Pork Chops and Goose Eggs Part I – Tom Merchant

Not as tasty as it sounds, but not all that bad either.  This is an account of four men’s nearly fishless fishing trip to Block Island in November 2009.

Part 1:  Gannets and Sand

Last November this year several of us ventured to the swine shapen wedge of sand just off to our south in search of fall fish. We found the waters suspiciously absent of fish, but brimming over with possibility, and on the last day finally bait. It is true that the island is a surf fisherman’s paradise, but if fall is known for hit or miss fishing, then we certainly arrived for the longest whiff of a bat that I’ve ever experienced.
This was the first trip (or close to it) out to the Block for some shore bound fishing that any of us have ever taken. I’d like to use that as the excuse for why nothing but a lone bluefish was taken, but I won’t. Every inch of this island reads like a book for the experienced surf fisherman, so almost every inch was riddled with possibilities. We hiked more than I ever thought we would, down and across the boulder strewn, sand bluff shadowed south shores, to the long, pebble covered, crescent shaped beaches to the north. 8-10 miles a day would be my guess (My friend Nick say’s I exaggerate, but it felt like that much). There aren’t many places we didn’t visit, all of which have now been downloaded and saved in our minds for future visits. We can’t wait to try again.


(Photo Courtesy of Sean Ransom)

The weather porked us a bit on this trip (pun completely intended). We initially planned to leave the week before, but the remnants of Ida had other plans. With 40kt winds consuming the area for three days we were forced to bump the trip one more week. But unfortunately, the winds drove hard and wet out of the northeast the next weekend for all but a few hours on our first afternoon there. Other fisherman gearing up to leave the island assured us this wind would kill all possibilities of finding consistent activity. But that kind of talk has never stopped us before. It appears now that their might have been some truth (and most likely experience) behind these claims. But we were there, so we fished. It felt good to be on the island anyway.
That first night we shot up to the north end where early day investigations revealed northern gannets feeding a half mile off the beach. A good sign of sandeels or herring or whatever, so as good a place as any to start. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of watching gannets feed, try and imagine and area of water that froths and blasts like dozens of cannonballs are pelting the surface. Yeah, it’s that crazy. I could watch them for hours on end. In fact we did. The best show in town.
Gannets in the fall have always been great for letting you know if there is bait around, of which we had no doubt, but didn’t actually get a visual on until the last day. When a gannet feeds it can do so in a variety of ways, but by far the most impressive is when they take a high altitude position over a school of baitfish and dive-bomb the water like a flock of overgrown terns on steroids. The birds drop from above, guiding their trajectory with half-stowed wings and moments before impact, they thrust their wings closed providing them with a final burst of speed. The result are large pencil shaped creatures pounding the water at breakneck speeds tossing a plumes of water airborne in their wakes. When feeding in this manner the gannets don’t grab a fish on the way into the water, rather on their way back up to the surface or during some type of swimming maneuver. Gannets don’t necessarily need predators feeding below the fish as they can dive down to incredible depths on their own.


(Photo Courtesy of Sean Ransom)

The north rip is a long spit of coarse sand, of which, the average stone size is similar to that of a pencil eraser. I mention this because the type of sand or stone beneath your feet can give you a good indication as to the type of environment you are setting foot on. Areas with the fine sand we typically refer to as beach sand, is soft, light, and smooth. It’s about as fine as sand can get without being crushed. It’s the sand that is picked up and washed away by currents and waves only to be redeposited in a quieter area along the shore or sea bottom where it accumulates. An area where there is rarely enough energy exerted by the sea to move it or currents and structure prevent it from moving any further. The result is that quieter open ocean coves tend to accumulate this stuff which has been stripped away from the more active bars and reefs. And in return, it leaves only those stones whose minimum sizes are directly proportional to the average ocean energy dissipated in that area. The seas shape the land, but in turn the land shapes the sea. The eraser sized stones on the north spit are a good indication of a high energy area which is constantly in flux. The less stable the footing, the more likely it is to be crazy more often than it’s not.
The west side of the north bar drops off quickly, but the east side consists of a large flat shallow cobble bar. The exact environmental factors which contribute to the creation and maintenance of this type of sand spit structure are very complex, but in general they are the result of strong diurnal tidal currents shifting direction and the fact that larger ocean seas and swells tend to shoal up and wrap around the island meeting at the north end from both sides. The result can be explosive even on a calm day.
Nick pushed out the furthest on that bar the first night. When I got out in the water the bottom felt alive. Those small round stones opened up like quicksand as the water sloshed and shifted around my legs. One second I’d be standing on dry land, the next I’d be up past my waist in swirling water. I felt my boots sinking in the sand with every passing wave so I stopped following him after entering the water only several yards. At this point of the evening the seas had built to a decent 2-4 feet. I watched the waves from the east and west meet on top of the bar to my north. They’d start out a hundred yards from the dry beach and close up like a zipper shooting a plume of water in the air as their intersection raced toward the point. I watched these moving bulges of water ( which were by no means steady or predictable in their arrival) blast right through Nick as he managed out on the bar, soaking him from head to toe. I don’t know how he could stand it. Actually, I think he might have enjoyed it.
Unsuccessful and half soaked (except for Nick who was 100% soaked), we hiked back across Cow Cove to the lot and went in for some dinner. Later that night we gathered back up and pushed down the east side of the island to the Spring House, another beautiful piece of water.

Read The Rest of Tom’s Adventure (Parts 2 – 7) On His Blog

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