Arguably some of the most productive fly fishing in New England is along the Rhode Island Coast. The open shoreline is exposed to cool clean water of the North Atlantic while islands, bays, and beaches provide prime habitat for bait and predator fish. In Early Spring, stripe bass migrate into the area and inundate the waterways in search of food.
On a recent visit I was able to explore and fish some of the tidal salt ponds that dot the RI coast line. These massive tidal ponds are rich with life, bait, stripers, and incredible fly fishing opportunities. Expanses of flats are punctuated by deeper channels and small grassy islands. Tidal fluctuations and current present an ever changing landscape and huge variety for fly fishing stripe bass.
The ponds flood and ebb twice daily. The tide brings cool nutrient rich water, an abundance of bait, and predatory fish. Stripers swim in and out of the ponds through breech ways which open out to the Atlantic. Understanding the tides is key to fishing the ponds successfully. These ponds hold huge volumes of water and take so long to fill and empty that they have their own schedule for high and low tide. Tidal differences in the front of the pond can be 3 hours different from the ocean tides, and even 5 hours difference towards the back of the ponds. It might take a day or two to figure out exact time of the tidal change, but it’s absolutely necessary for knowing when and where to fish inside the ponds.
Much of the flats become exposed at low tide and fish will either exit the ponds, or lay in deeper channels and holes. The dropping tide was most productive for me and I would time my outings to begin an hour or two before the high tide and fish for 2-3 hours into the drop.
Shore fishing from the breech way jetties, or walk wading can be productive, but the ponds are best accessed with Kayak or shallow draft boats. This will allow you access to flats and back channels. Most people I saw pond fishing were trolling from boats in the channels, leaving the flats virtually unfished.
When Stripe bass do come up on the flats, they can be very challenging to take with a fly. They will spook easy and are often more selective than not. As with Permit, bonefish, or any flats quarry, presentation is everything. Anticipating the fishes’ movement and having a fly waiting will increase your odds. The ponds hold sand eels, crabs shrimp, and small baitfish; flies should be a close match.
We used Kayaks and rowed from spot to spot casting from the bank or sometimes getting out and wading the flats. Unfortunately, on this trip, grey skies during high tide hours made spotting fish difficult, but I have fished the ponds under better conditions and would put it right up there with the bone fishing I’ve done in the tropics.
On cloudy days, I found myself moving between rips and deeper troughs searching for fish. I adopted the belief that either they are there or not and would not spend too much time if fish weren’t showing or biting. After pulling the kayak up onto a point or beach, I would cast step cast until I found fish or exhausted the spot and moved on. The ponds are uncrowded and pressure is light. Site fishing on the flats is virtually untouched on the ponds and you can easily get away and have entire flats to yourself. Night fishing under the full moon was also very productive casting black Clousers into rips and troughs.
On our best day we landed 10 and lost another 5 fish in a 4 hour span, and even found time to harvest some littleneck clams for dinner. The fish were not big on this outing, most in the 25-30” range, but super fun on 8 & 9wt rods.
RI Saltwater Ponds~
Opal 8wt – Perfect for the flats and delicate presentation casting small bait patterns and crustaceans.
Line: Serum 300gr w/integrated sink clear 12’tip. The smaller size Serum lines have extended rear tapers to soften the presentation, but cast quick and accurate yet still powers decent size flies.
Opal 9wt – loaded with 300gr sink was used in deeper water situations casting sand eels and baitfish.
Opal Surf 7/8 & 9/10 – The only choice for blind casting and covering water. Opal Surf rods make distance casting easy and covering water a cinch.
Line: Serum tip system – Throughout the tide cycle I was able to adjust the sink rate by changing the tip and kept the fly in the zone through the full tide cycle.