Learn the ins and outs of Rhode Island’s breachways and put yourself in position for your biggest bass and bluefish of the year.
What the rest of the East Coast calls inlets or outflows, Rhode Island fishermen refer to as breachways. They are the number-one spots in the minds of many serious shore fishermen because they offer the best shot at keeper striped bass and large bluefish along Rhode Island’s south shore. Breachways are magnets for large predators that wait in ambush for prey to come their way on a moving tide. For fall fishermen who ply Rhode Island’s coastline, the key to success in the breachways is knowing both how and when to target these areas.
What lures me to a breachway on a fall night is that I am confident there are almost always a few fish to be had in their flows. Aside from the steady fishing for a keeper striped bass or two, there are also those big nights that occur when conditions are just right and produce fantastic action. One such night happened last October at Narrow River in Narragansett. A number of factors brought me to this breachway. It was a rainy day followed by a clearing that led to a big northwest wind. This meant that a lot of water would be pushing down from the backwater river system, which had been a recipe for success in recent years. The ocean was also rough after the day’s departing storm, and I knew from experience that large fish often headed into the river in these conditions to escape the roiled water out front. Additionally, the water would be dropping to its lowest level shortly after dark, and that meant that the river flow would continue outward for at least 3 ½ hours due to lag time. The outward flow was prime time to fish this breachway.
This night would prove to be the best night of the fall for my son, Matt, and I. As I walked onto the sandbar just upstream from the mouth, I was surprised to find some large menhaden in my flashlight’s beam washing ashore onto the bar. Other menhaden were frantically trying to swim in only inches of water. I’ve seen the phenomenon happen there before, and big stripers and blues were almost certainly the cause for the baitfish’s nervous behavior. My first five casts with a black Bomber yielded four keeper bass that were between 30 and 36 inches. Later on, casts began to yield smashing hits and bigger fish. The spectacular fishing would continue on and off with the dropping tide as my son and I landed 20 stripers and a large bluefish. The three biggest stripers measured over 40 inches, and the smallest ones were slightly over 28 inches. This type of fishing, while extraordinary, is not entirely unusual at these breachways at this time of year.
How To Target A Breachway
As far as I’m concerned, there are five breachways where fishermen should focus their attention along the Rhode Island south shore oceanfront that runs from Narragansett to Westerly. The Weekapaug, Quonny and Charlestown breachways along with the Galilee Channel and Narrow River are the five major breachways that are fast-water channels that drain and fill large coastal ponds. The water is almost always moving in or out through these breachways, and large blues and stripers see these spots as prime places to find forage.
|3 ½-4 hours|
|Narrow River||3 ½ hours|
|Galilee Channel||1 ½ hours|
While each of these flows offers the most consistent place to fish in its area, they all fish differently because of their physical make-up. Experienced local anglers all seem to know the best times to fish these spots, which requires knowledge of how to factor in the lag times. The experienced breachway fisherman also arrives at these spots with an assortment of lures to use. Like any type of fishing, presentation and timing are important when trying to take a big fish from a breachway, but it’s important to realize that successful tactics at one breachway might go unrewarded at another.
Knowing the best times to fish these locations requires an understanding of how the water moves. Breachways are known for their lag times, which is in effect the delay in the tidal stage resulting from the movement of the water through a restricted channel. For instance, if you pick up a tide chart and the tide is high in front of Charlestown Beach at noon, the water in the breachway itself will not start moving out for another two or three hours. That delay is known as the “lag time” in breachway-speak. To complicate matters, most of Rhode Island’s breachways have different lag times (see sidebar).
Each breachway also has its prime time to fish. This prime target time will typically be a window of about two hours. There are certainly disagreements as to when this window is, and there are variables, such as the presence of bait, which can render this window irrelevant, but if you ask enough experienced Rhody breachway fishermen, you’ll find that most have a specific period around which they’ll focus their breachway angling efforts. For example, I like to fish the Narrow River breachway on the last two hours of the outgoing current. Galilee has always produced best for me on the first half of the dropping tide. Many people like to fish the Charlestown, Quonny and Weekapaug breachways on the first half of the outgoing flow. When figuring in your fishing times, make certain to factor in the lag times at the breachway in question.
It is a fair and justified assumption that the breachways will produce best on the outgoing tides, but this is far from a secret, and there will be no shortage of fishermen at the breachways on the dropping tide. It’s important to understand that fish can be caught on the incoming tide at these breachways, although the numbers of fish you’re likely to see will be less. However, with fewer fish will come less competition. At times, these breachways can be deserted on incoming water. I like the solitude of fishing the backwaters of these breachways on the incoming tides, though I will admit to catching more fish on the outgoing tides. Places where the narrow channels open up to the backwater ponds can be especially productive on the incoming tides.
