On the Water: Exotics and Eccentrics

Dave Spolisto, left, caught this beautiful 40-pound striper fly-fishing off Little Gull Island on Sunday. His brother, Nolan, helped pose it before it was released. Ken Rafferty

    This seems to be the week of exotic species. Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett said he didn’t mean to, but in explaining the nature of one exotic had succeeded in insulting a customer.     
    The man had entered his shop, where conversations are, perforce, fishy. The customer was made to feel comfortable enough to tell the shopkeeper how he had been swimming at Wiborg’s beach in East Hampton at the top of the tide when he realized he was being accompaned by three little pilot fish about six inches long.
    “Did they have vertical stripes?” Bennett asked.
    “Yes,” the man answered.
    “Oh, those hang around sharks.”
    “Sharks?!” blurted the man, concerned.
    “Yes, sharks. It’s a big ocean,” Bennett explained of the sharks’ presence. “They eat the parasites off the sharks’ backs, and algae.”
    “What do you think it means that they were swimming around me,” the man asked.
    “Maybe you should take a shower,” Bennett answered. No word as to whether Bennett’s Bonac charm produced a sale.
    The Tackle Shop owner also had news of Andrew Zuccotti of Philadelphia, who ran out to the Butterfish Hole about 10 miles south of Montauk, where he caught a mako shark attracted by proffered fish chunks.
    On his way back to shore he ran into a school of bluefin tuna. He told Bennett how he drew a blue, Yo-Zuri plug from his tackle box, made a few casts and hooked a 50-pound bluefin. Bennett said the fisherman reported no other boats in the area. The Philadelphian did the same thing last year, plus he seemed to have a knack for finding mahimahi not far from the Montauk Lighthouse.
    Speaking of tuna, Ken Rafferty, a light-tackle and fly-fishing guide who works out of Three Mile Harbor and Montauk, said that tomorrow he will follow up on a reliable lead and head offshore in search of blackfin tuna with a client armed with a 12-weight fly rod. While not exotic exactly, blackfin are rarely targeted.
    Blackfin look much like their yellowfin and bluefin cousins although their dorsal side is black rather than deep blue. They rarely get larger than 39 inches long and 45 pounds. Unlike their cousins, blackfin prefer shrimp, crabs, and tiny larvae to other fish. Perhaps this makes them more susceptible to cast flies.
    In the meantime, Rafferty has been motoring to the Gull Islands, where on Sunday “we had about 10 striped bass from 12 to 20 pounds. Then this big guy was caught on a fly. It took a while to land it,” Rafferty said of Dave Spolisto’s beautiful 45-pound striper. It and the rest of the day’s catch were released.
    Inshore fishing is terrific by most accounts. Striped bass are pretty much a sure thing off the beach around Accabonac Harbor in the morning, Barnes Landing, for instance.
    Paul Melnyk of Montauk, an experienced surfcaster who has pushed the envelope with his “skishing” brand of extreme fishing, wherein he dons a thick wetsuit for buoyancy, grabs his casting rod and swim fins, and kicks his way offshore to float and cast, and then, when a big one takes a lure, enjoys a mini version of a Nantucket sleigh ride. Talk about exotic species.
    Melnyk’s long-awaited book “Montauk Confidential: A Fisherman’s Memoir” is done, printed, and nowavailable at Paulie’s Tackle shop in Montauk, the Montauk Bookshop, and via his Web site, montaukconfindential.com. “It’s not a how-to book. It’s more about characters,” including himself, he said.
    One chapter is devoted to the time when he was 8 that he and his friends blew up a train with an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile near Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. And there’s a Christmas story in which he and his wife were given the gift of Christmas dinner in the form of a goose with frozen feet they found on the beach while collecting coal for their stove. To this day, coal is coughed up by the sea from a collier sunk off Montauk by a U-boat during World War II. Apparently, the goose was unable to get away.
    Melnyk recommended casting for bluefish and bass on Montauk’s south-facing sand beaches and around Montauk Point. Fluke are being taken with cast lures, small bucktails dressed with a squid strip, “or, if you want to get fancy, add a spearing.”