At 10 this morning, the Montauk SurfMasters surfcasting tournament ended with a collective whimper. Except for October, which saw some of the best surf fishing for striped bass in years, the hard-fought tourney was not blessed with that all-important ingredient: fish.
Montauk’s charter boat and party boat fleets continue to do well. Bass fishing was described as better than average, but not within casting distance from shore. The biggest bass taken from the beach during the month of November — there was a $250 tournament bounty on the biggest fish caught last month — weighed only 14.76 pounds.
Many casters have given up. On Thanksgiving Day, the Montauk Point State Park lot where the regulars park their rigs was empty. So were the boulders where casters perch below the Lighthouse. A big sea was running and gannets, those swept-wing dive bombers, were plunging into the ocean, a sure sign that herring or other prey species were schooling with bass most likely hunting them from below.
But, despite a flood tide, the gannets were making their promising dives only a few yards beyond casting range, a scene that mirrored this surfcasting tournament’s frustrating finish.
Some fish were caught under the Lighthouse on Saturday, and the ocean water remains in the mid-50s. Small bass and bluefish were reported in Gardiner’s Bay over the weekend. Big bluefish were being caught from the beach in Amagansett and draggers report striped bass not far from shore. It’s possible that nature could hand insult to injury with a post-tournament appearance of big bass at the feet of those few who have not put their equipment away for the winter.
Unless the fishing improved between press time and 10 a.m. today, Kever Oleas took first and second place in the tournament’s wader division. Gary Krist finished in third place. John Bruno’s 50.82-pound bass, the largest over all, made John Bruno the top fisherman in the wetsuit division. Mary Ellen Kane finished first and second in the women’s division, Joan Naso-Federman’s 10.32-pound bass captured third place.
In the youth division, ages 12 to 17, Phillip Schnell’s 20.98-pound bass put him in first place, Dylan Lackner finished second with an 11.9-pounder. James Kim Jr. caught a 10.6-pound bass to become the winner in the tournament’s kids division for whippersnappers 7 to 11 years old.
Tournament anglers have until 11 a.m. today to weigh last-minute fish. The post-tournament dinner will be held at Gurney’s Inn on Dec. 10. Festivities begin at 5 p.m. There is no fee for SurfMaster members. Guest fees are $50 per adult and $25 for “yoots.” All members and guests (not youths) will be charged $10 for gratuities.
Meanwhile, a bit offshore, boaters have had beautiful fishing weather. The Cartwright grounds, a rocky outcropping located six miles south of Montauk, are producing cod, sea bass, and blackfish. Gary, a k a Toad, Stephens, came back to the West Lake Marina with a 9.85-pound blackfish that he weighed and promptly released so it would grow even bigger.
On Sunday, John DeMelio, an angler aboard the charter boat Double D out of West Lake, caught a whopper, a 10.5-pound “tautog,” as the Indians called blackfish. Boating striped bass anglers have been jigging for herring outside the Montauk Harbor Inlet and using them successfully for striped bass bait out in the rips to the east. The bass have been mostly schoolie size.
Michael Potts of the Blue Fin IV charter boat reported good fishing “in a lot of places” around Block Island. “Cod are showing up almost everywhere mixed in with sea bass.”
With Christmas nigh, fishermen with boats not yet winterized might want to gig up a mess of herring to pickle. A jar of pickled herring with a red bow tied around its neck makes for a nice recession-era gift.