Dolphins in Narragansett Bay like these seen off Jamestown, RI in the fall two years ago were rare. This year many dolphin sightings were reported. Warm water has caused bait fish, tuna, striped bass and dolphins to be around in large numbers this year.
“I sat there on Beavertail Point, Jamestown with a pair of binoculars looking toward Narragansett Beach. What I saw was astounding, fish after fish, bluefin tuna jumping, one here, and then two over there,” said Captain Jim White. The odd thing is that it was the end of January, 2012.
With many documented reports of tuna, menhaden and striped bass in Narragansett Bay this winter, it made me wonder why. The answer seemed obvious ... the weather and the water temperature has been warmer than normal. In fact, the Bay temperature has been heating up for nearly 40 years, but this is a lot warmer than usual.
How warm you ask? Well it used to be very cold. In 1740, Rhode Island Governor William Green of Warwick said in a note “… the Narragansett Bay was soon frozen over, and the people passed and repassed from Providence to Newport on the ice, and from Newport to Bristol” (Upkike, 1907).
The crew of the Brenton Reef lightship measured water temperature at the mouth of Narragansett Bay every day from July 1878 through January 1942. In the coldest winter recorded (1917-18), the water temperature from December through February was 33.2 F. The average for the whole period of their record (64 years) is much warmer at 39.1 F. (Nixon, Granger and Buckley, The Warming of Narragansett Bay, 2003).
However, even this temperature of 39.1 F is far from the warmer water temperatures recorded this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 … Conimicut Point, 45 F; Newport, 42 F; and Block Island, 46 F.
I mentioned Newport and Jamestown, as this is where bluefin tuna have been crashing schools of herring this winter and a number of dolphins have been spotted off these shores and further into the Bay. And, I mention Conimicut Light because from the Light all the way up the Providence River, schools of Atlantic Menhaden have been around all winter, along with an unusually large amount of striped bass that recreational anglers have been catching.
This week I asked Jason McNamee, marine biologist, Marine Fisheries Division of the RI Department of Environmental Management, his thoughts on the appearance of menhaden, striped bass, tuna and warm water this winter and here is what he had to say.
Jason McNamee said, “… Yes, this is all strange indeed. Our trawl survey has been seeing these menhaden as well, which is quite unique relative to other years. Just as a quick, off-the-cuff-type response, the warm winter we are having has provided an adequate temperature for these species to stay, and survive, over the winter. The bluefin that were spotted (and caught in some instances), I’d say, were directly related to the herring population that came in to our area waters. It is a well researched hypothesis that there is a strong correlation between bluefin tuna and strong water density gradients and I have heard people indicate that there was a rapid change in water temperature from inshore to offshore this winter, thus creating a density gradient. What happens at these density gradients is that you get a collection of things like plankton, so species like herring and menhaden will take advantage of the collection of food by schooling and feeding in these areas, and species like striped bass and tuna take advantage of the aggregation of their food source … It has been a very interesting winter to say the least.”
I have to wonder what this might mean for fishing this spring and summer. There is no doubt we can start to fish earlier in the upper portion of the Bay, as we can continue to fish the bass that have decided to stay as anglers have done all winter. Also, one might think that our coastal waters, the Bay and estuaries that are holding more bait than usual for this time of year would attract new migrating striped bass more than usual, too. We will just have to wait and see.
However, I am also interested in what effect this warm winter water might have on the fish in the summer. We know warm water, excessive nutrients and low oxygen levels have had devastating effects (fish kills) in the summer in the upper portions of the Bay, particularly Greenwich Bay and Cove (see Fish need oxygen too at http://noflukefishing.blogspot.com/2011/07/fish-need-oxyen-too.html ).
Again, we will just have to wait and see.
Shallow Water Striper University cancelled
Captain Jim White has canceled Shallow Water Striper University scheduled for February 18 and 19. Captain White said, “Advanced registrations were slow so we had to cancel the two day event.”
Let your voice be heard, attend public hearing on fishing regulations
Wednesday, February 22, Public Hearing. 6:00 p.m., URI Bay Campus, Corless Auditorium. Agenda to include proposed changes to the Management Plans for most salt water species including fluke, striped bass, tautog, menhaden, scup and more.
Capt. Dave Monti and Chef Ralph Battista to speak about fluke at RISAA seminar
Two topics, fluke (summer flounder) fishing tips and fluke cooking tips will be featured at the Monday, February 27, 7:00 p.m. Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) meeting this month. Capt. Dave Monti of No Fluke Fishing charters and noted local fishing columnist will share fluke fishing tips from expert guides, charter captains and anglers. Chef Ralph Battista, owner of Luigi’s Restaurant and Gourmet Express, Johnston, RI will share fluke cooking tips. When not cooking at his restaurant Ralph spends time with his family aboard his boat Hook’n & Cook’n. RISAA members can bring a friend at no charge; non-members are asked to make a $10 donation. Seminar starts at 7:00 p.m. at the West Valley Inn, West Warwick, RI with optional dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Visit www.risaa.org for details.
Where’s the bite
Cod fishing on both the Seven B’s (1.800.371.fish) and Francis Fleet (1.800.662.2824) vessels has been good. Larry Norin filed this report on a cod trip he took last Thursday aboard the Island Current out of Snug Harbor. “We left the dock around 5 a.m. and headed to the East Grounds off BI. About 15-20 total people on board. One Captain, two mates, about ten regulars and a few first timers. … We dropped the first clams down while on anchor around 6:30 a.m. Bent rods all over the place with mostly dogfish and the occasional Cod. We moved and re-anchored on the structure and got away from the Dogs. We moved one other time and headed west and very close to the island. It was a slowish pick all day. I managed four dogfish (most caught way more) two conger eels and twelve cod, two were released that were 21 inches the rest were 24-28 inches.”
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license, a charter fishing license, and is a member of the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council. 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 ; his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.