On the Water: Through a 500-Pounder’s Eyes

The 515-pound thresher shark caught by Stephen Deckoff and his son on June 26 was alive when this picture was taken. It was taken offshore and returned to the sea, still alive, soon after. Montauk Marine Basin

    Imagine the 516-pound thresher shark’s surprise. First, he had allowed himself to be caught by a man and his son, with no one else on their 35-foot outboard-driven boat, during the Montauk Marine Basin’s tag-and-release shark tournament last week.
    Unable to fit in the boat, the shark had to endure a humiliating tow back to the Marine Basin from offshore.
    Okay, so I’m competing in a shark tournament, might as well go with it, thinks the shark. But then, the fishermen didn’t make the deadline. They were too late coming through the harbor jetties. Now what? I’m still alive.
    To the scales anyway. Paul Stern, a commercial bluefin tuna fisherman, happened to be on the dock and helped the fishermen hoist me up on the scale gibbet to be weighed. My long tail flops over and nearly hits the kid. They’ve got a rope on it. I’m heavy out of the water. Who could live in such gravity? I’m looking onto the dock and the people are upside down, but I’m still alive. They’re taking me down and Stern is saying why don’t they try to set me free. An excellent idea.
    There’s no way of knowing what went through the thresher’s mind, of course, but this actually happened on June 25 during the Marine Basin tourney. Stephen Deckoff and his 16-year-old son, from Greenwich, Conn., caught the fish from the Last Joust but arrived at the scales at about 7:30 p.m., past deadline.
     Another Connecticut boat, the Fiesta, landed a 441-pound mako that surely would have won in that division, but it too was brought to the scales too late. It was the largest mako landed in Montauk this season.
    Carl Darenberg said that he was thinking of making the mako portion of his annual contests tag and release only, this after speaking to the fishery biologist who has been attending tournaments in Montauk for years, and who said that mako populations were down.
    “A guy came in with a 100-pounder. I know they’re good to eat, but they’re getting destroyed. I’m toying with the idea of having [National Marine Fisheries Service] observers and just tag and release. There are tons of blue sharks, and threshers are in pretty good shape too.”
    Darenberg said the sharking was “red hot,” one angler reporting that he and his party caught and released 29 blue sharks in one outing. He said that the Concerned Citizens of Montauk environmental group had donated more than 100 boxes of circle hooks, a type that lodges in a shark’s mouth not in its gut, thus making it more likely for the shark to live following release.
    Red hot too was the offshore action, Darenberg said, with plenty of yellowfin tuna and mahi in and around Block Canyon and its attendant Tails. “The ocean is alive — bait, turtles, whales, and a load of yellowfin. Then in the inshore-offshore, around the Butterfish Hole and the C.I.A. grounds, they are seeing a lot of bluefin tuna, not catching a lot, but seeing them in the 100-pound range.” The veteran marina owner said boaters were trolling, which is usually done at the start of the season. Trolled ballyhoo is a standard enticement.
    The West Lake Marina reports that the Flying Dutchman had several yellowfin in the 40-pound range on Sunday, and a 44-pound albacore tuna as well. The Kazoo went to the Middle Grounds of Block Canyon, where its anglers found yellowfin, the largest weighing in at 48 pounds.
    The Perfect Catch boat caught a 294-pound thresher about 20 miles southeast of Montauk. It also got a 55-pound bluefin east of the Butterfish Hole on Friday. On Saturday the Gotafly brought back from the Butterfish Hole a bluefin around 50 pounds.
    Tanya Miller of West Lake said that anglers were ooohing and aaahing over the bounty of sea life offshore. The Top Hook boat came back to West Lake with a 45-pound bluefin.
    The fishing has been equally hot inshore, as was dramatized by the excellent fishing during the final days of the Montauk SurfMasters spring shootout, which ended at 10 a.m. on the Fourth of July.
    On Friday, with only three days to go, Ben McCarron bested Bill Gardiner’s 42.26-pound striped bass by catching a 43.12-pound cow. McCarron was last year’s shootout winner with a 55.82-pound striper.
    John Bruno finished in third place this time with a 40.68-pound bass. Fred Kalkstein, a contest organizer and participant, said big bass had arrived for the final week. Kalkstein reported that Mike Milano spoke of catching a fish that “felt bigger than my 60-pounder.” The line went out, and out, and finally popped. The south-facing beaches came alive in Montauk. “A couple of nights, everyone caught a lot of fish,” Kalkstein said.
    As for Kalkstein the competitor, he had a winner, by the feel of it, until the feel of it turned out to be a dogfish he had foul-hooked in the back. “My arms still hurt,” he said. The regular Montauk SurfMasters tournament will get under way on Sept. 16.