Tom, Frank, and I all had a really great time September 22 - 23, 2012 at the Stonington Invitational. . . . fished hard with Tom Comito and Frank Healy . . . . it is a long story, but, importantly, the two Dons at Stonington Marina treated us with more courtesy than we deserved! Were fantastic hosts! They supplied us with everything from critical fishing information, to fresh scallops!
Learned a few truths about the area and albie fishing as a whole that weekend:
1. Stonington Marina is a top notch outfit run by great people that cater to us kayakers. It is a great place to center your trip for a vacation, kayak related or not, with family, or solo, there is plenty to do in the area, and it offers some of the most diverse fishing opportunities in the northeast.
2. Albies are usually most prevalent in areas that are extremely difficult to launch, with long carries up hills into the ocean with strong currents . . . .
3. For Rhody albies, fish soft plastics on calm days.
4. Trolling or blind casting was not a good idea . . . . the albies only pop up for a few seconds and you will likely only get one cast on them. If you are trolling or blind casting, by the time you reel your line in, they will be gone.
5. Albies become much more aggressive in choppy weather.
6. The boaters in Rhode Island are much more courteous to kayakers fishing blitzes than Montauk. We all helped each other find fish out there, and most of these guys were pros – I only saw one guy put the fish down over two days – they were careful in coming up on them.
7. Having someone with eagle eyes is a great help and Tom Comito is an albie hawk! I can still hear in my sleep "Right in front of you! See 'em? Now, to your left!"
8. Frank Healy is the man!!!!
As for the fishing, Tom and I had been texting back and forth that week, and discussing strategy. Tom and Frank got up a day before me, and fished Napatree Point on Friday.I spoke to Tom before I left on Friday, and he told me that although they got a few stripers, the rip around Naptree was about as hairy as they come and likely impassible with a kayak in an east wind. So, I spoke with Don O and he said that the albie fishing had been consistent around the Watch Hill Lighthouse for over a week. After discussing with Tom and Frank, we decided to fish there on Saturday morning.
So, I get up there at 11:15 pm on Friday, and meet Tom and Frank at 6 am Saturday morning at Stonington Marina, and Don O. tells us where to launch. It was the same location as Napatree Point, but instead of launching in the harbor, we would launch on the outside in the ocean. He also told us to focus our efforts on the lighthouse, and that the albies had recently been moving back and forth from there to Fisher’s Island, NY.
We arrived at the beach at Watch Hill at about 6:45 and Tom went to check out the launch . . . . and came back with bad news. The launch entailed a carry over a soft sand trail on a sand dune that was about two stories high. We started to refer to the launch as “heart attack hill.” Although it isn’t quite as bad as the carry down from Camp Hero in Montauk, the fact that it was uphill both ways made it a little bit worse, but still doable, especially with three people.
After conquering Heart Attack Hill, we prepared to launch to very calm seas in the ocean - light wind from the ESE - basically negligible. It was low tide, so there was a little bit of shore break. We had prepared to fish most of the incoming. We were encouraged for the day because we immediately saw a few flocks of birds working over bait and plenty of boats in front of the lighthouse. After making it to the lighthouse, we didn’t see any action, so we went southwest about a mile offshore, where we saw boats and birds working – big mistake. Although we saw baitfish being pushed up by predators, Frank correctly noted that it was either blues or stripers, as albies are distinctive in slashing the bait they push to the surface. We wasted over an hour there, and decided to head back towards the lighthouse to prospect and look.
Frank went to the lighthouse. Tom and I went to Watch Hill Reef to see if we could jig up some black sea bass. After a few minutes, a group of guys in a boat tell us that there are albies behind us – we get a glance and confirm it definitely was false albacore – we saw big fish slashing the top of the water for about ten seconds, so we put away our sea bass gear and went looking for albies. While moving back towards the lighthouse, I see a little pod busting out of the water in front of Tom . . . . Tom the albie hawk noticed this too and tossed a soft plastic at them . . . and fish on! After a long fight, Tom dropped the fish boatside, and we were both disappointed, but it only made us want to catch one more!
We stayed in this area for a little while longer, and the albies came up a few more times. While we were out by the reef, Frank was seeing much more consistent albie blitzes, but wasn’t able to hook up. Tom left and went in fish with Frank. I stayed out by the reef for 45 minutes, and made my way back to the Lighthouse. As I got there, Tom had just landed his first albie, and he was on fire for the rest of the afternoon. He had caught it on a little soft plastic tsunami split tail, that he generously shared with Frank and I.
For the rest of the afternoon, the albies stayed consistently in the same spot in front of the lighthouse. They would pop up in small pods of 3 – 5 fish, blitz for about ten seconds, and disappear, but reappear somewhere else nearby. There were periods where they disappeared for a few minutes, but as long as the current was moving well, they were present most of the time.
Well, Tom continued to pound the albies, and caught a few that day, and Frank and I weren’t having nearly as good luck with them. But, at around 12:30 pm, while I was fishing with Frank, a big pod of albies appeared right in front of our boat, busting bait like crazy . . . . and I see Frank make the perfect cast into the pod, as my own cast went a little astray . . . and I hear Tom say – “Frank you’re going to be on. . . “ and wouldn’t ya know it, Frank hooks up and is pulled off on a Watch Hill sleigh ride! First the albie pulled him east, but then brought him dangerously close to the rip. After a few minutes, I lost sight of them both, and later I see Tom coming through the rip with another paddle kayak behind them, and I’m thinking that it must be another kayaker up for the tournament and wondered what happened to Frank. Later, Tom gets out of the rip much sooner than the other yak, and he tells me that the other yakker is Frank and that he busted his drive, but was going to try to paddle through the rip. For this reason and many others . . . . Frank is the man – he made it through a very hairy rip paddling with a bum shoulder – now that is dedication!