Weekapaug, Quonny And Charlestown
Most of these breachways fish differently, and you’ll need a big surf bag to carry all the plugs and lures needed to tackle all of these spots. The far south shore breachways of Weekapaug, Quonny and Charlestown all appear similar and can be fished similarly. These three breachways are bordered by jetties. Anglers out front, near the end of the breachway jetty where the water exits into the ocean, are on prime real estate. The ends of these jetties often get crowded and fishermen may fish in rotation, free-spooling large plugs and eels way out into the current. Fishing in rotation is like a dance routine. Cast, step to the left and free-spool, step to the left and lock into gear, step to the left and retrieve, move to the right and to the head of the line and repeat. Most fishermen fishing the ends of the jetty are using large wooden surface swimmers, big plastic swimmers, needlefish plugs or even live eels.
For those who want no part of this dance routine, the fast-moving waters that are sandwiched between the jetties offer a good bet and plenty of room to fish. Most fishermen don’t like to deal with these fast waters and tend to avoid them, but large stripers are right at home in this environment. Bucktail jigs between 1 and 2 ounces will work well in this fast water, as will large jigheads with soft plastics such as Hogys or Slug-Gos. Even swimmers such as Bombers that will dive down 7 or 8 feet are good bets. Expect a wild battle if you hook a fish in this super-fast water. It’s also a good idea to have a plan ahead of time as to how you are going to land a big fish. Is there a safe rock at water level from which you can accomplish this feat? Decide before you hook that screamer.
For the most part, sandy beaches surround the south shore breachways of Weekapaug, Quonny and Charlestown. That presents a problem in rough and stormy weather. These breachway areas can roil up badly with sand and weed, potentially shutting down the fishing. These places are also susceptible to rough water, especially in a strong wind out of the south. Strong onshore winds can send rollers right over the fronts of these jetties, making for dangerous and unfishable conditions. However, the strange thing about these spots is that the line between “too rough” and “just right” is a thin one. Although I wouldn’t advocate fishing these breachways if the conditions don’t permit safe angling, I do prefer to see at least some rough water around the breachway.
The Galilee Channel
The Galilee Channel is a unique breachway because of its depth and fast flow. It is also bordered by walls on the Galilee side and the Jerusalem side. The water in this busy commercial channel is generally more than 20 feet deep and most of the large fish set up right on the bottom. Jigs, either large bucktails spiced with a pork rind or plastic curly-tails, or big soft-plastic baits mounted on jigheads are the lures of choice to get down into the high-percentage strike zone. I especially like to use a hotlips-style bucktail jig with a large Uncle Josh pork rind strip. I’ve also had good success using Berkley Power Eels fished on 1- and 2-ounce jigheads. You may have to adjust the size of the jighead used depending on the current strength. There are some snags on the bottom here, which may cost you a few jigs. Most experienced fishermen know where these snags are located and avoid those spots. You can also fish swimmers such as Bombers in close to the jetty. Hits will usually come near the jetty as you are pulling the lure out of the water. This is probably the least crowded of all the breachways on a fall night because of the difficulties inherent in fishing its fast, deep waters, yet many believe it holds the biggest fish.
One advantage of the Galilee Channel is that it can be fished in any condition. The outside of this harbor is protected by three massive jetties or walls. This is often my go-to spot on stormy days and nights when I can’t fish anywhere else. I’ve had very good success here on nights when nor’easters are howling and the outside spots are unfishable. Boat traffic will also go down as the weather worsens. On a pleasant afternoon or evening, the boat traffic around the Galilee Channel can be enough to adversely affect the fishing.
Narrow River, located at the north end of Narragansett Beach, is the only natural breachway of the five outflows. It has a sandy-bottomed south side and a private rocky shoreline on the north side. Waders and a splash parka are usually a good idea when fishing the more popular south side out front. A variety of low-water tactics will work off this bar. Large needlefish plugs, big wooden swimmers, and poppers (during the daytime) are popular here because a long cast is often needed to reach the edge of the drop-off, which is the prime spot to fish. Just behind the mouth of the river, a narrow channel exists where lures like plastic swimmers, Hogys and soft-plastic baits on lightweight jigheads all work well. Live and rigged eels will also work in here. This narrow backwater bottleneck fishes best on stormy nights when crowds are at a minimum.
The Lure of Stormy Nights
Over my years of fishing these breachways, I’ve concluded that most of the big fish that are caught in these spots are taken at night. These breachways will also produce well in the daytime, and occasionally they’ll produce big fish, but expect the average bluefish or striper caught in the daytime to be considerably smaller than those taken after dark. You will also find several fishermen in these spots during the day, early in the morning and during the early evening, and they often miss the big fish events that occur well after dark. These places are often crowded on nice days and nice nights, but stormy nights see fewer fishermen and more fish.
The strategies used to fish the three south shore breachways of Charlestown, Quonny and Weekapaug are similar because the breachways themselves are similar. Galilee fishes very differently because of its fast, deep water. Narrow River is best fished with low-water strategies, where long casts with surface or shallow-swimming plugs work best. All five breachways tend to produce small fish in the daytime and larger fish after dark, and any one of them could produce your biggest striper or bluefish of the year.