Since the distant climes and times of my teenage years, New England's stripers and bluefish had always nibbled their way into the borders of my angling dreams. After what seemed like forever, the vacancies left by the attainment of other game fish and their respective pockets of the world allowed these two species to swim dead center into the bull's-eye of old aspirations now turned bucket list.
My personal habit of constantly reviewing print, online, and broadcast fisheries coverage has rewarded me with countless doors of new experience to open. And, I hope the same holds true for you. I'd seen an exciting Shaw Grigsby show featuring striper fishing with Captain Jim White. The frantic pace at which they hooked stripers, then fought and released them proved irresistible to me.
When I called Capt. Jim to set up a charter, we both realized we were familiar with each other's past outdoor writing and this solidified a new connection between us. In order to set dates that might culminate in a successful story on stripers on artificial lures and light tackle, we chose June dates almost a year in advance. This timing would make it surer that some of those battlers would have moved into Narragansett Bay.
White Ghost Charters
Despite our targeted stripers and bluefish, Captain Jim does it all. From the comfort of his fully loaded Triton center console powered by a 225 HP Evinrude E-Tec, Jim pursues all the species this fertile area. This includes fluke, black sea bass, tautog, bonito, tuna and sharks. He fishes live baits, dead baits, artificial lures (hard and soft-bodied) as well as fly tackle with thorough and equal expertise.
Yet it was shallow water stripers and blues that we would be after and another major bonus of White Ghost Charters is that all of this fishing is done in the sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay. In this venue his charter service has veered away from the rote method of fishing in often rougher and deeper ocean waters with bait. This is especially appealing to light tackle anglers like myself who love to sight cast to our quarry — or just spot cast to likely looking honey holes. In fact, the first casting of our charter was to begin only 60 seconds from the dock over a large tidal mud flat, but more on that later.
And, yes, the mention of sight and/or spot casting often involves artificial lures. Captain Jim's terminal tackle places a heavy reliance on soft plastic swimbaits as well as bucktail jigs adorned with soft plastic tails. These lures are cast and "jigged in" to resemble the larger baitfish and squid that are endemic to this area during that season. Towards that end, the colors of the plastic baits are usually white or pearl-colored.
Time to Travel, Time to Fish
The best cure for the heavy-pulsed waiting of an adventurous fishing trip is to simply fish your way through the period — and that's exactly what I did. Yet time and tide waited for no one and my wife and I were eventually en route to Rhode Island. Our flight had a stop in Atlanta from Fort Lauderdale. Once we arrived, we checked into the Hampton Inn in Coventry.
With the help of our rental cars' onboard GPS, we quickly found the marina Capt. Jim was berthed at. He waved to us and we met alongside his gleaming vessel — all this in near-perfect and tranquil weather conditions. Equally important, his vessel was festooned with lots of pre-rigged light spinning and plug tackle — all at the ready!
As discussed earlier, barely a minute after throwing off the dock lines and idling to the bay, Jim cut the engine and allowed us to drift with the tide over the expanse of a shallow mud flat. Jim made the first cast, and his retrieve was the basic "Florida-whip" style. This was not surprising since the rod movements gave very realistic life-like movements to vibrating tail of his white soft plastic bait.
After the three of us casted for about ten minutes, I had a solid strike that I missed despite giving the fish a micro second to inhale the lures' large six-inch profile. Captain Jim said he was sure it was a striper. After another five minutes without a strike, he fired up his engine and idled off the flat. Once he was in the main channel, he pushed down the throttle and off we zipped into the open expanses of Narragansett Bay.
As we traversed the smooth waters with Jim's Triton boat, I reflected on the fulfillment that my long-held dreams of fishing this area had finally been realized- and this awareness felt fine! The air had a marvelous chill to it, and the distant shoreline shapes shimmered just a little in the early morning light — so different than the June-time tarpon runs of my skiff at dawn that I'd be making if I were back in Florida.
Captain Jim said we were now searching for surfaced bait pods, diving birds, breaking fish or else prospect-casting along well known game fish haunts abutting beaches, rocks, and other varied shoreline. This could mean encounters and hookups with either stripers or bluefish. While I was happy with both gamesters, my sights were set on the as-yet-uncaught striper, and our skilled captain knew it!
On our way to a sandy cove we sped by a large group of small vessels with fishermen working long-handled rakes into the bottom. Captain Jim noticed my interest and mentioned that these hard-working souls were clammers. I asked him to pull alongside one of these vessels for pictures. Though he complied with my request, he told us that these commercial fishermen rarely cooperated with or even desired anything as nonsensical as pictures of them at work. Since I desired photo permission, I asked Jim to idle over to one specific boat. Before we got within fifty feet of the vessel, the clam fisherman started shouting and waving us off. Duly chastened, we moved on. I couldn't say Jim didn't warn me.
It wasn't long before we entered the cove and Jim slowed down. He quietly idled into an area bordered by marsh grass and shelly, rocky bars. In the distance, a gull wheeled down over some fresh splashes below. Jim pointed and said, "stripers." Jim idled a bit further and then cut the engine- the momentum of the vessel carried us within casting range. Both Jim and I cast white-colored plastic swim baits into the boiling water and we were hooked up instantly. Both fish fought valiantly. My fish was about ten pounds, while Jims' specimen was around fifteen pounds. After a sweet moment of satisfaction and twenty seconds of photos, both fish were released. The action went on for another five minutes with two more fish in that size range caught and released.
We fished another half-dozen spots, which yielded an equal number of stripers. Every fish was especially gratifying to me since they were taken in shallow water on light tackle with artificial lures.
As the day wore on, Jim asked me if I cared to catch and release some bluefish. When he saw my thumb go up, he ran ten minutes to a beach that looked ordinary enough. Little did I know that I'd be catching one fish after another on poppers!
On our way in, Jim picked up a good marking in 20 feet of water on his recorder-fish finder. He backtracked his vessel to the mark and dropped over a jig adorned with a plastic tail. As soon as it hit bottom, he jigged the lure twice and had a smashing strike. After a fine battle of ten minutes, Jim had a wonderful striper of about 30 pounds alongside the vessel. After the fish was photographed and released, we resumed our run back to the marina, leaving me free to reflect on the fine time I'd had.
A Vibrant Travel Destination
New England is a stunning habitat to fish. The rocky shorelines and beaches give way to highlighted sweeps of natural or manicured grass shorelines. Rhode Island is a small state easily traversed in a day. Its' crown jewel, Newport, deserves special mention. This city is a must-see destination to any and all visiting this state for angling or non-angling purposes. This fabulous city features striking shorelines and seascapes that ring a core nucleus of marvelously designed "olde-style" buildings, historic homes, trendy art galleries, more than ample shopping and many excellent restaurants. Plan an entire day at the minimum to take in the sights and sounds of Newport.