Ghosts of Gardiner’s Point

Large striped bass take temporary residence in the rip that forms between Bostwick Point at the northern tip of Gardiner’s Island and Gardiner’s Point Island
John Ebanks held a cod caught south of Montauk Point. Tom McDonald

This time of year large striped bass take temporary residence in the rip that forms between Bostwick Point at the northern tip of Gardiner’s Island and Gardiner’s Point Island, where the crumbling remains of Fort Tyler, known locally as the Ruins, stands today. 

The history of Fort Tyler is widely known. It was built in 1898 by the Army with a four-gun battery to stop Spanish warships from entering inland New York waterways during the Spanish-American War. Fort Tyler was abandoned in 1928 when shifting sands made it unstable. In 1936 and again in the late 1940s, the fort was used for target practice by bombers stationed on Long Island. The island is now part of the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge system.

The rich local history of Gardiner’s Point Island didn’t start with Fort Tyler. It began in 1851 when the federal government purchased the land from the Gardiner family for $400 for a lighthouse. At that time, the property totaled 14 acres and was still attached to Gardiner’s Island by a narrow spit of sand. The one-and-a-half story stone lighthouse building was completed in 1854 at a total cost of $7,000. The decision to build the lighthouse at the end of a sandy peninsula would prove to be a disastrous one. 

In February 1894, Gardiner’s Lighthouse was toppled by a storm, killing Frank Miller, son of Jonathan Miller, the lighthouse keeper. Its masonry foundation had been undermined by surrounding seas. By that time, storms had punched a hole through the sandy shoal connecting the lighthouse to Gardiner’s Island, creating an exposed Gardiner’s Point Island. 

According to a story published by The New York Times shortly after the tragedy, the lighthouse had been reported as unsafe to authorities in Washington, D.C., by both the elder Miller and his predecessor, who had recently resigned because of his concerns about the building’s deteriorating condition. Government officials had discussed moving or replacing the lighthouse for several years before the accident, but no decision was made. The Times article noted: “Old seamen who are familiar with the situation of the lighthouse do not express any surprise at the collapse of the structure.”

It’s unclear if the submerged rocks that surround the island are remnants of the toppled lighthouse or the fallen walls of Fort Tyler. Regardless, they do provide structure that attracts striped bass and other fish including porgies. There is a small field of boulders east of the Ruins that makes for treacherous navigation but promising fishing. The failure to pay close attention to tide height and current there will result in a dinged prop or hull if not a worse result. Anchoring in the area is restricted due to the concern that unexploded bombs might still rest on the bottom. 

At high tide, drift over the rocks as your boat’s draft allows or work slowly along the edges. Toss a live-lined porgy or eel among the rocks and wait for a striper to strike. Be patient and don’t expect furious action. Anglers can also cast surface plugs and shallow swimmers over the rocks and into the small rips that form there. Keep any eye on your depth finder and the boulders below, which are visible on a sunny day. This is not heels-up relaxing fishing, particularly when charter boats and others are fishing the area. 

If the area is occupied by more than one or two boats, then just motor east towards Bostwick Point and fish the Rip. There, trolling, casting, and live-lining baits can produce bass and bluefish any time of day, though dawn and dusk often are most productive. Once again, keep an eye on the depth finder. It’s no fun pushing a 4,000-pound boat off the sandy shoal. Seen it. Done it.

In local waters, porgies continue to hurl themselves at baited hooks in Cherry Harbor and throughout local bays. Fluke action is hit and miss around Shelter Island, said Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. He recommended that anglers change strategies when fish aren’t biting, perhaps substituting a scented Gulp product for a squid strip. Those set on a fluke dinner should focus on Montauk waters where keepers continue to be landed, according to Paulie Apostolides of Paulie’s Tackle in Montauk. 

Anglers are catching keeper striped bass in Plum Gut on bucktail rigs, according to Morse. Stripers are also in the rips around Montauk Point, Apostolides said. He added that large striped bass historically arrive in Montauk around the June new moon. The south-facing ocean beaches have been quiet, though some small bass have been caught around Gurney’s, reported Harvey Bennett at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. He added that one of his fly-fishing clients spotted shad in the ocean during a morning walk. Three Mile Harbor is holding loads of rat bass, perfect for ultra-light tackle, reported Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. 

The nonstop bluefish catching at Gerard Drive has subsided, though anglers casting tins such as a Crocodile spoon are faring better. Bluefish continue to assault whatever is tossed their way in Montauk.

On the commercial side, Kelly Lester said that the bay is so thick with black sea bass that they are showing up in her conch pots. Unfortunately, this fishery is temporarily closed to commercial fishermen. She added that her poundtraps are swollen with scup but surprisingly no bluefish.