At the southwest corner of Rhode Island, the Watch Hill Reef “Complex,” as it is often called by fishermen, stretches from the base of Watch Hill to Fishers Island. The main sections of the complex are Watch Hill Reef, Sugar Reef, Catumb Rocks, and the reefs and drop-offs near Lords and Wicopesset passages. The rugged bottom combined with the strong sweep of current moving in and out of Long Island Sound creates an incredible inshore fishing hotspot for gamefish like striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore, along with bottom-fish like scup, fluke, black sea bass and blackfish.
With such a complex bottom topography of rocks, reefs, and passages, you’ll depend heavily on your chartplotter and a detailed map to navigate safely around this fishy structure. Look for moving tides to create current rips that attract striped bass and bluefish to feed, but use caution as there are areas on Sugar Reef and of course Catumb Rocks where a boater can run aground. You’ll want to use your common sense and follow the lead of other boaters and fishermen working the area.
The season gets started in late spring when striped bass arrive, and the reefs become a light-tackle paradise if the spring squid run is a good one. When squid are swept into the current rips sweeping over the reefs, striped bass (and bluefish) chase them to the surface and can be caught on fly tackle or soft-plastic stickbaits.
Most boaters fish the reef by stemming the tide, staying above the rips, and swinging baits back toward the feeding fish. Trolling in the deeper waters around the reef can also be productive, especially if the surface action dies down in early summer.
Later in the season, bonito and albies show up on the reef to to feed on abundant small baitfish. Watch Hill reef is a popular place in the fall to try for an inshore grand slam, consisting of a bonito, a false albacore, a bluefish and a striper.