The Best Laid Plans

With a strong southwest wind, Sunday seemed a perfect day for the trip
Michael Salzhauer caught this striped beauty while fishing with Capt. Ken Rafferty on the south side of Montauk Point at the spot known as Caswell’s on Saturday. Ken Rafferty

   The plan was to sail the sloop Leilani to the porgy grounds on the east side of Gardiner’s Island from Montauk Harbor on Sunday, preparing clam baits along the way. We’d done it before: stayed the night at an anchorage in the cove on the north side of the island, and feasted on grilled porgy washed down with a glass or two of wine, making the return trip the next morning.
    With a strong southwest wind, Sunday seemed a perfect day for the trip. It was more west than south and this demanded a course north of Eastern Plains Point, our destination, but hey, what’s the rush? The thing about sailing is the silence, long stretches of time with no sound but the wind, the ping of a line playing on the mast, the groan of a wooden cabinet below deck, and Gardiner’s Bay rushing along the hull. 
    Leilani trolled a tin in hopes of a bass. The mate was on the bow with her binoculars. The wind off the sea, partially blocked by Hither Hills, grew as it blew unhindered across flat Napeague into the bay. And it backed, coming more southwest. Leilani would have no lee off Tobaccolot as hoped.
    The planned starboard tack disappeared with the wind change and Leilani’s “iron wind” was brought to life. She motor-sailed close-hauled the final mile to the point at the south end of Tobaccolot Bay. Sails were doused and Leilani turned broadside, allowing the porgy fishermen to lower their lines and drift as though on a raft floating downstream in the Mississippi.
    But, it was after three in the afternoon and the wind had increased to near 20 knots. There would be time for only one drift, with the peace broken by the need to shorten sail for a comfortable return trip. Leilani had drifted north off Eastern Plains Point with no bites but that view of the island’s rolling hills, big oaks, and grassland where time stopped centuries ago.
    Time to go. The mate was reeling up her line when it struck. A big, fat, silver and pink porgy was lifted onto the deck. It was declared a “poor thing” by the mate, who begged its forgiveness and put it in the bucket for dinner. With mainsail and jib reefed, a 19-knot wind and a tide going her way, Leilani bounded home with a following sea and a lone porgy that was the icing on the cake.
    It would be nice if fishing had not become a competitive sport, but it seems everything we do has morphed into a competition, something to bet on, profit from, get over on, as though Nature herself had turned pro. Seems like the urge to provide has gotten twisted in the age of farmed fish and genetically engineered staples.
    There are fishermen, and fishing guides, who insist on experiencing the world, and presenting the world, that accompanies the actual angling. Saltwater Sportsman magazine recently named Paul Dixon of East Hampton one of the top 50 charter fishermen in the nation and the only one from Long Island. There are sure to be a few objections to this last point. Dixon runs To the Point charters for fly-fishing and light spin-tackle anglers.
    Captains were chosen by virtue of their “longevity,” the diversity of the fish they target, their commitment to conservation, and their “showmanship.” By showmanship, the mag apparently means making the experience memorable, which theoretically would put Ahab and his followers in the running. Fishing with Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, is memorable, especially in the fall when he runs his “cast-and-blast” charters out into Gardiner’s Bay, geared up with a fishing rod for striped bass and a shotgun for the sea ducks.
    Capt. Ken (Ahab) Rafferty said this week that “fishing is intense.” The light-tackle and fly-fishing guide reported “giant bluefish all over Montauk on the south side in close. Stripers are being landed at outer Shagwong, but you have to work hard to find them. I’ve received reports of false albacore between Rhode Island and Montauk, and albies in Montauk waters, too.”
    The fall fishing tournament season is nigh. The Montauk SurfMasters tourney begins on Sept. 14. Applications to join in the action will be accepted until 7 p.m. on Sept. 13, no later. The entry fee in the adult wader and wetsuit divisions is $260, $160 for the women’s division. There are no entry fees in the kids and youth divisions. The leader board will be displayed on the tournament Web site, montauksurfmasters. com.
    The State Department of Parks and Recreation will kick off its annual, two-day Montauk Classic surfcasting tournament on Sept. 20. Application forms can be obtained by calling 321-3510. There is a $15 entry fee.
    The striped bass seem to have made their August creep to points north and east, but they will be back on their fall run in time for the tourneys. Meanwhile, the fluke fishing has been spectacular, the best in years off Montauk and in Gardiner’s Bay. The fall sea bass season promises to be exceptional — yum! — with a great showing in May and June and even through the summer when the bite generally slows.
    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has announced its intention of reducing the number of bluefin tuna “bycatch discards,” that is, bluefin caught by longline gear in the swordfish fishery and longlines set for other tuna species. Comments from the public are being sought. More information can be had by calling Connie Barclay at 301-427-8003. The draft plan to reduce bluefin bycatch can be found online at nmfs.noaa. gov.
    Speaking of tuna, Chris Miller of the West Lake Marina in Montauk reports very few yellowfin and albacore in the Fish Tails section of Block Canyon, but a consistent bigeye bite. The Three G’s boat returned to the marina on Monday with a 244 bigeye, a small swordfish, one yellowtail, and an albacore tuna.
    The first to identify the mystery fish, whose photo appeared in last week’s Star, was Richard Peltonen of Montauk. He said it was a ladyfish, a species also known as a skipjack, a jack-rash, or a tenpounder. They are usually found in tropical and sub-tropical waters. A runner-up caller was Gus Washburn of East Hampton, age 10, who yelled “Yippee” into the phone when he was told he was right.
    Last week’s reporting on the results of the Montauk Grand Slam held from Uihlein’s Marina left out the name of the winning captain and angler in the recreational division. The Coffee Break was captained by William Callas, who was out with his longtime fishing buddy Rich Lanzillotta.