Quonochontaug Pond, or “Quonnie Pond,” as it’s known to many locals, is a salt lagoon (or lake) located in southern Rhode Island. The pond, with its 4.5 mile shoreline, became my touchstone for saltwater fly-fishing in the state when I found the place with my daughter’s help (she who lives in Providence), along with plenty of research and miles of highway travel. Although Quonochontaug isn’t likely to win a beauty contest for natural splendor, it’s the wildest of nine such saline waters in southern Rhode Island and it functions as an important bird sanctuary and a nursery for winter flounder, striped bass, bluefish, and tautog.
I recently fished the pond in the middle of a long “5-day weekend” in early October. This coastal area is a long way from the rivertops and you might be wondering what a nice guy like me is doing in the backwashes of coastal America but, truth be told, I love the salt marsh habitats for their great diversity of life, and for the fact that they are seriously endangered by the rise of ocean levels. They also offer some fascinating birdwatching and fly-fishing opportunities.
Quonnie Pond is a touchstone for my small state wanderings, an ordering device that I’ve placed at the center of a whirlwind of experience there. It’s like an eye in the hurricane of sights and sounds along the coast. Out beyond the water, Providence glistens and pulsates with the blare of sirens, with the bonfires on the river at night (think gondolas and third-world music), with the taste of international cuisine and crafted beers, with the plight of homeless people holding signs at intersections. Out beyond the water, Newport wafts on the scent of seafood and the sight of sails, with the tours of Gilded Age “cottages” like The Breakers and Chateau sur Mer. Quonnie Pond, the tranquil hub, has an untouched barrier beach, a saltmarsh sanctuary for migratory birds, and large Victorian summer homes along its western shore.
I walked out from the busy ocean breachway, from the rapid currents of the channel to the sea, from the speedboats and jetties and fishermen, to the deep clean waters well-flushed by the tides… The sand was firm as I waded slowly, easily, casting a Clouser Minnow on an 8-weight line, looking for sea bass, seeing little other than great flocks of cormorants,
egrets, gulls, and geese. Sanderlings and yellowlegs fed nervously on the shore behind my back. A lone female loon appeared nearby, swimming underwater, surfacing 30 to 50 feet ahead. A stingray drifted toward my feet, its shell like a giant turtle’s, its long whip-like tail weaving behind a body kicking up plumes of sand.
I don’t know where the striped bass were. I waded to the red buoys of the channel in the pond, to the deep edge where, ostensibly, the bass fishing had been good all season. Perhaps the big fish had moved on. Lacking the hunting capabilities of an osprey, loon, or skilled bass angler, I took a skunk on Quonnie, as well as on other sites like Charlestown Breachway and Kings Beach. That’s okay with me. Quonochontaug (don’t you love the name?) will sit with my thoughts through the fall and winter. Late next spring, when the stripers swim back on migration, I’ll know where to greet them; I’ll know where to go.
Wow, that looks like some “pond”. Your mention of the variety of piscatorial critters found in the Quonnie reminded me of my own recent and unsuccessful quest for a species other than trout, namely, smallmouth bass. It’s rare that I deviate from my standard playbook, but I was on the Clarion near Cook Forest State Park where years ago, I had caught many large, hard fighting, red-eyed brutes, but it wasn’t to be. On the topic of Monarch butterflies, does it seem to you that they are making something of a comeback? The last couple of years I feel as though I’d been seeing more than in previous seasons.
Stripers and smallmouths, Bob, I don’t know where they went. But your observation of the Monarchs gives voice to what I may have been subconsciously wondering. Could it be they’re making a comeback? It does seem like I’ve been seeing more of them this year, which seems to fly in the face of some reports I’ve heard (that moths and butterflies in general seem to be declining). There was a lovely bank, a long bank, of planted daisies near Newport on the coast that was simply loaded with resting Monarchs. There may have been hundreds on that colony of flowers, and the sight was encouraging.
Thanks for this interesting report, Walt. The lagoon and wider locale seems to have many challenges – for the fly fisher, the concerned environmentalist, or those interested in wealth divisions…
Perhaps it isn’t love at first sight, but there’s something to be said for having to uncover the charms of different locations, in trying to learn new ways to navigate with success. Looks like you’re working at it!
Thanks for seeing and believing it, Adam. The challenges are firmly in place!
Walt, you change gears faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jumping from one race track to another does have it challenges. However, that diversity helps sharpen our skills and pushes other tactics to the forefront. I would imagine advice from locals would carry a lot of weight in regards to greater success, but sometimes its easier to simply find out for yourself (laugh). A Clouser or deceiver would be a first go too for me as well. I booked a trip some years back to Martha Vineyard. While there, fly fished for stripers with a guide on a boat for 8hrs. I enjoyed his company, free spirit, and he knew the water and fishing well. It is the only saltwater I’ve ever done. Its nice to fish different venues of water Walt. Its also nice to have family near on trips so you can explore different places more freely. Not so sure how exciting a stingray would be around my feet (laugh). Love your blog Walt and glad you keep your readers posted. Also, those pictures are wonderful..
Thank you much, JZ. I’ll admit I sometimes change gears so fast that it’s hard to keep up with myself! But I try to keep the changes in line, or in knots, with the overall theme here (ha). You’re right, getting advice from the locals might be the best way to achieve our angling goals, while bearing in mind that we may need to take some with a grain of ocean salt… In this case, word of mouth got me where I needed to go, finally. And like you, I haven’t had much experience with saltwater fly-fishing, but it comes with the idea of broadening experience and our base for the enjoyment of the sport. Anyway, it’s always good to hear from you.
I’m a bit late to the game, having just gotten home, but better late than never. Those salt marshes are fascinating places, ebbing and flowing and teeming. We saw many of the same birds off the coast of Acadia, including many loons and a good number of eiders (spelling?).
Glad you guys had a good time up in Maine. We also enjoyed (briefly) a place near Newport called Sechuest (sp.) National Wildlife Refuge. A cool place with trails along the shore. Will investigate it further. Looking forward to hearing more….
Wonderful seeing these coastal haunts, Walt. I especially liked the photo of fishing on the shoreline. One of my favorite places to go birding are marshes–the variety of birds, teeming insects and busy birds, so I can easily see why you like it too. So great you got to see monarchs migrating by the thousands, delightful photo too.
Thank you much, Jet. As you know, marshes, both freshwater and salt, are special habitats for birds and many kinds of creatures. And so important, too. I appreciate your comments!