Rats at the Elbow

I have a theory about why the rats, as small stripers are known, school at this particular spot each spring
Surfcasters worked the broken jetty at Ditch Plain for striped bass on Monday morning as a dragger towed for fluke offshore. Russell Drumm

   Like the swallows to Capistrano (although I’ve read development has interrupted their instinctual return of late), Steve (The Perv) Kramer rolled into the Ditch Plain parking lot a few days ago from his winter haunts in Florida with a neatly trimmed beard. He is called Perv for no reason darker than his penchant for the odd, ribald observation. This does not make him a bad person.
    To prove that the spring run of striped bass had arrived in Montauk he held out his hands, cut and bleeding from handling and unhooking the early arrivals, most of them young — the young ones being especially thorny. Most of the action had been at the small jetty whose rocks have been jumbled into several un-jetty-like piles by Hurricane Sandy and the northeasters that followed over the winter.
    I have a theory about why the rats, as small stripers are known, school at this particular spot each spring. The location of the jetty, or what’s left of it, corresponds to where the shoreline of the South Fork takes a 20-degree turn to the north. It’s an elbow.
    On the west side of the elbow the bottom is sandy. On the east side the bottom is a rock reef that stretches all the way to Montauk Point. Now, in most places along the East Coast, striped bass are known as rockfish because it’s where they prefer to feed. I believe the early arrivals migrate west-to-east along the South Fork over sandy bottom.
    When they hit the Ditch Plain elbow and its rocks they gather to feed on mussels, the little black snails the French call rosettes and the Italians call babalucis. They feast on crabs and other rock denizens as well as any finned creatures that happen along. Kramer has been using a small bucktail with red pork rind.
    Paulie’s Tackle shop in Montauk reports bass “all over on the south side,” especially the beaches to the west of Montauk. Small tins and bucktails are doing the trick, and, according to Paul Apostolides, for those who prefer throwing bait, sandworms are “clobbering the fish.”
    Meanwhile, draggers working the backside, offshore of Ditch Plain and towing along the coast to the west, have been welcoming fluke, the summer flounder. They are permitted 140 pounds per day — not a lot. Despite the hearty east wind over the weekend, at least one party boat was doing the same. Those catching fluke for sport are enjoying a far better shake from the State Department of Environmental Conservation than they got last year; a four-fish bag limit for fluke at least 19 inches long.
    Tanya Miller at the West Lake Marina reported “quite a few boats” headed out after fluke on Saturday despite the wind. Most huddled off Montauk’s iconic radar tower, a majestic relic of the cold war built to detect incoming I.C.B.M.s launched by the Soviet Union bound for the Big Apple. Thankfully they never flew. “There were a lot of short fish, Miller said, “but everyone came back with a few keepers. A lot of action.”
    “Yesterday afternoon I had five guys fishing. We had 15 keepers, the largest five and-a-half pounds,” Michael Potts, captain of the Blue Fin IV charter boat, reported on Monday. He also reported that cod fishing had gone to the dogs, meaning dogfish, the bane of codfishermen and about every other kind of fisherman too.
    The Shark’s Eye, a no-kill shark tournament scheduled to take place on July 27 and July 28 from the Montauk Marine Basin, has begun to generate excitement. It’s attracted the attention of the National Geographic Society, which has expressed an interest in filming the event, according to Carl Darenberg, the Marine Basin’s owner. A major television network, which Darenberg said he could not identify until it formally commits, is also interested.
    The country music star Craig Morgan will perform, and feelers have gone out to get Jimmy Buffett to help make the first-ever no-kill shark tournament a community event. Buffett keeps a sportfishing boat in Montauk Harbor during the summer months. Also on hand will be the Paxton Brothers, who run charter shark-diving trips and are involved in shark conservation.
    Darenberg said organizers had come up with a strategy to prove that a catch is indeed legitimate, in recognition of fishermen’s tendency to, er, exaggerate. Participating boats will be given a secret number known only to the fisherman and organizers, which must appear on a chalk board when photos are taken when a shark is released.
    Fishermen interested in participating in the July Shark’s Eye tournament have been encouraged to contact Carl Darenberg at the Montauk Marine Basin. “This is the future,” Darenberg said.