story and photo by Tom Richardson
I n many respects Narragansett Bay is the ideal trailerboat destination: It's a short drive for many southern New England boaters, it's well protected and it offers no shortage of things to do on or near the water. There's great fishing through much of the season, many interesting bayside towns to visit, a predictable afternoon seabreeze and a plethora of peaceful anchorages in which to picnic, swim or clam. Throw in a bunch of rivers, coves, creeks and islands to explore, and you have the recipe for a great time on the water--especially if you boat with kids. Perhaps the only downside to the bay is that it can be busy on summer weekends, although a clever boater can usually find a quiet corner away from the crowds.
There are lots of launch ramps around the bay, and two of the best are at Haines Park on Bullocks Cove in Barrington, near the mouth of the Providence River, and Colt State Park in Bristol, on the upper east side of the bay. Both are free, state-maintained facilities that have recently been upgraded. Of the two, Haines, off Route 114, offers the quickest access from Interstate 195. Its concrete ramp is well designed and can be used by most boats on all stages of the tide. The floats are well maintained, and there is plenty of parking.
Colt, also off Route 114, is a bit farther south and has a mean low-water depth of four feet. There are a few rocks to watch out for as you approach and leave the ramp, and the fixed deck can present problems on extreme high and low tides. Still, there is plenty of parking and the scenic park location affords immediate access to the upper bay.
A third state ramp worth noting is at Bold Point off Veteran's Memorial Parkway in East Providence. This concrete, double ramp at the mouth of the Swansea River, just outside Providence, is close to both Interstates 95 and 195; however, it can be crowded on weekends, and the facilities are somewhat dirty.
On the west side of the bay, the concrete ramp at Oakland beach in Warwick offers four feet of depth at mean low water and quick access to the upper bay. Farther south, the Allen Harbor town ramp in North Kingstown, just north of Quonset Point, has a depth of three feet at mean low water. There is a fee of $15 on weekends. Yet another recommended west-bay ramp is at Wickford Cove just off Route 1 at the end of Intrepid Drive. It's a free ramp with ample parking and is close to open water.
Speaking of open water, once you get there the world is your oyster--or perhaps quahog would be more appropriate, as Narragansett Bay has long been famous for its shellfish industry. Most days you'll see the fleet of small, ramshackle quahog boats drifting over Ohio Ledge, just north of Prudence Island, as the clammers pull their 30-foot-long "bull rakes" over the mud bottom.
Located in the upper portion of the bay, Prudence Island and its smaller neighbor, Patience Island, offer places where you can drop the hook and wade, dinghy or swim ashore. Prudence has a snug anchorage just inside Potters Cove, on the east side of the island, that serves as a popular gathering spot for boaters. The cove is protected by Gull Point, which features a long sandy beach.
The narrow cut between Prudence and Patience Islands also offers several small coves where you can drop the hook and take a dip. And you can go ashore and explore Patience Island, which, like many of the small islands in the bay, is managed by the Narragansett Bay Reserve. Another peaceful, scenic spot to hang out or fish is Seminary Cove, on the west side of the bay, in front of the rolling monastery grounds and in the shadow of the now-defunct Rocky Point amusement park. If the wind kicks up you can seek shelter in protected Greenwich Bay, which offers great early-season bluefishing, as well as Goddard Park, where you can anchor and enjoy a picnic on the beach.
Hungry? Consider stopping at Quitos Restaurant or the Lobster Pot, both on Bristol Harbor on the east side of the bay, or poking up the Warren River to the Wharf Tavern or the excellent Tyler Point Grill (at the Barrington Yacht Club). On the west side of the bay, Greenwich Bay and Wickford Cove have town docks where you can tie up for a few hours while you get something to eat or visit the shops.
For a more cosmopolitan experience, take a run up the Providence River to the city of Providence (for more on Providence boating, see "Capital Investment," October 2007). You'll find a couple of good places to dock and dine (Kurrents and The Hot Club) just inside the hurricane barrier. At the southern end of the bay is the city of Newport, which needs no introduction. It has innumerable spots to eat and shop, plus access to historic sights, such as Fort Adams State Park and the famous Newport mansions.
If you like to kayak or if your boat has a shallow draft, you can explore one of the rivers that feed into the bay. The expansive, marsh-rimmed Hundred Acre Cove, deep inside the Barrington River, is a great place to fish or bird watch. The nearby Palmer River offers a similar experience.
Speaking of wildlife, those interested in the ecology, geography or natural history of Narragansett Bay can pull up to the docks at the Save the Bay Educational Center at Fields Point, on the Providence River (see "Center of Success," June 2007). This new, state-of-the-art eco-friendly facility features interesting educational materials and exhibits relating to the ecosystem of the bay. It's a great place to bring children.
As local anglers know, fishing in Narragansett Bay can be outstanding, especially early in the season, and you don't need a large or fancy boat to enjoy the action. In fact, kayak fishermen often do as well as those in tricked-out center consoles.
Trophy striped bass and bluefish abound from late May through June, feeding on schools of menhaden in the upper bay and in the Providence River. During the same time, smaller stripers can be caught around virtually any type of structure, including the rocks off Rumstick Point and the boulder-strewn shoreline of Colt Sate Park. All of the rivers and coves offer great schoolie fishing at this time.
In late summer and early fall, 6- to 10-pound blues often tear up the surface as they feed on small bait throughout the bay. Trolling tube-and-worm rigs or drifting live baits along the deep channel edges, points and ledges is another good way to score with bass and blues. No matter what technique you use, your best bet is to fish early, before the crowds and the sun send the fish deep. Then you'll have the rest of the day to sample the rest of Narragansett Bay's many attractions.
NARRAGANSETT BAY AT A GLANCE
Information on all of Rhode Island's state launch ramps can be found at www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/boatlnch.htm or www.riparks.com. Another good source is www.connyak.org/Public%20Affairs/Launch_Sites_HTML.html. Information on the state's marinas and marina launch ramps can be found at www.rimarinas.com/links.htm.
For information on the islands of Narragansett Bay, contact the Narragansett Bay Reserve, part of NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System, (301-713-3155; www.nerrs.noaa.gov/NarragansettBay).
Detailed information on the bay's environment, along with directions to the Save the Bay Center, can be found through Save the Bay (401-272-3540; www.savethebay.org). An excellent book packed with useful information for the visiting boater is A Cruising Guide to Narragansett Bay and the South Coast of Massachusetts (www.landfallnavigation.com/-ben097.html).
NOAA chart 13221
Two private companies that make excellent charts of Narragansett Bay highlighted with proven fishing spots are Fishing Hot Spots (www.fishinghotspots.com) and Capt. Seagulls (www.captainseagullcharts.com).
Fishing Info and Supplies
Fishing information can be found through the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association website (www.risaa.org). Bait and tackle are available at Quaker Lane Tackle in North Kingstown (800-249-5400; www.quakerlane.com) and Ocean State Tackle in Providence (401-272-2248; www.oceanstatetackle.com.