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One Tide in Rhode Island

By Ken Nieuwenhuis

Jim and Ifished Rhode Island again on Saturday. We left early in the morning and were up there by about 11:30. Stopped in a Weekapaug Tackle to get a new handle for my conventional, and got the scoop. A northeaster was blowing hard (15-20 mph), and it was difficult to get out of the wind (and ridiculous surf), but there were fish. We decided to fish Narragansett Bay first. We stopped at Black Point, which faced into the wind. A clue should hvae been that we were the only ones there. We stood on rocks 20' above the water line and were still getting pounded by the surf. This is the legendary area of RI where the most surfcaster fatalities happen as the rock slopes down to the water, and if you get washed, the surf will jam you up under the the rocks and you can't get out. Either that or it will pound you to a pulp against them. The "trick" here is to swim out if you get washed. Right.

Anyway, after a quick stop at Hazard Ave for more of the same we decided to head to Jamestown to fish the lee side of the Island at Beavertail State Park. It was beautiful, and with the wind to our back we could cast for miles. Unfortunately there was still a heavy surf and at high tide we were too far from the rock ledge that looked like it would hold Stripers, and so we did nothing, however this is definately a spot to come back to at a lower tide. I have no idea what he was doing wrong, but Jim cast off four plugs including two Beachmasters, a white darter and yellow needle. He went back to the truck to curse and to respool while I fished. On my way up from the rocks something caught my eye in the foam, and I reached in blind and pulled out a new Beachmaster Cowboy. I ran this up to Jim who was relieved at the find, but not done with his mess. I went back to fish, and somehow got tangled up in his old line and retrieved his white darter. At this point I figured I was charmed for the weekend. This was not to be.

Again consulting the maps to keep the wind to our back, we headed to Jerusalem and fished the west wall at the outlet of Snug Harbor. It looked like a good call. On one side of this mile long jetty you could fish moving water of the outgoing tide into the wind, and on the other side you had a protected bay with the wind to your back. We fished this until dark with no success (but no lost plugs either).

We decided to beat feet to the Charlston Breachway where we had planned to fish the night, so we jumped in the truck, picked up some Wendy's, aired down, and began the thre mile drive up East Beach to the breachway. It was just about low tide, but the Nor'Easter was blowing in so hard that we had to drive in the dunes to stay out of the water or away from the huge cut in the beach. The beach was essentially gone. We finally got out to the breachway at about 7:30 (the Devils player introductions were just over on the radio), and as we geared up the last two sorry looking guys were leaving the jetty. "You should have been here for the last three hours" they told us, there was bass every cast. "Nothing but blues now". Not having an issue with that and looking to feel a tug on the line, we loaded up the plug bags, strapped on the corkers and headed out into the wind driven rain to fish under a steady shower of surf crashing over the jetty. Good thing we were prepared. I had bought surgical tubing to strap the gaff Mike gave me last Christmas over my back, and we were pretty waterproof, so retrieving a big fish would not be a problem.

We got out and began to swing plugs into the drift. The boys leaving the jetty said "black bombers" so Jim put the biggest white bottle plug he had on. Wham! he was on right away. This pissed me off because this jetty is my lucky spot. Jim is essentially there to pull my fish up from the rocks. He kept nailing fish, and I couldn't buy a bite on black or yellow darters, Danny's etc, etc. Finally, I pulled out the one bottle plug I had - a Mackerel pattern Bottle Plug that may have been the first lure I bought getting into this game, and have never caught a fish on it, or used it much. To make a long story short, this was the Striper candy. Every cast I got hammered, and was pretty much bailing them. On one of my first stripers, about a 32-34", Jim grabbed the gaff from my back to see if he could hook it under the gill and lift it out without killing it or one of us in the retrieval process.

Down into the rocks he went, alternatively visible and invisible beneath the white foam of the breakers. It was nuts. The clouds obscured the moon so it was wicked dark, and you only knew a breaker was coming because it sounded like an oncoming train, and at the last minute you could see the white edge rise up and violently smash the base of the rocks you were standing on. And as anyone who surfs will tell you, these bastards come in sets, so every seventh one or so is huge and can come over the top.

We were just about the bottom of the tide which is good, as you are about as high above the water as you are going to get, and bad because you are about as high above the water as you are going to get, and that is where the fish you just caught is. So Jim is in the rocks below me, hood over his head, water over the hood, trying to gaff/not gaff a fish. Next thing I hear is SHIT! and I see something floating in the water. How handy, the gaff floats. The lucky person who finds it on Fishers Island or in Hell's Gate NY will appreciate that feature. So Jim grabbed the plug swung the bass up, and climbed back up.

