Each thrust of water rages against the rocks and the sand. Foam sprays high in the air, before retreating to the Atlantic Ocean. In the midst of the fury it is impossible to have a conversation with anyone beyond an arm’s length away, so few words are passed. Not that any of the locals would ever say where the fish are being caught. “The water” is about as specific as this bunch will get. This is October in Montauk, New York.
But the violence of the barrier between land and sea does not slow the anglers who are drawn here each autumn. As striped bass make their way along the East Coast following the warmer water south, the surf-casters boldly wade into the fishes’ territory, hoping to snag a keeper as it brushes against the tip of Long Island. It is the angling equivalent of the planets aligning, and the action is tremendous, with fish upward of 40 pounds taken through the days and nights. When the full moon rises, forcing the tides to become even more extreme, the fishing is nothing short of phenomenal.
Along Montauk Highway, the only road in or out of the village, anglers in four-wheel-drive trucks line up, pushing against traffic like stubborn salmon. Fishing poles from 8 to 12 feet long stick up from homemade holsters on the bumpers. Trips can last a few hours, overnight, three days or a week or more, depending on your tolerance. Sand falls like dandruff from your scalp and even your driest socks are dripping, but if the stripers are there, so are you.
To The Lighthouse
Camp Hero, a former military base that is now a state park, provides one of the more popular access points to the beach (a $49 permit is required to drive on the sand; call 631-669-1000 for more information). It may seem touristy, but one of the better fishing spots is right under the lighthouse, about 100 yards out. There, wet-suited anglers stand on perches and whip their lines far into the rips. Guide services take inexperienced anglers to the juicy spots and often provide most of the equipment. The guides seem to get just as much satisfaction from watching the novices tumble over in the rough water as from watching them catch a trophy bass.
Live eels are often the baits of choice, but artificials are common. Long, active ones are saved for when the bite is really hot. Most anglers handle a pole between 8 and 10 feet long. Department of Environmental Conservation fishing regulations allow anglers to keep one striped bass (measuring at least 28 inches) per day, though on a good day you can hook two or more an hour.
Reeling in a striped bass while balancing on a wet rock as waves as powerful as linebackers smack you in the chest is difficult. Doing it at night-with no clear delineation between the ocean and the beach-can be downright dangerous.
But when you schlepp your cow back to the shore, it’s not even a question of being worth the risk.