Fish Strained the Scales

Eric Linsner used a live eel to catch this 581/2-pound striped bass off Montauk Point on Saturday.
Eric Linsner used a live eel to catch this 581/2-pound striped bass off Montauk Point on Saturday. Chris Miller

    When he ventured forth with a bag of live eels on Saturday night, John Bruno led the Montauk SurfMasters surfcasting tournament in the wetsuit division. The fish that had put him at the top of the heap a few weeks earlier weighed 49.30.
    The fish he weighed in at Paulie’s Tackle shop early Sunday morning caused the scale to groan out the number 50.82. It was Bruno’s first striped bass over 50 pounds.
    Fred Kalkstein, a tournament organizer and competitor in the wetsuit division, shared some of the excitement his type of fishing generates. The basic idea is to form a symbiotic relationship with a given rock over a number of years so that you can find it even if high tide hides it from view.
    On Sunday night, Kalkstein found his still-submerged rock about a half-hour past the top of the tide. “The water was up to my chest. There was not much of a swell on, so I just floated up and back down on the rock for a while. When the water went out a little, I had a good stand. It was between 7 and 8 and I got a few bumps. About 8:15 I got a whack and set the hook.”
    “The fish was 40 feet from me. It went to the right, then back to the left, back and forth 8 to 10 times. I couldn’t budge it. ‘Did I snag it?’ I thought. I finally got it to the rock, a nice fish.”
    But, was the bass over 50 pounds, was it big enough to beat the fish John Bruno caught the night before? Kalkstein half swam and half walked to shore dragging the big fish.
    “It measured 47 to 48 inches according to the marks on my rod, but it didn’t  look like a 50-pound fish. The 48.35 I’d caught was really wide. This one didn’t look that wide, but if you’ve never seen this before, a really large bass, when he came in, the top of his head and back — that submarine gray, a beautiful specimen. I leaned toward letting him go, a beauty. I put him back in the water and he took off. For the next 40 minutes I swam around but couldn’t find my rock.”
    There is no doubt that lunker bass are in our midst. A few hours before Bruno caught his big bass, Eric Linsner, on his boat Semele, caught a striper that the West Lake Marina’s scales put at 581/2 pounds. Linsner’s fish was also lured by a live eel.
    Alan Ballesteros landed a 45.3-pound bass while fishing on the Viking Star on Saturday.
    Bigger bass were being caught by surfcasters at night in the Montauk Moorland coves. In addition to John Bruno besting himself in the wetsuit division of the SurfMasters tourney, Gary Krist caught a 32.24-pound bass to knock Richie Michelsen out of third place in the wader division. Klever Oleas held on to first and second places in that division with bass weighing 37.74 and 32.96 pounds.
    Mary Ellen Kane holds first and second place in the women’s division, with Joan Naso-Federman in third. Phil Schnell has the biggest bass in the youth division, with Dylan Lackner in second place. The leading “kid” remains James Kim Jr.
    On the beaches farther to the west, smaller bass have been schooling close to shore here and there between Amagansett and Main Beach, East Hampton. Despite the chillier nights of late, false albacore continue to entertain fly fishermen outside the Montauk Lighthouse and off Shagwong Point.
    Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett took his boat Moonpie to the west side of Gardiner’s Island on Monday. It was a cast-and-blast trip during which he limited out on scoters and caught a false albacore to round things out. Scoters were rafting off Goff Point east to Waterfence, Bennett said.
    He sang the praises of Salty’s hand-crafted and hand-painted wooden surface lures — “the colors are amazing” — for catching striped bass in the early morning and evening hours. Otherwise, Hopkins lures or Kastmaster’s were working with a fast retrieve on Amagansett’s ocean beaches, where fishing was “a peaceful experience — everyone’s in Montauk,” Bennett said.
    Ken Rafferty, who guides fly fishermen out of Three Mile Harbor, said the west side of Gardiner’s Island had been offering good bass fishing, “but you have to dredge for them,” he said, meaning fly fishermen need to let their sink lines sink toward the bottom and retrieve the fly slowly.
    The Viking Fleet of party boats in Montauk reports jumbo porgy action off Block Island, and although wind-muddied water slowed the action, the blackfish and sea bass bite continued through the week.