On the Water: The Frogmen Cometh

Chris Miller of the West Lake Marina in Montauk has been spearfishing for years. The sport is growing in popularity.

    It could be squid were the reason a large number of dolphin were seen cruising around Fort Pond Bay in Montauk over the weekend. Squid made a good showing in Gardiner’s Bay to the west, too.
    Big bluefish, which have not made their usual presence in Gardiner’s Bay so far this season, have finally shown up off the Three Mile Harbor jetties. Again, they may have chased the squid in.
    Already in Gardiner’s Bay, and in great numbers, are porgies of a size that anglers keep saying they’ve never seen — jumbos. There are big fluke as well, and as we know, big fluke have long been a quarry that local fishermen have “night-lighted” for by drifting in shallow water with spears.
    Spearfishing, perhaps the oldest form of fishing, has grown in popularity in recent years. Harvey Bennett, who sells clam rakes, rods, reels, lures, bait, and all means of conventional angling at his Tackle Shop in Amagansett, said there was a great demand for spear guns this season. “I could sell as many Hawaiian slings as I can get my hands on,” he said last week. He is seeking a supply.
    Hawaiian slings are what people might think of as a classic spear gun of simple design, using strong rubber bands to propel the spear. Chris Miller of the West Lake Marina in Montauk has been spearfishing for years. He said he’s seen interest in the sport grow in part because of the Internet, where chat sites like spearboard.com offer tips on equipment and technique. “It’s international — Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Hawaii, all different places,” Miller said.
    Part of the draw lies in the fact that accomplished spearfishermen, unlike their angling counterparts, can choose their individual fish from out of a school. Last week, Miller speared a 43-pound striped bass. Record catches for free-diving spearfishermen (without scuba gear) are well over 100 pounds. For instance, Miller said the world record for dogfish tuna was over 200 pounds.
    Only fish taken with guns loaded by muscle power — drawing back the bands on a Hawaiian sling, or pushing air into the barrel of a pneumatically-powered gun via the spear’s shaft — can be considered for a record. Carbon dioxide-powered spears are not permitted, and have fallen out of fashion, Miller said. Extreme free-diving spearfishermen work at depths of up to 180 feet. 
    Charter fishermen have noticed an influx of dive boats. “We call them frogmen,” said Capt. Michael Potts of the Bluefin IV charter boat. Although bluefin tuna have been hunted with spears, they are not in this area as far as he knew, Potts said.
    On Monday, shark-fishing clients were pleasantly surprised when a 30-pound bluefin took a lure trolled from the Bluefin IV. There was a good early showing of both mako and thresher sharks, charter captains say, but blue sharks seem to be more numerous in recent days. The scythe-shape tail of a very large thresher washed up on the beach at Ditch Plain on Monday. The tail was at least four feet long and cut from a shark that must have weighed well over 400 pounds.
    The Star Island Yacht Club will stage its 19th annual mako-thresher shark tournament on Aug. 5 and Aug. 6 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. The entry fee is $600 per boat.
    “I can’t tell you where they are,” Ken Rafferty, a light-tackle guide out of Three Mile Harbor, said by cellphone on Tuesday when asked where he was heading with a client. All he would say was: “Exceptionally good fishing, big bluefish 20 pounds and bigger. One guy called me and said he thought he’d caught an amberjack,” Rafferty said. Amberjacks, which have a bluefish-like body shape, are sometimes caught in local waters. They are part of the family of Atlantic fishes that include pompanos.
    Paul Melnyk, whose book, “Montauk Confidential: A Fisherman’s Memoir,” was just published, said striped bass in the 20-inch range were being taken from the beach, mostly on sand worms.
    It will be snapper fishing time very soon. The baby bluefish are over three inches and steadily growing. A reminder: The daily possession limit is 15. There is no size limit for the first 10, but the next five must be at least 12 inches long.