You know what they say: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll never want to do anything else. The crisp days, cooler nights, seasonal ocean currents and bait patterns make fall an ideal time for fishing. Whether you’re a beginner or expert angler, the shores of Montauk are a fantastic place for dipping your toes in the water, so to speak, and trying your hand at surfcasting.
What is surfcasting? Essentially it refers to any kind of fishing done from the shore (beaches or jetties), and almost exclusively in bodies of salt water. Fortunately, Montauk has all of that and more. Michael Coppola is a board member of the Montauk Surfmasters, a fishing association that sponsors an annual striped bass invitation-only tournament. Says Coppola, “For 25 years it was known as the Montauk Locals Tournament, but in 2010 we changed the name to Montauk Surfmasters. Our Fall Classic is a 10-week striped bass tournament. It’s always been known as one of the most exclusive tournaments for the savviest fishermen.”
From September through the end of October, anglers in the Waders, Wetsuit, Women’s and Kids & Youth divisions use their skills to catch the largest striped bass in the waters surrounding Montauk. “The tournament’s been going on for more than 30 years in one form or another. So far, this year it looks like its going to be a great fall for striped bass,” says Coppola.
Even if you don’t participate in the tournament, there’s lots of fun and excitement to be had fishing in Montauk. If you’re just starting out, Coppola recommends a visit to Paulie’s Tackle on South Edgemere Street in Montauk. “They’re really helpful with people who are just learning the sport. There are plenty of people who participate in the tournament around the shop who can give advice. We usually walk people down to the beach to teach them how to cast.”
Once you’re set up with a pair of waders and a rod 10- or 11-foot rod—an 11-foot Lamiglas rod with a Van Staal reel is the preferred equipment of Montauk Surfmasters—you can head over to the north side of the Montauk Lighthouse, which is a great place for beginning surfcasters. On the south side of the lighthouse, Turtle Cove has a sandy beach area perfect for angling. “Ditch Plains is another good place for beginners,” says Coppola, “but even the sand beaches right behind town are an easy place to start.” But, Coppola warns, “Never go on rocks without wearing Korkers.” Korkers are rubber spiked soles that are affixed to the bottom of boots. They provide grip on the slippery surfaces of the rocks. “People definitely need Korkers. If you don’t have them, you have to fish the sand beaches.”
Surfcasting isn’t just for adults. “I’ve been fishing the waters of Montauk since I was 15,” Coppola says. “The youngest kids we see out fishing are usually six or seven years old.” For children, a 9-foot rod is best. Montauk Surfmasters holds clinics for youth where they can learn about fishing safety, tying knots, the basics of casting and how to hand and properly release fish. Adults are welcome at the clinic, too. The next clinic will be held in the first or second week of October (check montauksurfmasters.com for more details). “It’s also about teaching kids good sportsmanship. We have a Catch-and-Release division in the tournament, which is a photo contest. So kids can catch a striped bass, take a photo and release the fish.”
It’s not just about the rod and reel—lures are equally as important. Darters are usually two to three ounces, cylindrical with a flat, sloping head. Common colors are yellow, white and black. Darters are built to move below the surface of the water in distinct zigzagging patterns, which attract striped bass. On the other hand, bucktails are what you might think of as a more traditional fish hook with varying amounts of deer (hence the name) or synthetic hair attached to them. Their movements mimic more slender bait fish. Finally, you’ve got poppers that you work across the surface of the water with jerks of the rod. This creates a gush of water that attracts predator fish from below.
Besides striped bass, this time of year is great for bluefish. In recent years, bluefish upwards of 15 pounds have been within casting distance from most of the local beaches on the East End. False albacore, although they’re typically farther offshore, occasionally make an appearance. Whatever you catch, make sure you have a good set of pliers on hand for unhooking the fish safely and humanely with minimal damage to the animal.
“Montauk is a great place to learn how to surfcast,” says Coppola. “There’s a lot of different types of fishing. Not just the jetty, which can be dangerous, and not just sand beaches.”
So what are you waiting for? Get your rod and get out there!