Caught From the Other Side

“Had a school of 30-pounders in front of me with no one around. Wow!”
Steve Kramer of Montauk caught this 20-pound striped bass using a Hopkins lure that belonged to the late Percy Heath. Dalton Portella

    “Beam me up,” said Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, although it seemed he was already over the fulsome moon on Monday. Striped bass had been moving his way through the week on their migration from the ocean beach at Hither Hills in Montauk west along Napeague and still farther west to Wainscott and beyond.

    “I had a 30 to 35-pound bass in the surf, had it in my hands. A wave hit me. I fell on my ass, broke the line and lost it at my feet. Special! I’m too old and fat. It was unreal. The water was full of ‘moonfish,’ ” apparently, bass brought his way compliments of a moon tide. “Had a school of 30-pounders in front of me with no one around. Wow!”

    Bennett was fishing near the White Sands motel on Napeague, and said the bass were hitting shiny lures, called tins.

    Surfcasting has been a bit iffier on the beach in Montauk. Some years, striped bass attack the Montauk Lighthouse like lemmings in reverse. Other years, they stay in the tidal rip currents off the Point before coming within casting range farther west.

    It’s too early to tell if the latter pattern will continue to the end of the recreational bass season on Dec. 15. It’s not to say Montauk has been devoid of bass. And, speaking of tins, Steve (the Perv) Kramer told a Montauk fish tale befitting the approach of All Hallows Eve. He said he’s come to believe in the reincarnation of fishermen. Not a total reincarnation (cue the Halloween eerie music); only hands and a persistent pulling pierce the veil. 

    Let’s just say that in Kramer’s opinion, there are times when the other side, the hereafter, is connected to the present by way of fishing line. He explained, in gravelly voice, how he’d come to this conclusion:

    He had purchased Percy Heath’s beach mobile, a Chevy Blazer, after the renowned bassist’s death in the spring of 2005. He transferred the Blazer’s wheels and tires to his own beach mobile. While working on the Blazer, he found an old lure. It was a scarred Hopkins tin, obviously beaten around by Montauk’s rocky bottom, that Percy had given a coat of green paint.

    Last week, the Perv was casting the hand-painted green Hopkins at Ditch Plain Beach in Montauk. “There was perfect whitewater, and I see a fish come up. I cast the green tin on eight-pound test line with my seven-foot stick.”

    The lure produced a 20-pound striper. “But it wasn’t me,” Kramer said, the implication being that the fish was actually caught by the same hands that had added sweet bottom to the swing of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and that had reeled in countless fish over the course of many years in Montauk.  

    When told the story outside Paulie’s Tackle shop, Marshall Helfand, a longtime fishing buddy of Percy’s, didn’t bat an eye. “Come here,” said he. “I’ve got something to show you.” Into his gray beach mobile Helfand reached. A dramatic pause, and then a lure was presented on outstretched hand. It was a white bucktail with a green leading edge, the white hair plucked from a deer’s tail flowing off behind. It was flatter than round, made of molded lead with a little keel along the bottom that gave the lure an enticing sashay, judging from Helfand’s demonstrative hands.

    “It’s a killer,” he said. “Old Bob Michelsen made them.”

    Robert Michelsen, who was there in Montauk’s golden years of surfcasting in the 1950s and early ’60s and whose son is currently in second place in the Montauk SurfMasters Tournament, died a couple of years ago. To the Perv’s and Helfand’s way of thinking, he lives on via the deadly sashay of at least one of his flat, green-tipped bucktails. Who knows?

    By the way, the fishing has not ceased on the bay side. Edward Shugrue III of East Hampton reported: “I ran around all day on Saturday in Montauk to find nothing, only to find a 29-inch keeper bass inside Three Mile Harbor on Sunday morning. Nice sunrise too. Goes to show, ‘the grass is always greener, and there’s no place like home.’ ” 

    This season there appears to be no place like the bottom. Boaters are bottom fishing for black sea bass (13-inch minimum length, 8-per-day bag limit), porgies (10-inch size limit, 30-per-day bag), and blackfish (16-inch minimum, 4-per-day bag limit). The porgy and sea bass seasons will remain open, without interruption, until Dec. 31. Blackfish angling will end on Dec. 14.