Something’s Feeding the Fish

For the last few nights the submarine cicadas have begun their chanting just after dark
John Harris and his sons, John and Mike Harris, and grandsons, Nick, Mike, and D.J., caught eight 25-to-35-pound striped bass and 10 bluefish on Saturday with Capts. Michael Potts and Harry Garrecht of the Bluefin IV out of Montauk. The hull of the Viking Freedom, a steel-hulled sailboat, was welded together in Montauk with the help of Stuart Vorpahl. Russell Drumm

Aboard Leilani, 5:55 Tuesday morning. She and the other sailboats are wrapped in pink gauze, the light fog lifting along with the sun. Coffee. Snapper bluefish break the surface chasing their breakfast, leaving rings that expand on the mirror that is Lake Montauk. A day opening.

Readers of this column may remember my wondering at the strange sounds in the night aboard Leilani, a staccato chatter, like frogs ululating, was the way I put it. The sound seemed to be coming through the hull, starboard side, then port. It seemed to be coming from all around the boat, from near and far. When I ventured topside to see if a passing raft of weird ducks was responsible I found only stars and quiet, while below deck, “they” continued their percussive chatter. 

After a few days, I surrendered my “singing fish,” as my wife called my obsession, to a boat’s generator I heard one morning in the distance. It had a similar rhythm. But, no, the generator theory doesn’t hold water. For the last few nights the submarine cicadas have begun their chanting just after dark. They commune through the night, and hush again at dawn, a chorus whose voices vibrate through Leilani’s hull, a mystery in the night to accompany the lake’s flashes of phosphorescence. I think they’re shrimp.

There are creatures called snapping shrimp. They snap a specialized claw shut to create a “cavitation bubble” that generates big-time acoustic pressures. As it extends out from the claw, the bubble reaches speeds of 60 miles per hour, and the sound reaches 218 decibels.

The pressure is strong enough to kill small fish. And something’s feeding larger fish in the lake. Maybe they’re eating snapping shrimp. Folks can’t remember when fluke made such an appearance in Montauk Harbor.

We were sailing out through the inlet last week on a brisk southwest wind. Inspired by Paul Forsberg on his Viking Freedom, I like to troll under sail, and so I had the line out with a silver lure and feather combination. Halfway through the inlet, the rod bent. Normally, I would slow Leilani by turning into the wind, but this was not possible in the inlet, so I eased the drag and hoped the fish stayed hooked. It did, a nice 22-inch fluke. Dinner.

I mentioned the Viking Freedom. If you find yourself in Montauk and like boats, drop by the Viking Dock and take a gander at Freedom.

I like to call Paul Forsberg Sr. the admiral of the Viking Fleet. He’s closing in on 75, the son of a fisherman, and a father to fishermen who continue to run the Forsberg family’s small empire of party boats, and of course the Block Island Ferry. He did not start out as a sailor, but when Rob Rosen, a fellow Montauker, sailed the schooner Appledore to Tortola back in the ’80s, Paul went along. It was that experience, plus, he admitted, the TV show “Adventures in Paradise” — in which the actor Gardiner McKay skippered a three-masted schooner somewhere in the South Pacific — that inspired him to build a steel-hulled sailboat from scratch.

The hull was welded together right here in Montauk with the help of Stuart Vorpahl, a bayman from East Hampton who earned his welding chops in the Coast Guard. 

“Rob Rosen was building a boat in St. Petersburg, and there was a marine architect there. He showed me the kind of rig I should have. She’s well balanced. When I built her, I wanted to sail and fish around the world,” Forsberg said on Monday.

That didn’t happen, not yet, although over the years he’s sailed and fished Freedom from Canada to Trinidad, and into the Gulf of Mexico after tuna, swordfish, and any other species he comes across. On the way up from Florida this summer he stopped in Cape Canaveral to pick up Paul Jr. They caught and sold 4,000 pounds of mahi­mahi during a three-day trip. 

Freedom set sail again bound for Montauk, catching tuna along the way, and sold to Gosman’s Dock. On Sunday he returned to the Viking dock from a four-day trip offshore. In Freedom’s hold, “12 head of big-eye, and 8 head of yellowfin.” Forsberg sails and fishes with a crew of two, although he has single-handed Freedom on occasion, including a passage from St. Maarten to Trinidad.

Freedom is ketch-rigged. She trolls for tuna using a long pole known as a green stick, under sail, with the mizzensail set, one of her two headsails, and “the fisherman sail,” a small staysail amidships. When there’s a fish on, he turns Freedom into the wind if there’s not too much of it. Freedom’s 150-horsepower engine is usually running, he said, but kept at idle under sail. Freedom has a hull speed of between six and seven knots whether powered by wind or its iron equivalent.

“She loves to sail,” Forsberg said. “I’d like to die on that boat,” he said, laughing his hearty baritone. 

Meanwhile, off Devon on Monday, Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett espied a school of false albacore “moving fast to the north. I had one hooked but lost it.”