The Marauders, Unmasked

They are ferocious feeders from baby snapper to 20-pound “chomper.”
Fish. It’s what’s for dinner. Peter Spacek

“They’re marauding all over,” was how Peter Spacek, The Star’s cartoonist, described the bluefish now invading Montauk waters. If any species can “maraud,” it’s Pomatomus saltatrix.

They are ferocious feeders from baby snapper to 20-pound “chomper.” Their aggressive chomping not only feeds them, but also the less aggressive striped bass that often school beneath the chomping to suck up the scraps descending from the carnage. Just as geese are beginning to fly, big bluefish are flocking to Montauk’s aqua-copia for their fall feed.

The three amigos, the triad of striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore, will soon join forces — the bluefish rounding up the schools of prey, the false albacore racing through for a quick snack, and the striped bass waiting below the swirling food chain for leftovers.

The phenomenon is what Montauk has come to mean for light-spin-tackle anglers and fly fishermen. False albacore have already been seen north of Gardiner’s Island, so it won’t be long.

There are effete fly fishermen, and then there are kayaking handliners like Spacek, who over the weekend brought a cartoon version of a fishing expedition to life. If only he’d been wearing a GoPro camera to record it.

He launched his kayak from the town parking lot, better known as Dirt Lot, next to the Montauk Shores Condominiums, a k a “trailer park,” in the Ditch Plain area of the hamlet. He paddled east.

“I paddled pretty far out in front of Warhol’s,” he said, referring to the former Church Estate, a compound of white cottages on one of the Montauk moorland’s easternmost coves that was once owned by Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol and rented for a time by the Rolling Stones.

“There’s nice bottom fishing there, and I got a nice pile of fish, a fluke and some sea bass. I was thinking I wanted to check out Cavett’s.” That would be the cove overseen by its namesake, Dick Cavett, who lives high on the bluff above.

When Spacek paddles, he trolls a hand­line, in this case one with a diamond jig-white tube combination as terminal gear. He noticed what looked like sand eels, a species that a diamond jig and white tube could mimic. “I had my handline on my foot,” he said, meaning a plastic spool of line.

“Wham, a vicious strike. The spool was spinning on my foot, burning,” he said. The scene in “Moby-Dick” came to mind. The one with Gregory Peck, his lightning scar and ivory peg leg careening through the waves on a Nantucket sleigh ride, the white whale harpooned, and the rope paying from the whaleboat’s bucket, causing the fairlead to smoke so that it had to be doused with water to cool it.

“My foot was burning,” Spacek said. “I was in the middle of the Cavett’s impact zone,” the rock reef where waves break. “The fish wouldn’t let me go forward. I was going into the rocks, shallower. I didn’t want to lose the fish. I hadn’t smoked any bluefish yet. I was backpeddling with my paddle. I needed both hands, so I clenched own on the line with my teeth. No contest. The handline flew out of my mouth.”

I would like to slow the narrative at this point. Is there anyone out there who knows of another fisherman who’s gone teeth to teeth with a bluefish? Might this not become a new extreme sport?

In the end, Spacek prevailed, having had the distinct advantage of hands as well as teeth. “A worthy adversary,” he said of the blue. “I threw him in my basket. Five minutes later I had another.”

To my way of thinking, this was a fishing contest, an interspecies mano a mano with teeth. I remember many years ago while surfing in the aforementioned coves, a few of us in the lineup thinking what fun it would be to attach diamond jigs to the leashes that connected us to our surfboards. It was fall, and schools of bluefish boiled around us. We thought better of it. Again, no contest.

The one held from Uihlein’s Marina and Boat Rental in Montauk over the weekend was again a success, with proceeds going to the Montauk Friends of Erin group, as well as the Kiwanis Club of East Hampton. This year, the annual tournament honored Capt. Barry Kohlus, a charterman who has guided anglers to Montauk’s fishing grounds for over 50 years. Kohlus gave a rousing speech during the after-party, during which he said that he’d enjoyed his decades on the water so much that he felt like he’d never worked a day in his life.

The Montauk Grand Slam Charity Tournament has anglers of all sorts competing in several divisions. Winners are those who compile the heaviest cumulative weights among four species, fluke, bluefish, striped bass, and black sea bass.

The winner in the party boat division was Steve Dewaro on the Viking Starship. Robert Malinowski took top honors in the recreational division with 129.35 points, 43.8 of which came from a single striped bass. Capt. Rick Etzel on the Breakaway boat won among competing commercial fishermen with a 38.7-pound striper, a 12-pound bluefish, an 8.1-pound fluke, and a 4.25-pound sea bass.

Richie Nessel won the individual angler award for a 5.45-pound sea bass, Robert Malinowski for a 43.8-pound striped bass, Sal Zatkowski for a 12.5-pound bluefish, and Sal Zatkowski again for fluke that weighed 8.21 pounds.

Harvey Bennett at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett reports fluke production is strong around the Ruins on the north end of Gardiner’s Island and outside Napeague Harbor. He said the porgies were getting bigger on the west side of Gardiner’s Island, and on the ocean beaches there are big blues on and off during the day.

“I heard there was a large shark feeding on bunker off the beach in Water Mill,” he said. “Let’s hope it keeps eating the bunker.”