When the Sea Tells You, 'Fish'

October 19, 2006

How subtle a signal it is when, on a flat calm morning like Monday just after dawn at Ditch Plain in Montauk, the nearshore surface of the sea smokes with lost heat in the fall air, quivers, and swirls, and tells you, Fish!

Bonaparte gulls gathered on the shore that morning, seemingly exhausted, or full of spearing, or both. Only one surfcaster approached the spot on the beach within casting distance of where the fish swirled, a few Bonaparte's picking at the surface. One cast and a bent rod divined the density of the school.

Loretta Sears, who sits in second and third places in the Montauk Locals surfcasting tournament with stripers weighing 12.75 and 9.78 pounds, was on the beach at Ditch that same morning. She took advantage of the uncrowded conditions and caught, and released, a number of bass.

An embarrassment of riches, "silly good," was how Cathy Callan termed it last week, speaking of the incredible abundance of bass and bluefish in the area. Not huge bass, necessarily, but lots of them.

Surfcasters and smaller light-tackle and fly-fishing boats ringed Montauk Point Tuesday morning. Conditions were not as calm as on Monday, and a bit warmer, with a fiery sunrise, and a light southeast wind. "I saw one guy who had a decent fish, 293/4," said Paul Apostolides of Freddie's Bait and Tackle in Montauk. The crowd was nothing like the shoulder-to-shoulder casting that took place over the weekend, in part the result of two simultaneous (not counting the Montauk Locals) tournaments.

The largest bass in the Gathering of Anglers tournament, in which fishing clubs competed, weighed 27 pounds. The heftiest in the contest held from Freddie's was a 24.68-pounder.

The sand beaches have been especially productive, and extremely uncrowded in recent days. Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, when not hunting scoters this time of year, is riding his bike to Montauk and back. On one outing over the weekend, he pulled up at the picnic area off Old Montauk Highway east of the Hither Hills camp sites.

"There were five boats in the surf line, one guy fishing on the beach. Byron Young pulls up," he said, referring to the recently retired striped bass manager with the State Department of Environmental Conservation. " 'Are you Harvey?' " Bennett said the bass man asked. "We talked. Then, he went down to the beach and started casting. It was all bass in there."

Bennett has begun his fall coot (scoter) shooting expeditions, and as a result has enjoyed preparing his "Bonac surf and turf" dinner consisting of "barbecued coot breasts and grilled bluefish - it hits the spot."

He called the coot shooting "interesting" because Gardiner's Bay was so full of fish. "The water's warm. I don't have to use rubber gloves to pull my decoys in. No one is out there but a few guys pulling their winkle pots. They're running to Montauk or the Ruins."

"If I get bored waiting for ducks, I cast a popping plug to catch bluefish. I know the striped bass are there. I saw swirls in the mouth of Accabonac. It's special out there this time of year. So quiet."

Boat anglers saw the action slow a bit yesterday in the Montauk rips, but it was fierce over the weekend, complemented by the superlative weather. For example, the Lady Bones charter boat had fish in the 30-pound range on Friday.

Ken Morse of the Tight Lines Shop on the grounds of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard reported big bluefish off Jessup's Neck, and a few keeper bass. Tight Lines is now on its fall, Thursday through Monday, schedule.