Pure September Perfection

Dark purple circles appeared here and there on Saturday afternoon, clots of menhaden
Rusty Miller, winner of the United States surfing championship contest in 1965, stopped by Ditch Plain in Montauk Tuesday for a set. Russell Drumm

    The surface of Fort Pond Bay in Montauk was bruised.c, on as pristine a September day as one could imagine.

    Sailing into the bay on a 10-knot, northeast wind, the sloop Leilani passed through the bruises, each containing thousands of the algae-eaters. They are known as an industrial species, a source of omega-3 fatty acids of late, but in the past squashed in huge quantities right here at Promised Land on Napeague. Their oil was bound for paint for machines, including guns, during the last world war; their crusted and dried parts were used for fish food and fertilizer.

    “Menhaden” is derived from the Algonquian word for fertilizer. Legend has it that Squanto advised the pilgrims to put menhaden with their corn crops. Around here, we call them bunker, short for Mossbunker, one of their other handles. They are great lobster bait, and, because of their oil, prey to just about every predator in the neighborhood this time of year.

    And so, it was with high expectation that Leilani’s crew trolled a silver lure, its hook shank sheathed in a green tube, through and below the bunker schools in hopes that striped bass or bluefish were feeding below, but to no avail. And it was strange. There were no frantic flights into the air away from charging bluefish. The forage fish seemed complacent, and to tell the truth, it was that kind of day — peaceful. What tricks of latitude, season, and meteorology were responsible? Oh, that it could be bottled.

    The absence of marauding predators playing havoc with the bunker schools would not be seen as a good sign by the striped bass fishermen who descend on the East End of the South Fork this time of year, but the peace will most likely be short-lived.

    Bass have begun to move along the south-facing ocean beaches on their westerly migration with surfcasters either sneaking onto Shagwong Point on Montauk’s north side, into the Montauk moorland coves on the south side, or four-wheeling east-to-west in hot pursuit along the ocean beaches.

    Richie Michelson and Gary Krist found big bass on Montauk’s north side in recent days, big enough at 37.64 and 18.48 pounds to place first and second in the Montauk SurfMasters tournament. John Bruno stands alone in the annual contest’s wetsuit division fish-off with a 37.22-pound striper. Mary Ellen Kane’s 19.35-pounder leads the pack in the women’s division.

    Paul Apostolides at Paulie’s Tackle shop in Montauk reported teen-size bass being taken on the ocean beaches where sand eels are the predominant prey. Charter and private boaters are doing extremely well jigging bass during the daylight hours. After dark, eels are doing the trick.

    Oh, a reminder that the fluke fishing season ended on Monday.

    This is the time of year when great fishing and great surfing often drive their adherents to distraction. Those with both addictions are on the rack, so to speak, pulled in both directions, although for this reporter good surf, like the truth, will win out.

    On Tuesday morning, the elbow-shaped reef at Ditch Plain Beach in Montauk received one of the best swells of the 2013 summer-fall season. On hand was Rusty Miller, a native of Encinitas, Calif., member of the Wind-and-Sea Club, and winner of the United States surfing championship contest in 1965. He now lives in Byron Bay, Australia, and was in this area promoting his new book, “Turning Point: Surf Portraits and Stories From Bells to Byron 1970-1971.”

    For a surfer of a certain age, sharing good waves with Rusty Miller was the equivalent of a baseball fan playing catch with Mickey Mantle. Great fun.

Fort Pond Bay glistened in the sunlight Saturday, but the schools of bunker did not draw the usual predator fish. Russell Drumm