It might have been an illusion, but the events that took place offshore of Montauk during the last week of July 2013 tended toward the supernatural.
Taken together, the whales breaching, the thousands of dolphins, the lobsterman lost overboard who survived by his wits, the tenacity of the Coast Guard, and also by a community’s prayers and will to find him, were the stuff and color of legend.
From the full moon last Wednesday that lighted a path to enable the lobsterman John Aldridge to get his bearings and a glimmer of hope, to the success of Montauk’s first no-kill shark tournament that was rewarded with the best shark fishing veteran fishermen can remember, taken together, it was as if a kind of benevolence was orchestrating the interplay of mankind and the sea. It was a good feeling.
Carl Darenberg, whose Montauk Marine Basin hosted the SharkEye no-kill tournament and festival over the weekend, declared it an unqualified success on Monday. During the two days of fishing, satellite tags were attached to four sharks allowing their movements to be tracked via computer and the wonders of GPS. Only ten boats were entered, but they succeeded in catching 33 mako sharks, and 31 blue sharks, most of which were tagged with non-satellite tags. The tags will help with future study if and when the sharks are re-caught.
“Next year it will be full-blown. They laughed at me, turned their noses up,” Darenberg said of doubters who’d insisted his no-kill tournament would not fly. He said he was already getting calls from people wanting to donate money toward next year’s tournament. It made the CBS nightly news Monday night and the Today Show is planning a segment, Darenberg said.
The contest was not without its tense moments. Joe Gaviola, who was recommending kinder and less wasteful shark tournaments years ago, was fishing on the Free Nicky Saturday when a mako estimated in the 200 to 250-pound range was caught. The trick was to keep it by the boat until the “chase boat,” the boat with the satellite tags, came on scene. As the shark was reeled in, a second line was crossed. From it hung a mackerel bait.
“They were trying to get a tail rope on the mako, one guy grabbed the tail and almost got bit, and meanwhile the shark is trolling this other bait.” If another shark had taken the bait — not unlikely given the ruckus — all hell would have broken loose.
In the end, it was the big mako that broke loose, but a second, smaller mako, named April by Gaviola (after two women of the same name, one of them the artist April Gornick, a tournament organizer), was caught and satellite-tagged. The crew of the Free Nicky was rewarded when a whale breached about 100 feet from the boat. “It was like an after-dinner cocktail,” Gaviola said.
Capt. Michael Potts helped organize the event. His Blue Fin IV charter boat found a blue shark that received a sat tag. The shark was pre-named Beamer (as in “beam me up Scotty”) by the kids at the Montauk School, who will follow Beamer on his or her travels. The first shark to “go into outer space” via the satellite tag was named Princess. A 200-pound mako, she was caught aboard Capt. Richard Nessel’s Nasty Ness. “It was fun,” said Dan Christman, who helped pass the rod to the chase boat for the actual tagging.
“It was the best shark fishing in years,” Darenberg said. “It showed that this can actually work. He said a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service told him years ago that government policies regarding shark fishing were changing and that restrictions could spell the end of tournaments. “She said, ‘You’d better do what you can.’ ” He did.
Meanwhile, the inshore waters have been equally alive. Numerous striped bass are being caught, some on bait. Bucktails are working as well. A few weakfish have bitten on bucktails down around Ditch Plain Beach in Montauk. Monster porgies are being taken by surfcasters along Montauk’s south-facing beaches on fluke rigs baited with squid.
As happens in years when the west wind blows hard and long in early spring and the Gulf Stream sends its eddies close to shore, fishermen are seeing tropical species including trigger fish, kingfish, and, in the case of Montauk local Fredrick (Motor) James Shay Jr., a 46.5-pound black drum caught with his seven-foot Uglystick on 20-pound test line with a 2.0 Gamakatsu hook aboard the Viking Star party boat trip that also harvested porgies (one weighing three and a half pounds), sea bass, fluke, and bluefish.
According to the Viking Fleet, it was the first-ever recorded black drum catch in the state. It’s a species usually found in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic from the Chesapeake Bay south.