Getting Away From It All

There’s more to catching a fish than catching a fish
Spearfishing in the Canyons offshore from Montauk, David Dynof bagged an aptly named bigeye tuna. @petercorreale

The single-engine plane struggling against Monday’s hefty southwest wind towed a banner advertising a rent-a-butler service.

We were alone on a secret beach, insulated from the crowds on that glorious summer day, and so the plane with its non sequiturious message — a crap duster seeding the clouds with yet another Hamptons pretension — made us feel like members of a cargo cult. We lay dazed in the hot sun and laughing, stunned as though Coke bottles had fallen on our heads, their source and use a mystery. “The gods must be crazy,” indeed.

Not far offshore an empty boat rocked at anchor. But then again it was not empty. One man stood on the deck. A buoy and flag floating nearby indicated divers down. The presence of spearfishermen completed our primitive template.

The ancient fishing method is becoming more and more popular among younger fishermen on the East End, an interesting turn of events, a sea change if you will. I believe it’s a long overdue recognition that there’s more to catching a fish than catching a fish.

Spearfishing puts the fisherman in the query’s habitat. What anglers must do by feel — and the best of them have a pronounced sense of touch as well as an accurately imagined view of what’s happening down below — spearfishermen see with their own eyes.

If they are fishing for striped bass, they can see what the bass are feeding on. Spearfishermen are eyewitness to the submarine play of light, to the explosions of prey species, the sculpture of bottom features.

The sport has its dangers, of course, including fish that bite, the cold (in this part of the world), and cerebral hypoxia, or shallow-water blackouts. On the other hand, spearfishermen can choose their catch. There is no “spear-and-release,” but neither are thousands of fish wounded by anglers who catch and release like they’re doing the fish a favor, and others who catch more fish than they need in hopes of landing a trophy.

How about a spearfishing shark tournament? Chum up a few 300-pound makos, a dusky or two, perhaps a curious great white and then slip into the water with a speargun? Bet there’d be few competitors.

In any case Montauk’s Star Island Yacht Club is holding its 23rd annual two-day mako, thresher, and tuna tournament starting tomorrow and Saturday with overnight fishing permitted. How ’bout slipping over the side into a chum cloud at night?

Those who prefer smaller fish, and a great deal less danger, have plenty to catch. Bluefish continue to be taken off the sand beaches of Montauk and west, although the gorilla blues of the past couple of weeks seem to have moved off — perhaps because of the unusually warm ocean.

Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, rambled: “False albacore and bonito are here big time, bass all over ocean beaches, fluke, porgies all you want, tinker mackerel at the ‘hanger dock’ ” — the name for the old Navy dock on Fort Pond Bay long since replaced — “and Three Mile Harbor, bluefish in Napeague Harbor and blowfish. Porgies all you want in Gardiner’s Bay.”

Bennett also repeated the rumor that a 150-pound shark was either seen or caught near the White Sands motel on Napeague. Could be a fiction. It’s the season.

We all think of getting away this time of year. Not away, in a geographical sense. It’s nice here, but “away” from it all without leaving, like Kyle and I succeeded in doing on Monday, lying in the sun, gazing up at the crap duster as it struggled against the wind. Laughing.

“Beam me up,” Harvey Bennet said, meaning to his home planet, “but leave the porgies here.”



On a trip 100 miles off Montauk, Loic Gouzer encountered an ocean sunfish, or mola mola. @petercorreale