‘There Was This Whale . . .’

The whale was white, a silvery white, with one of its graceful pectoral fins languorously draped across its midsection like the arm of an otherworldly odalisque
A dead humpback whale that washed ashore at Ditch Plain looked almost ethereal in the afternoon light. Russell Drumm

It was the light. The afternoon light and the unknown number of days the yearling humpback floated dead before the full moon and the surging remnants of Hurricane Joaquin cast it upon the rocks east of the trailer park in Montauk.

The whale was white, a silvery white, with one of its graceful pectoral fins languorously draped across its midsection like the arm of an otherworldly odalisque. Beautiful.

Joaquin had turned east, away from the coast, his course pictured on weather maps as a scimitar of potential trouble that instead of carving up the beach — and in the process proving once again that the sand bulwarking planned for downtown Montauk is a waste of time and money — also put the storm in the perfect location to provide surfers with the best swell of 2015.

The dead whale-good surf combination raised the specter of shark involvement. Around here “floaters” are well known to bring sharks of dangerous varieties shoreward. Capt. Frank Mundus, speaking about the whale-shark combination as it was realized in August of 1986:

“There was this whale. There was the beach. There was the wind. I says, ‘Teddy [his mate], that sucker’s gonna wind up somewheres on the beach if they don’t do something.’ The handwriting was on the wall. So we go in, and we heard the next day that he washed up on the beach down in Amagansett. So Teddy went down to look at him, and they didn’t drag him up the beach yet. When they did, the tiger sharks was hangin’ on him. Of all the dumb things. I mean, those people who ordered that whale dragged up and buried — there was never a kid what had a little sand bucket and small shovel and played in the sand that wouldn’t have known better. . . . My God, they’re gonna have maggots big enough to shoot with a shotgun. And that’s exactly what happened, and there’s nice houses right there. People pay a lot of money for waterfront property, put up a nice house, and then they get a whale buried in their backyard.”

Mundus went fishing off Amagansett the day after the whale washed ashore and caught two large tiger sharks. A reporter asked him, “Did you see any more?”

“We didn’t see any. We didn’t even see these two before they ate the bait,” he answered.

Last week, all the usual spots were firing including Ditch Plain, only a few hundred yards from where the whale came ashore. And as Joaquin turned northeast, with an accent on the east, rock reefs and sandbars that had not received such a perfect swell in over a year began to strut their stuff. And surfers were not the only beneficiaries of last week’s weather. Surfcasters were able to take advantage of the easterly blow from the storm that moved up the coast just prior to Joaquin.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, in the rain and near gale-force winds from the first storm, casters launched their heaviest bucktail lures into the maelstrom below the Montauk Lighthouse. What their casts lacked in distance because of the wind’s resistance was more than made up for by the corralling effect of the accompanying surge that drove prey species, including good-size bunker, landward.

And, in answer to the Montauk surfcasters’ most-repeated prayer, the big striped bass feeding on them that day were also swept closer to the rocks where the casters were perched, or, as in a few cases, swept from them like so many flies at a picnic. Big bass in the 30-to-40-pound range were landed.

One man’s feast is another man’s famine, of course. The weather that fulfilled the dreams of surfcasters dashed those hoping to tie into a feisty false albacore or two, or bass, or gorilla bluefish on light tackle or homemade fly from their small boats. The bottom fishing also seemed to be shaken up by the back-to-back storm surges. Montauk’s Viking Fleet of party boats is always a good place to check the bottom, especially during the fleet’s “jumbo fall porgies and sea bass” season. The Viking reported slower than usual action immediately after the storms passed, but there were signs the schools were getting reorganized this week.

Montauk charter boats also reported finding a fair amount of cod on recent trips. On Friday, Yu Lam of New York City won first place in the pool by catching a 31/2-pound porgy. That’s huge. Anton Picinic of New Jersey earned second place with a 141/2-pound cod.

Taking advantage of the easterly blow from the storm that moved up the coast prior to Joaquin was surfcaster Frisly Castaneda, who caught this 44.8-poundstriper on Oct. 4Paulie’s Tackle