This weekend I had a surreal experience in Greenwich Bay. There was no wind, it was foggy and a light gentle rain was falling when I found myself in the middle of a large menhaden pod. It had a diameter of about 40 yards. There were plenty of other pods (six that I found) in the same area, that were fifteen to thirty feet in diameter, but nothing this large. I miscalculated and gently drifted through this pod while fishing the edges. The pod was so large that when my boat was in the middle it was like being in the eye of a hurricane. Though there was no activity in the center, menhaden were swirling all around my boat with dorsal fins out of the water and an occasional bluefish crashing through the school. A menhaden pod this large in open water was something that I had not experienced in a long time.
These menhaden have been in Greenwich Bay for three weeks now. I also found them off Warwick Neck, Quidnesset Country Club and Quonset Point in North Kingstown. They were just about everywhere in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. Last year menhaden commercial fishing boats were restricted from fishing north of Conimicut Light in the East Passage and not allowed to fish in Greenwich Bay with a boundary line from Warwick Light to Sandy Point. No official scientific proof but these efforts along with other regulations and the State’s commercial monitoring program seem to be working as the menhaden are thick in Greenwich Bay.
Why are menhaden important?
In a Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) newsletter article (www.risaa.org), Dan Pedro relates that “Menhaden serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads”. Pedro continues to say that Atlantic menhaden occupy two distinct types of feeding niches during their lifetime: they are size-selective plankton feeders as larvae, and filter feeders as juveniles and adults. An adult menhaden, through its unique filtering gills, is able to process up to 4 gallons of water per minute or a million gallons of water every 180 days. Multiply this by the number of menhaden in Greenwich Bay alone this year and this is an amazing amount of water being filtered, a reduction of nutrients means fewer algae blooms and ultimately more oxygen for all fish.
In addition, menhaden have a great value to both the commercial and recreational fishery. Commercial fishermen harvest them as bait for lobster traps as well as fish sold to bait shops for recreational anglers. Recreational anglers use menhaden to catch striped bass and bluefish. Menhaden are an important food source for striped bass and bluefish. In fact, in a Chesapeake Bay study conducted several years ago a reduction in the menhaden biomass led to malnourished striped bass, which led to disease, specifically mycobacteriosis. Mycobacteriosis is a disease that reduced the number of young fish in the Chesapeake, and a disease that can be transmitted to fishermen from handling fish with sores as they can enter a human body through a cut or open wound (visit www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com for additional articles on the topic).
Do menhaden spawn in the Bay?
Jason McNamee, of the Fish and Wildlife Division of DEM, said last year at a menhaden fisheries advisory panel meeting that menhaden do spawn all year long up and down the east coast, that peak spawning occurs offshore in winter. However, he said that juvenile fish referred to as “peanut” size fish could not have migrated all the way from the North Carolina coast. The current understanding is that these fish could not have come from further than Long Island and could have come from fish spawning in and around Narragansett Bay. So protecting spawning fish in Narragansett Bay is very important to the vitality of this fishery.
How is this fishery managed?
Narragansett Bay, in its entirety, is designated a Menhaden Management Area and the fishery is monitored and managed by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Regulations include catch limits, equipment used to catch them (size and types of boats and nets) and fishing periods that govern all commercial menhaden operations.
How to fish a menhaden pod for bass and bluefish?
Snagging menhaden and using them live as bait or chucking them up and placing them on a hook as bait are two popular ways the fish are used to catch striped bass (and bluefish). Anglers often snag menhaden using a treble hook, quickly pulling it through a pod, hooking a fish and retrieving it. The menhaden is then placed on a hook through the nose or halfway down the back of the fish and put back in the water to swim with the school as bait. Many place the fish right back in the pod, others fish down current of the pod and get their live bait (or chucked fish) down to the bottom as bass generally feed on the bottom from scraps that fall after bluefish rip though the pods.
Scup season extended to December 31
This week, DEM extended the scup season. In a press release DEM said, “In order to increase access to the overstocked scup population and thereby afford relief and reduce the ecological peril faced by the tautog population which has been declared to be “overfished,” DEM Director Janet Coit has determined that it is necessary to adopt regulatory amendments via emergency rule making in order to extend the recreational season for scup until December 31.” A ten fish/day/angler limit is in effect, with a 10 ½” size limit.
Where’s the bite
Tuna fishing for giants still very slow with few fish being caught so far this year. Yellowfin tuna fishing has been OK. Frances Fleet had a great overnight tuna trip this weekend. Yellowfin tuna to 75 pounds were caught. Two swordfish were caught in the 100 to 125 pound range. Their next tuna trip is scheduled for the Columbus Day weekend. Visit them online for details at www.francesfleet.com.
Cod fishing has been slow this week. Some fish being caught on party boats but overall anglers have not aggressively targeted this species yet as striped bass, scup, sea bass and tautog are still all being fished.
Scup fishing remained good this weekend as the season has been extended by DEM. Anglers in Narragansett Bay as well as on party boats report a good scup bite. Many large fish being taken on the Seven B’s party boat this weekend.
Striped bass fishing in and around Narragansett Bay continues to improve. John Wurnner of John’s Bait & Tackle, North Kingstown said keeper striped bass have been taken in the East Passage using eels in the Providence River by angler Mike Swain of Coventry. Craig Castro at Erickson’s Bait & Tackle said, “Customers are catching bass using live menhaden between Prudence Island and Hope Island.” Greenwich Bay menhaden pods are attracting bluefish but there have been reports of some bass being taken too. Block Island bass bite slowed a bit this week. Fish caught on the Southwest side have been smaller than usual, in the 20 pound range rather than the 30 and 40 pound fish that were caught earlier in the month. By the end of the week, larger fish started to appear again. Bait of choice is still eels.
Bluefishing continues to pick up in Narragansett Bay with large fish now being caught in the West Passage from Greenwich Bay to Quonset and beyond as the bluefish feed on large and small pods of menhaden. Bluefish bite off coastal shores and at Block Island is strong as well.
Tautog fishing has gotten off to a slow start as anglers continue to target other available species. Fishing for tautog has been fair to good.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Your fishing photos in JPEG from, stories, comments and questions are welcome… there’s more than one way to catch a fish. Visit Captain Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.