I did the requisite surgery, and released the fish back into the froth. Jim was again returning an empty retrieve so I swung the Mackerel Bottle into the mess and hooked up again. Wash, rinse, repeat. You can see how Jim's life began to suck. At this point he realized he had one Mackerel pattern lure, a Wind Cheater, back at the truck. Rather than play first mate for me he took off to get it, and I kept fishing. The fish kept whacking the plug every cast, but were tentative, so they weren't hooking up every cast. Jim got back after moving the truck back from the approaching tide, and clipped on the plug. He casted, the plug hit, he turned the crank and the rod bent. Just like that. I had not cast yet and, feeling somewhat guilty that I had not been down in the rocks for him, yelled over to see if he needed help landing it. "No, feels like it's small enough to swing up" he yells back, so I, just for variation, chucked my orange jointed danny into the dark. On queu, both our drags started screaming. Big fish. Mine took about three runs and "spit", so I cranked in to help Jim land his which by now was at the base of the jetty. We shined our lights down there and saw a real decent fish - probably 34-36". I'm ready to jump down, but Jim tried to slide him up a rock or something and splash! The fish and the plug headed back out to sea and Jim pulled in a wide open duolock snap. The 18 pounder did the same thing to me in September, and that why I won't use them anymore. I was lucky enought to tackle the fish on the beach when the snap opened, but I still lost the plug (stomped into the sand in the confusion I guess). My fingertips are sore from using the Berkley Big Game Crosslocks, and there are some plugs I can't use them with, but they don't open.

At 10:30 or so the tide is coming back in, the bite has died off, but not stopped, and we head back to the truck to rest up for the next tide. We kick off the jackets and plug bags, put the rods in the holders for the morning, open an Hacker Pshorr Octoberfest and turn on WFAN. Wonderful, the Devils won, the Rangers were bitch-slapped by the Pens, the beer was cold and the bass were biting. Life is good. We slept in thefront seats of the Suburban under blanket and in our wanders until 4:00 AM. At that point our "quiet" little jetty started to become Grand Central Station. Evidently the word was out from the Saturday night slaying, and every Tom, Dick and Harry with a 4 wheeler and beach permit was heading up the beach. You can see the lights for miles so we got ready, and ran out on the jetty in front of most of them to resume the beating. There were a couple of eel guys about 2/3 of the way out, so I skipped past them and got to "my" rock. The tide was higher, so the waves were crashing higher, but it looked doable. Except for that set thing. I turned around to put my back to the mess while changing a plug and a monster crawled up the jetty and knocked me on my ass. A bit disconcerting in the pitch black. I recovered and started fishing but got a wind knot. Rather than lose all my line and piss off everyone on the rocks, I headed to the beach to straighten it out. What was happening was the traveller was hanging up on the side of the reel again and not laying the line flat. I fixed it, and headed back out. A few more casts and more of the same knots. Screw it. I don't like fishing with a hundred other guys anyway, and the reel was definately f-ed, so I stuck it on the truck and grabbed the St. Croix spinning setup.

Rather than fish with all the yahoo's, I walked down the breachway to fish the calm water of the pond where I got the 18 pounder in September. For some reason, I put on the Mackerel Bottle Plug, put my back into it and heaved. I thought I heard a disconcerting creak from the rod, but no splash fo the lure. Shit. I had cast across the breachway and was hung up in the rocks with no way of getting over there. Nothing to do but pull and Pop! Now I've lost a lure that I haven't used in five years, but on one night it was all that. Now in addition to having to replace it, I have to buy an assortment of plugs in that pattern. This is the curse of the Striper. I tied on another rig, clipped in a Yellow Danny, and headed back out on the jetty. Jim was out there working it with the rest of the bunch - no bite yet, but the sun was just coming up. I talked to him, and another guy who was eeling, and asked if Icould drift my plug out. Sure - take a turn. I sent the Danny out into the current, and let it swing around. Dammit - hooked on the weeds around a rock. Since you can usually pull the hooks through the weed, I put my back into it and was treated to a sound not heard since Andy loaded up his St. Croix with 4 oz of lead and a bunker back. Pow! As I stood in front of 20 guys, a 2' section of rod and reel in my and and a rod tip sliding down the line into the ocean, I had the feeling this was not my day. I hand over handed the line back in for about ten minutes while these guys were waiting to cast, and slowly brought the plug and rod tip back, until it got to the base of the rocks I was on and snapped. That was it for me. I walked the gauntlet of sufcasters with my two foot section of graphite and heard every comment imaginable. I remained calm, went to the truck, and at 6:50 Sunday AM I had my last beer, then a swig or two from the flask.

I told Jim on my way out that was it for me, but if he caught bass, keep them. They owed me one. Jim put a nice 10 pounder in the cooler that morning, and by about 09:00 was done.

I had to get to a tackle shop, so we headed back to Weekapaug. Word of some guy snapping a rod on the Charleston breachway had already made it there, so I was a bit of a folk hero when I walked in. Don, who's children I am putting through College, fixed my Abu - evidently the pawl had worn out in a month since he replaced the last one (?) - , and respooled my spinning reel - which now had no accompanying rod. Lucky for me Don had a 9' Pac-Bay custom job on the rack. Nice rod, plenty of backbone and lighter than the St.Croix, and only slightly more expensive. I just quietly slid my credit card over the glass as I've done many times before there, and asked him to make it as painless as possible.

Is it any wonder I love this game?

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