Fishing Montauk: You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet
People occasionally tell me my car is a “dyke car” or a “granola-vegan hippie car.” I’ve heard it from several different parties: “Oh, that Forester? That’s such a dyke car,” they tell me. Why? Because it’s a wagon? These comments I laugh off and attribute to the minds of the ignorant. Granted, I did buy it from a childless 50-year-old woman, but she was married to a man who had a couple kids of his own, so maybe she didn’t feel the need to put more weight on the planet’s carrying capacity. Plus, my car has a turbo in it, so if it’s a dyke car, that should at least qualify it as a power top of some sort, maybe not too deep into the BDSM scene, but aroused by some light bondage, blindfolds, and medium-weight spanking (not that heavy shit that raises welts and stripes, just the hot red rosiness on the skin—the heavy shit can go to the STi-powered Foresters). The Forester is also all-wheel drive, which is great, but perhaps, going along with the implication of its sexuality, implies it goes all-ways. This driver, however, only goes one way.
I packed up the Forester Friday night after work, and this weekend, that “one way” was to Montauk. Reports were that the weather wasn’t great, and the water was what locals call “chocolate milk”-y. The heavy storms came and went, and mostly missed the Point, but either way I was going out there to gain some experience at the Mecca of striped bass fishing. My plan was to meet up with Jason Puris who runs the site, The Fin. I’d talked to Jason a few times earlier in the week about going fishing with him, as he has this standing offer to go with him to spots east and learn how to fish them with him. It’s not a guide service, he stresses; rather you are going fishing with him in a sort of casual arrangement. The fishing, however, is usually anything but casual.
I made it out to Montauk in a little over two hours, passing several groups of women walking for some reason in pitch darkness along the two-lane portions of NY-27. They appeared dressed to go out, but also at least a mile from any lively section of town or even a neighborhood that I could see. I’ve always considered Montauk to be a sleepy sort of town, but the Memory Hotel and its counterpart across the street, The Point Bar, were blowing up as I passed through. It looked like it was spring break. I had about two hours before I had to meet Jason, and craving as I so often do, a beer, I drove around trying to find a bar that wasn’t, and I know this makes me feel and sound really old, full of drunk kids playing beer pong and clamoring for free key chains and beer cozies from average-looking girls from Samuel Adams. I settled on Shagwongs, which wasn’t much better. I stood around looking like an asshole holding a beer while trying to figure out what the hell the rules were to this broadcast of a rugby match from 1979 between New Zealand and Australia (one of them won 10-9).
I met Jason at Johnny’s around quarter to 1 and followed him to a spot off the highway. We made our acquaintances (we actually hadn’t met face to face yet; one of the most generous aspects of Jason’s offer), geared up, and set off for a walk Jason promised would be 30-40 minutes along the south side of the Point. The sky was black and the water was rough, but Jason judged it to be ok to fish. We walked along rocks and sand and rocks and sand, he pointed out such landmarks as Bird Shit Rock and the sides of coves that held other rocks we couldn’t see, to which people swim or wade out to stand upon. We trudged along while Jason took note of the significant beach erosion and I struggled to see the first three-feet in front of me. We arrived at a rocky beach in front of the former house of a formerly famous person at the edge of a cove. Jason instructed me where to head out into the water, and although I couldn’t really see anything, I said ok. I laced up the Korkers (an absolute must, “a necessary evil,” as Jason says, to fish these spots). I headed out into the dark water to find a rock, while Jason headed to my left to find another.
The ground is very uneven. Let’s just say that right now. I’m not the tallest person either, so water tends to rise from waist deep to chest deep pretty fast. Also, I’ve ruined three iPhones and two digital cameras by soaking them in salt water (a big “Thank You” to Jason to pointing me to this thing that I picked up today in the city), so there was some concern about losing another phone wrapped in a Ziploc bag to the sea. But back to the ground, it is somewhat deceiving. You may be standing on rocks as you make your way out to your targeted rock, which, as a novice on this beach, may not approach fast enough, but underneath that rock you are stepping on is sand. And more rocks of various heights. So you step on one and are up to your chest, and then you wonder where you will step next and if it will put you up to your neck or back up to your waist. I learned to use the rod as a wading stick as Jason did. And once you reach your rock it’s covered with grass and slippery seaweed (see Korkers) and you may be standing looking at it at chest height. How are you going to haul your ass up onto the rock with waves rolling in with your rod in one hand and your gear on your back? These are things I had to negotiate and learn in the dark.
