Friday, July 15, 2011

Any Given Cast

Block Island is arguably the pinnacle when it comes to all-time fishing grounds for striped bass. Peter Vican's recent 77-pounder is just the latest of countless historic catches from Block waters. And since the island's fabled boulder fields are only a 14-mile ferry ride from mainland Rhode Island, trips on short notice are doable. With word of positive surf reports and a new moon phase ushering in, two friends and I committed to an all-nighter during the July 4th weekend.

Leading up to the one night binge, we spent hours rigging eels, changing rusty hooks, and tying new leaders. We were eager and prepared and hopes were high. The plan called for taking the last high-speed ferry from Galilee on a Friday night.  Between our bikes and wet suits, we planned on moving around and fishing hard. When the day came, we gave ourselves more than three hours to make it to the dock, which typically takes about 90-minutes. However, the rush-hour traffic coinciding with a holiday weekend had us rolling into Point Judith with just minutes to spare. We zigzagged between vacationers on our bikes and only enough gear to last 12-hours. The high-speed ferry cut more than a half hour off our sailing time, which is a bigger deal after pulling an all-night surf fishing trip.  

The extra $9 for the high-speed ferry out of Point Judith is worth every penny if you don't require a vehicle.

The Old Harbor area was one big party as our ferry pulled in. It was a little amusing realizing that we were there for a completely different reason than 99.9% of those around us (we only saw four other surfcasters all night). A good meal was in order before the long night that lay ahead. We chose a window seat at Mohegan Cafe & Brewery that allowed us to watch our gear left outside. The beer board on the wall read: "Striper English Ale"--it was then that I knew we walked into the right place. The round of clam chowder hit the spot, before wolfing down large burgers and nursing the rest our beers.    

While digesting we hashed out a plan of attack. We soon hopped on our bikes and rode out of civilization towards the southern half of the Island. It was a 15-minute mostly uphill pedal to our first stop. At least that mean the way home be would easier! The sun was just going down as we arrived and the fading light allowed us to sort of get our bearings before the very dark hours ahead. We locked up the bikes and changed out of our civilian clothes into wetsuits that we carried in backpacks. With the seal skins on, it was easier and safer to reach rocks that traditional waders would not allow. 

What a better way to start a Block bass-hunt than a Striper English Ale?

It quickly turned into a jet-black night and I could barely make out the silhouettes of my partners in the same cove with a good surf rolling in. The tide had been going out for about an hour by the time I let loose my first cast with a black needlefish. My friend Derrick hooked up right away using a sinking eel-skin popper that is better known for its swimming than its popping. While I couldn't tell at the time, it turned out to be a striped bass in the low-teen range. He and my other buddy Mike soon landed a few more of similar size on black needles and the eel-skin popper while I struggled using the same exact offerings. The biggest of their handful of bass was about 17-pounds, but the clock was ticking and the numbers and size of these fish were not enough to keep us much longer. We walked back to the bikes and headed west, leaving fish to find bigger fish. After another 10 minute ride, we rolled up to another classic south-side spot.

At this point in the night, we had been fishing for a few hours and I had not even experienced a bump. I was growing a little frustrated with myself before finally getting snapped out of a trance by the sharp jolt of a striper. The keeper-sized fish whacked an eel-skin stubby needlefish that had never produced for me before. It felt great to get the monkey off my back and better to know there were fish found at both stops so far. We kept walking and casting around another point then a cove with nothing to show for it. Finally, another teen-sized fish latched onto a 12-inch black Slug-Go and we managed a few more half-hearted takes before deciding it was time to see new water.

A bike rigged for fishing can really be an aid to surfcasters at places like Block Island.

By this point it was already 2:30 AM--the night was flying by. In reality, we had one more good crack at a third and final spot before false dawn. So we opted to head towards the ferry instead of moving farther away. After a nice downhill cruise, we stashed the bikes and bushwhacked down a lesser known trail along the east side of the Island. The smaller surf here presented easier opportunities to wade out to good casting platforms.  We hopped from rock to rock rifling through our plug bags for two more hours with only a handful of hits from small bass. The writing on the wall was starting to show. It's easy to forget that you can nail the best fish of your life on any give cast on Block Island, but we just had the feeling it wasn't happening for us that night. 

As a spectacular celestial show gave way to the first hints of dawn, our group switched to top-water lures hoping for a little redemption. My eels-skin popper was crushed multiple times on consecutive casts around first light, though the bass were small and had trouble finding the hook. Boats started pouring out of Old Harbor and probably fared much better than us in deeper water drifting live eels. It didn't matter though; the big yellow ball started peaking over the horizon and we were treated to a sunrise that was worth the price of the ferry plus the hours of effort put in the surf. 

Bubble weed and big surf can make traversing Block Island boulder fields a taxing proposition. 

After the sun came up, we stumbled on two buddies that we last saw while boarding the ferry over. They had very similar results to share, which kind of made us feel better and worse same time. A few text messages to another friend on the other side of the Island revealed better action, yet the same size class of bass. We gave up on the uneventful dawn casting and pedaled into what felt like a ghost town. Delirium began to set in as we waited for the breakfast joint to open. After the eggs and coffee gave us our fourth wind, we shot the shit at the ferry dock until it showed up at 7:45 AM. It was much spacier on the ferry ride back so we all grabbed our own booths and slept for what felt like a minute. The boat let us off and we rode with our gear one last time to our vehicles, all the while passing people heading to Block for a wild time. I cracked open a Red Bull and listened to a few classic stories from the parking attendant before leaving Galilee.

Even though we didn't find the fish we were ultimately after, you can't win if you don't play. Pulling a commando all-night fishing trip is not everyone's cup of tea, but it's something you should experience at least once. And Block Island is a hell of a place to try it! One of these years I am going to hit it just right and have the best night of fishing of my life. You just don't know until you go...

Watching a sunrise like this makes all the effort worth it. 


  1. WOW.. Now that is true passion. Very cool trip and report with some awesome pics.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Excellent bud. Hopefully next time we can meet up out there