As the sun was setting behind the Montauk Lighthouse on the eastern tip of Long Island, our skipper Jim Angelidis gunned the engine on his Boston Whaler toward shore. “Monster blitz up ahead,” hollered Jim’s son, Xen.
I looked beyond the bow of the skiff and saw the sight that angling dreams are made of. Covering an area about 200 yards wide, the water was exploding with writhing, silvery baitfish, accented by legions of gannets and gulls dive-bombing from high above. Huge shadows corralled the bait into a central core where I could occasionally make out the pointed snout of a schoolie striped bass or the rounded face of a chopper bluefish. The ocean was alive and it was pure mayhem!
The really huge females, known as cows, make their appearance in late October when the water temperature drops below 60°.
As our craft came to a halt I tossed a small SPRO as far as I could. Upon retrieval I could feel the jig colliding with numerous baitfish as they were trying to escape the roughneck predators. After only a few cranks, the Ugly Stick bent double over as an unidentified predator took off toward the lighthouse. After two screaming runs and some serious headshakes, a magnificent striped bass came boatside for a quick release. Jim and Xen were both preoccupied, each subduing very respectable bluefish over the 10-pound mark. The glinting eyes and razor sharp teeth of the blues reminded me that these were fish to be reckoned with. A quick glance at the angling armada indicated that just about every able-bodied fisherman in our zip code was also tangling with a prized fighter. And then it was all over, just as quickly as it started. The fast paced flotilla moved on to look for more action, which happened to be just around the corner. So it goes in Montauk.
I have partaken in regular visits to the Northeast over the past several years to enjoy the seasonal movements of the venerable striped bass and maligned bluefish. In my travels I have not found better locations for these two species than along the north and south shores of Long Island. Beginning in the spring, striped bass start showing up in decent numbers with outstanding catches to be made in May and June. The early season fish, known as schoolies, are not huge but they are plentiful to the point of wearing your arms out. Ravenous bluefish start to show up a little later in spring, with the bite really taking off during the warmer months of summer.
Trophy stripers in the 40 to 50 pound class are a fall phenomenon. They start to arrive in September when millions of juvenile menhaden, locally referred to as peanut bunker, empty out into the ocean from tidal rivers and estuaries. The really huge females, known as cows, make their appearance in late October when the water temperature drops below 60°. These big girls feed with no remorse and put on a show as the winter season sets in. The blues also seem to supersize in the fall, so don’t be surprised if you latch onto a 15 pound blue when the water chills out.
For most inshore action, anglers prefer using fairly light tackle. A Shimano Torium 20 conventional reel spooled with 15 lb. test monofilament combined with a medium action boat rod will do the trick. If you are trophy hunting, you might want to step it up to 30 or 50 lb. gear. For bait it is really hard to beat peanut bunker, although fresh clam strips work very well. I enjoy fishing artificials, as stripers and blues really put the hammer down on topwater plugs. This is particularly true in the salt laden realm of surf fishing.
For the fly-fishing aficionado, opportunities abound for tremendous action. Most fish can be tamed with an 8 or 9 weight outfit, but depending on the prevalent conditions, location, and feeding patterns you may use weight-forward, intermediate or fast-sink fly lines. An assortment of poppers, sliders, deceivers and Clouser minnows will keep you connected.
While Montauk is the most fabled destination on Long Island, there are many other sensational venues in the vicinity that are worth checking out. Be sure to visit western Manhasset Bay to slam big stripers with the skyline of Manhattan in the background. On the south shore, anglers routinely nail stripers and blues on clam bellies from Jones Beach Inlet to the New Jersey border.
Where to Toss the Bags
There are literally hundreds of hotels to choose from depending on your taste and budget. From extremely luxurious boutique hotels to bare bones motels catered to anglers, the options are endless. In Montauk, I regularly stay at the Blue Haven (bluehavenmotel.com), a delightful operation that’s just a stone’s throw from the docks on the north end of town. The recently refurbished rooms are very comfortable, each fitted with a refrigerator, stove and microwave. Jim Angelidis, the manager, is an avid angler and it shouldn’t be too difficult to persuade him to give you a ride in his Whaler to wherever they’re biting.
There are daily flights to John F. Kennedy International and La Guardia from a host of cities. Both airports are only a short commute to serious action. Long Island is fairly easy to navigate with the north and south Long Island Expressways taking you east and west. To get to Montauk the directions are simple. Head east on Highway 27 until the road ends. You can bring your own gear if you plan of heading out solo, but if you book a charter the captain will take care of all your bait and tackle needs.