We stayed for about another 20 minutes, but the tide was starting to slack, and the albies weren't coming up as frequently so we called it a day. As I said to Frank and Tom, it was the most fun I ever had getting skunked. Importantly, we all learned much that would benefit us on the second day.
On the second day, we met at camp at 5 am and got to Watch Hill pre-dawn . . . . only to hear breakers crashing on the beach outside. So, Tom and I went to go for a look, and it sounded bad, but since it was near low tide, we were hoping it was shore break but couldn't tell in the dark. We waited until false dawn, and decided that it was OK, and off we went to Heart Attack Hill. After a launch that was a little tougher than the prior day, we were off, and this time went straight to the lighthouse.
However, there were less boats, and no albies originally. But . . . . we waited. Learning our lesson from the prior day, we stayed right in their lane and watched, with our index finger on the trigger of our spinning rods, waiting for any sign of life. . . . after about a half hour, I switched up to scup fishing, and nailed 10 fat scup to 15". I think we were all thinking that it was a dark morning, and albies prefer the sun up high, so we thought we had a chance after 8 am, and that our odds would get better as the current started to flow after slack. At around a little after 8 am, the albie hawk (Tom) started to see fish, and I put the porgy outfit away and went back to albies.
As the day got brighter, more and more albies started to show, and the weather became more and more windy. Low tide slack was at approximately 8:30 am, and the tide started moving a little bit around 9 am. On this day, the wind was coming from the WNW, at about a 15 knot clip gusting to about 20 knots. The weather was predicted as northwest 5 - 10 knots, but that predication was far off.
Around slack tide, the albies started to slam the bay anchoives onto the rocks of the lighthouse, and when the tide changed to incoming . . . . it led to the perfect storm for the next 90 minutes - a wind against current situation that pinned the baitfish to the rip and against the lighthouse . . . . and then, the water started to boil with albies.
Unlike the prior day where the albies were moving in small pods of 3 - 5 fish that weren't feeding aggressively, the gusty west wind got them to lay down their inhabitions, and get much more aggressive. From everywhere that I could see, there were birds working and pods of albies crashing everywhere. I would estimate that these pods contained somewhere between 12 - 20 albies, but they were only up for a little longer than the prior day.
I was having a tough time fishing plastics because I didn't bring the right equipment. I thought I would mostly be casting metal, so I brought my typical kayak plugging outfit with me, which is a mini-surf rod by St. Croix, rated heavy, armed with a 5000 class reel spooled with 15 lb braid - big mistake for soft plastics. The tip was too stiff for me to effectively jig a 1/4 soft plastic - it was pulling it out of the water when I retrieved it. Further, I couldn't get a feel for it. Additionally, I was getting cronic wind knots, and was forced to re-tie several times that morning - lost lots of opportunities because of it.
So, to suit my equipment more to the fishing, I upsized to a 4" pink sluggo on a 1/2 ounce head - because I thought I would have much more feel for it. After I rigged up, a pod of albies exploded in front of the boat and I pulled the trigger and casted to them, jigging and reeling fast, I thought I had missed them, and my line went slack, but I saw an albie swimming next to the boat . . . . and then . . . . my reel started to scream like I hooked a jet ski! It was off to the races, and I took my first watch hill sleigh ride . . . . the albie was screaming my reel, pulling west, and pulling east, but I had heavy equipment, and was able to get him boatside pretty fast, but . . . . off he went again - I eventually got him next to the boat, but had trouble netting him, eventually I got him in there, and let out a primal sceam! My first albie on the kayak!
After releasing the albie, I continued to fish the lighthouse area, but noticed that Tom and Frank were into albies behind me, and that there were now several flocks of diving gulls spread out over about a mile from Watch Hill Lighthouse to the south - several boats on every pod of fish.
For the next hour, the numbers of albies surfacing increased to a crescendo, and in direct proportion to the wind - it became really windy. Right before the current picked up, there were albies everywhere, and I switched to a tin, because I couldn't cast or feel my sluggo anymore. After switching, there was a pod in front of me and I caught an albie on my first cast using a one ounce DD. After this, hooked into another one that broke 15 lb mono is 2 seconds.
We all continued to pick away at fish until a little after 10 am. After this, the current picked up and pushed the bay anchoives out of the rip, and the blitzes broke up, and became less frequent. At this point, we all called it a day to pack up and get to the BBQ.
It was a great weekend, and we couldn't have done it without teamwork - it took us a day to figure it out, and help each other logistically, and it turned out to be perfect. Like I said to Frank after we got back to Watch Hill, it is amazing where the plastic vessel will take you any given season. This was my last kayak trip until the winter, and it started in Tampa, with a couple of trips to the north country, and a final stop in Watch Hill, RI, and memories that will last a lifetime! Glad I got to share it with Tom and Frank. Albies are really tough to catch, and we all helped each other get into them.