on to your rod for dear life. Your rod will bend to the strength of the bass as it uses the tidal forces to swim through the white water rushing towards your waders. When the battle is over and the bass is safely landed and released, you have gained more respect for the fish, and more confidence in your abilities to catch a fish and to utilize the ocean’s resources, whether your purpose was for sustenance or recreation.

Metal jigs, spoons, and epoxies work great for fast fish like the bonito, mackerel, and false albacore. This most accurately imitates the small darting bait that they target but hold on tight if you hook one of these fish, as they will often send a reel’s drag screaming with their fast and powerful run. Jigging a bucktail is a great technique for just about every bottom fish species, especially fluke. Often a small bucktail ¼ oz to 1.5 oz tipped with some artificial bait (for scent and motion), is all that is needed to stimulate the bite of a big fluke from shore. Seabass and other bottom fish also love to go for bucktails.

Autumn in the Ocean State is not only great for “leaf-peepers,” but is also the best time of year for Surfcasters. The waters boil with bait at peak-abundance. The striped bass come tight on the shore to feast on peanut bunker, shad, and other fry. The falsies and bones run up and down the south shore, making those reels sing a siren’s song. Anglers flock from miles around for a piece of the surfcasting action. First light and last light is the best time of day. Some of the greatest access in the Fall is in the southern reaches of the state between Newport and Washington County. Some highly accessible surfcasting locations are:

  • Black Point – Narragansett, RI – a very productive area within reaches of Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean with a rocky coastline that goes right down to the water.
  • Beavertail State Park – Jamestown, RI – a spectacular peninsula on Aquidneck Island comprised of lots of rocky outcrops and white water loaded with structure and bait on the southern portion of Narragansett Bay.
  • Charlestown Breachway – Charlestown, RI – comprised of a sandy barrier beach, jetty, coastal pond, and breachway, with fishing access to all of the above.
  • Misquamicut Beach – Westerly, RI – a very long stretch of sandy shoreline with small rock reefs just beyond the shore, plenty of ground to cover and fish to seek out
  • Brenton Point State Park – Newport RI – a similar rocky coastline to Beavertail, but at the south-west end of Newport. Lots of structure with Brenton Reef to the south.
  • West Wall – Jerusalem, RI – limited parking, but has the largest rock jetty in Rhode Island and access to the Ocean and Point Judith Pond and the Harbor of Refuge.
  • Sakonnet Point – Little Compton, RI - Small shoreline and Jetty allowing access to the southern most parts of Narragansett Bay and deeper water with great structure.

RIDMF in partnership with the ASMFC coordinate RI’s division of the Access-Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS). This program monitors recreational fishing from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and provides important data for fisheries managers. Better data means more informed and better management decisions, making it possible to protect and preserve these fisheries for generations! You may see one of our APAIS Field Interviewers collecting data at popular fishing access sites. If you encounter an interviewer after a fishing trip, RI DMF kindly encourages you to take a moment to answer a few questions describing your catch and effort! Plus, if you are looking for a new place to try surfcasting or need more info on a recreational fishing location near you, you can access our site directory by clicking guest user and searching the entire Atlantic Site Directory for public access fishing areas. Simply go to the NOAA MRIP Site Directory and click on Guest Login:

The beauty of Rhode Island’s shores knows no bounds. Let us all work together to keep it that way. Surfcasting is just as much about respect as it is catching fish. Always respect the land to preserve its majesty. Respect the fish and other marine animals so that our children can grow to respect them as we do. Respect the surf because it is just as mighty as it is dangerous. And respect other anglers because they are there to partake in the same recreation as you. We must all be stewards of the environment. Tight lines!

Author with bluefish
This recreational angler shows off a hefty bluefish caught off a sandy beach.