Structure Fishing Tactics

By: Rene Letourneau


The fisherman who wants the challenge of fishing structure should prepare to be tested. The skill level required to be successful is in a league of its own. I like to call it COMBAT FISHING. The fish caught in the rocks have the advantage over the fisherman. Especially with light tackle. A very skillful rod handler can level the odds with pinpoint casting and solid skills, but the hook up ratio is better than the landing ratio. A fish caught among rocks is very aware of his environment and they know every nook and cranny they can use to cut you off. It is important to control the fish immediately, if he turns head down into the bottom it will be a short-lived fight.

Fishing structure is, in my opinion, the most challenging type of fishing. There are many different types of structure and all have their own obstacles to take into consideration.

First and one of the most important things to consider are the safety of the boat and the crew. Always approach structure from a safe distance and evaluate the conditions before starting your approach. Always check out the drift of the boat prior to setting up for the first cast. The sea conditions are never the same for day to day or for that matter conditions can change in a heartbeat. Always be aware of your surroundings.

When seeking out structure for fly-fishing and light tackle fishing, you should always observe the area at low tide. I call this scouting the area, many points of danger can be noted from a safe distance at the low tide. You can see the rock formations that could hold fish, and also areas to avoid in sea conditions that are less favorable. Always refer to a chart of the area before fishing.

Fishing technique, baits and lures. My favorite way to fish is with a fly rod, but spin gear can be very effective. When fly fishing I like to fish as close to the white water as safety will allow. The fish will ambush the fly as it tumbles in the wash. Precise presentation is a must since the target area can be small with the fish holding tight to the rocks. Top water plugs and flies will work if they are in the zone. Soft plastics work great as well.

There is nothing like watching the fly or top water plug land in the wash, allow it to tumble and then it happens. The water boils and the line is screaming off the reel, you pull hard and the games begin. The fight can be won or lost in the first minute. You must hold on as tight as you can, if you canít control the fish, it will be a short battle. What a rush, the heart is pumping and you're doing all you can. If the fish moves out for open water, you'll have a chance. Then over the side comes a beautiful striper or a toothy bluefish. Believe me, you will remember that moment for a long time, what a thrill.

Boat handling is the key when fishing structure. It is important that someone is at the helm with the engine running while close to rocky areas. Always have the bow in position so a quick move can be made safely. The wind and the swell will effect your position on the structure. Constant communication between captain and the fisherman will increase the chances. There is nothing like standing on the bow of the boat with rod in hand, while the cap sets up the cast. Itís a thing of beauty.

This type of fishing requires a certain skill level of the captain and the fisherman to be successful. Always remember SAFETY.

What is Structure.
There are many types of structure along the Rhode Island coast. The most obvious would be rock formations. Whether it is a shoreline covered with bolders or offshore reefs. A point from the shore that is extended into the water is a great form of structure. Flats also are considered prime structure. I would say that structure is a formation that causes a change in the depth or flow of water. Such as a drop off or ledge, channel edges and inlets, weed lines and rips can also provide great fishing. There are many deep water structures that can only be found with a GPS unit. Check your charts for changes in depth, rock piles the size of the area are all factors to consider...

Deep-water reefs. Starting from the outer edges of the reef working close to the structure at the deepest point will bring some tremendous hits. I like to search this area with jigs and soft plastics. Sluggos and the Storm baits work great. match the hatch for the size of bait in the area. I like big flies and big bait. When fly-fishing a deep sinking line works the best. 400 grain and a 9wt will get the job done. I like the 10 or 11wt in deeper water. I will work the area from the outside so the boat movement will not bother the fish, working the area as close to the rocks as safely possible. At times the fish will be tight in the wash, be patient and cover the area thoroughly. You will be rewarded. Let me show you my favorite places. It will be an adventure you won't forget.

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Capt. Rene Letourneau has over 20 years experience on Rhode Island Waters.  He started Fly Fishing as a youth, fishing for just pan fish and Bass. In 1970 Rene started fishing Narragansett Bay for Stripers, and turned to commercial fishing from 1976-1983. an currently runs Newport Fishing Charters.

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