I also almost lost one of my Korkers as soon as I stepped into the water, so I had to hobble back to the beach trying not to lose it while getting pummeled by waves from behind (rookie mistake number 1, the night would be full of them), and tripping over the aforementioned rocky bottom. After nearly falling on my face a couple times, I was back on land and I retied doubly and turned around to see Jason had already landed a fish. I finally got back to my rock and cast into the inky blackness. I’ve been fishing jetties in the Rockaways a lot lately with Dave Cole, but this experience was significantly different. Having no visual information to go by and being completely unfamiliar with the terrain, it was hard to concentrate on fishing without keeping a heavy eye on the incoming waves, trying to see where your lure was, trying not to get snagged, getting snagged and trying to get out of it without losing your footing and your lure. Even at this place relatively close to shore, it became obvious how challenging Montauk can be to fish. Not that I ever doubted it, but this was my first taste approaching the difficulty of what the dedicated and hardcore fishermen at this place go through. One thing Jason stressed as we walked from spot to spot, pointing out landmarks and productive places, is that a lot of these places are productive to those who know how to fish it. I never doubted that either, but I did casually fish Montauk last summer, and unsurprisingly caught nothing. There is so much to learn in order to fish this area even at a fundamental level, more than I could glean from a single night out in the dark. But I did make a lot of mistakes. Plus, I suck at swimming.
We didn’t have another fish, and after 30 minutes we decided to move closer to where we parked. As we walked we saw another headlamp approaching us. We stepped off to the side a bit and paused to let the guy pass and he marched purposefully by with nary a glance in our direction. “That’s the thing about Montauk,” Jason said. “Nobody talks to each other. You could be at the point with one other guy at 3:30 in the morning and he won’t say anything to you.” I suppose you could say it’s a dickhead move based on provincialism, but, put another way, maybe says a lot about how serious people are about fishing Montauk. Still, a little humanity can go a long way sometimes.
We got back to a jetty that reminded me of one Dave and I have been fishing lately, a smallish man-made rock jetty. The tide was going out but the waves were still pounding us and the sky no less dark. I had to borrow a lure from Jason as I stupidly lost mine on something way out there. While I had to concentrate on where my lure was in the water Jason would work his only in areas that held potential then would quickly wind up and cast again. I was working mine slow throughout, not really positive where the lure was except that I was pretty sure it was still in the water. Around my fifth or sixth cast I was busy watching the water to make sure I didn’t get blindsided by a wave, when something heavy snapped the line tight and almost pulled the rod out of my unsuspecting hands. I found this surprising although I had set my drag very tight. And even still, zzzzp zzzzp the line went and that was it. It was off. It felt very heavy and/or powerful. It could have been an octopus for all I knew it was over so quickly. But in my heart I knew what it was and I wasn’t ready for it. I was still too concerned with the things going on around me, too busy trying not to lose another lure, trying not to fall off my rock, too much of a novice here. Maybe another night I might have gotten lucky and stayed on, but not tonight. I didn’t deserve it.
Besides even if I landed it I didn’t have a camera (see above mentioned digital cameras soaked in saltwater) so nobody would have believed me anyway.
We fished a little longer then packed it in. Jason had promised his wife he’d be home when his two children woke up so he had to head out. It was about 4:30am. I went further east to the Point to fish first light and the outgoing tide. He showed me where to go and I more or less got it right. We shook hands and I thanked him for the experience, which was a significantly edifying one. We’ll do it again, we said. He turned left and I turned right. I found the rocks he described to me, but found no fish. I did manage to slip off a rock and eat shit in the water, but luckily nobody was there to see it. The few guys who showed up as I parked had already left by the time I got back to the lot. The fishing today was not so good by Montauk standards, and the regulars needed little time to figure that out. I crashed out in the car for an hour and then headed home via the way I came. I saw a Jeep Grand Cherokee catch fire two cars ahead of me. I listened to Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” while the flames started underneath and wondered if the song would have been as good were it not for Bowie’s backups and Mick Ronson’s production. I got home in two and a half hours and fell asleep for three hours. After, I wrote this.
(sorry it’s so long.)