I wish I were fluent in Spanish, not only so I could trade tongues in what is now our bilingual community, but so I’d be able to read “Don Quixote de la Mancha” in the original. That aging crusader, just itching for a joust, is Everyman, or at least — it dawned on an observer standing beneath the Montauk Lighthouse looking seaward early Friday morning — Every Fisherman.
A description of the scene would be better rendered in Spanish. From what I know of the language, it would be better able to express the tragicomic sight of surfcasters staring offshore at a cloud of hovering and diving gulls, the sea whipped white by the powerful east wind, its light-green surface gilded by dawn’s golden rays — los rallos dorados de la manana.
I have an old edition of the Cervantes masterpiece with a wonderful illustration of the Man of La Mancha looking wistfully, myopically toward a distant windmill, lance at his side. “If only the fish would come closer, to do battle, to be won” — was the surfcasters’ common prayer, uttered silently, unbent fishing rods at their sides.
Making it worse were tales of the big fish landed the day before under the Light. Day after day of strong east winds had kept boats in the harbor, but surfcasters could see from the clouds of diving birds what was going on in the rip currents only a few hundred yards offshore.
Big bass did visit the Montauk moorland coves over the weekend, especially at night, and were also along the hamlet’s ocean beaches and west along Napeague at the beach called White Sands in particular, but this time of year, surfcasters look for the awesome display of thousands of striped bass chewing acres of bait within casting distance of shore.
On Monday morning, Paul Apostolides of Paulie’s Tackle offered a submarine view of what had occurred in recent days. “The big fish are in the rips feeding on sand eels. There’s all kinds of bait — mullet, snapper blues, shad, bunker, sand eels, even croaker — but without bluefish. . . .”
He went on to explain how big schools of bluefish herded schools of prey toward shore, to pin them up against the coast where it was harder for them to escape the bluefish feeding frenzies. Bluefish are like the Cuisinarts of the sea, chomping, shredding, masticating their prey, the scraps sinking where striped bass typically wait with mouths agape.
Apostolides said on Monday morning he believed the blues had no reason to push prey ashore because of the bounty offshore. “Every bird in Montauk is on the rips this morning,” a Paulie’s customer reported.
A visit to West Lake Marina a short time later seemed to confirm it. The Lacy Grace had just returned from her early morning charter trip with a couple of nice-size stripers and a tote full of bluefish. “The blues were eating the chrome of the jigs,” reported the mate.
So, with hordes of bluefish in the area, it should be just a matter of time before they chase the bass within casting range of surfcasters.
In the meantime, the leader board in the Montauk SurfMasters tournament: Mike Milano, Ritchie Michelsen, and Kleven Oleas stand in first, second, and third, respectively, in the wader division. John Bruno has the wetsuit division locked. In the wo3men’s competition, Mary Ellen Kane leads, with Christine Schnell nipping at her heels.