by Capt Gene Kelly

Early 60's anglers weigh in their pollock for the Kinickerbocker Beer Fishing Contest. In those days pollock were regularly caught in the vicinity of the Lighthouse, even by surfcasters.
It seems like Montauk has been a magnet for fishermen forever, and as far as most of us are concerned, that?s true. Before World War II, the "Fisherman?s Special", operated by the Long Island Railroad would bring eager anglers from New York City all the way out to the end of the line, which at that time was a true village, the heart of Montauk, with homes, restaurants, shops and rooming houses. Passengers would disembark and walk to the Union News Dock, where they would board a fleet of open boats targeting seabass, fluke and porgies. The hurricane of 1938 however devastated the area, wiping out the village, the boats and the railroad that had supplied the boats with upwards of 20,000 anglers per year.

It wasn?t until after World War II that the fishing hordes would return, with a similar special Long Island Railroad scheduled trip to Montauk. It would run from New York to Montauk every Friday, Saturday and

Sunday throughout the fishing season. It?s terminus was the Fishangri-la dock at Fort Pond Bay where the local party boat fleet was tied up, and gave access to some great party boat fishing for anyone who could afford the less than $10 combined fare for the ride out and days fishing.

The true sportsmen (or rich folk) traveled a little further east to Lake Montauk Harbor, where they would board their own boats or private charter boats at the Deep Sea Club, which is now a part of the Montauk Yacht Club. Instead of bottom fishing for porgies and seabass, their targets would be striped bass and bluefish. The real high rollers wanted swordfish, or giant tuna. For the tuna they would travel north from Montauk to the waters off the Connecticut Rhode Island border. For swordfish they would head south looking for the telltale sickle fins. School bluefin tuna and white marlin would be the bailout species, and sportsmen with world wide reputations would flock here yearly to partake of the gentlemanly sport of fishing. By the early fifties the majority of the open boat fleet was also moving into Montauk Harbor, tying up at what is now Gosman?s dock.

You get to Montauk Harbor by turning left at the seven story building in the middle of Montauk village. Two and a half miles later you come to a stop sign, which is the entrance to the Montauk Harbor area. All of the party boats and some of the charter boats are straight ahead on the right, and if you followed those directions in the sixties, you would come to the heart of the Montauk Fleet. Everything pretty much revolved around Tuma?s Tackle Shop, and the "Murderer?s Row" of charter boats tied up in the vicinity. If you wanted to get on a charter all you had to do was show up and sign up. After a short wait you would be teamed up with another five anglers, assigned a boat and be on your way to a half day of reeling in striped bass and bluefish. Tuma?s could also arrange a private charter for your own group, or you could book directly with your favorite captain. Offshore fishing was for bluefin tuna and marlin. Swordfish were still common enough that just about every boat that fished the offshore waters was armed with a harpoon and keg. Shark or "Monster Fishing" was coming into vogue, even though many of the charter boat captains sneered.

Swordfish like this one caught in the late 70's are now a rarity, except for occasional less than 100 pounders taken at night on canyon trips..

I started running charters in the seventies, and at that time the main charter fleet was still in the area of Tuma?s, but there were a few others at a couple of marinas, namely the Montauk Marine Basin, West Lake Fishing Lodge and Cove Marina, now called Diamond Cove. I tied up at West Lake, and like any newcomer was greatly intimidated by the occupants of Murderer?s Row. It was one thing to take out a party and catch some fish for them. It was quite another to have to back up and compare my catch to their?s. Remember, in those days "catch and release" was an unheard of concept, so everything that hit the decks also hit the dock. Shark fishing was becoming more and more popular, thanks to Captain Frank Mundus and the movie "JAWS". Nobody guarantees anything when it comes to catching fish, but if you wanted to catch something bigger than yourself, going after man-eaters was as close to a surety as there was. Overnight trips out to the "canyon", where spectacular tuna and marlin action awaited, along with the possibility of a night time shot at a swordfish, were becoming popular. Two hundred pound Bigeye Tuna or "big guys" as some less knowledgeable anglers referred to them, a species never before known to northeastern fishermen, were jumping on trolled plastics in bunches of four, five and six at a time. On day trips, there was still decent bluefin tuna fishing, and we first started to see longfin and yellowfin tuna. Was it because they were coming in closer, or because we were travelling further? Probably a little of both.

While striped bass fishing was deteriorating through the eighties, at the same time Montauk experienced some of the best tuna fishing it had ever seen, and it was close. So close, that boats were often back at their slips by mid day from an all day offshore trip because the patrons were to beat to reel in any more fish. From the West Bank of the Butterfish Hole, roughly fifteen miles from The Lighthouse eastward to the Tuna Bank about the same distance southeast of Block Island, every weekend would find two or three fleets consisting of hundreds of boats, anchored up, throwing butterfish in the water and hauling yellowfins out of it. And these were not footballs, as school tuna are called. Hundred pound fish were common, and two hundred pounders were not unheard of. By fall, the yellowfins would taper off, only to be replaced with bluefins. Anyone who had a boat and a captains license would be booked every weekend, at least. Fishing talent was not necessarily a requirement to catch tuna. Any "googan" could do it. The result? More charter boats than ever.

It seems that some kind of fishing is always hot. In the nineties the tuna started to withdraw further offshore, but at the same time, there was a resurgence in the striped bass stocks, and a renewed interest in the inshore fishing. While a couple of years earlier striped bass were the target, but "thank God for bluefish", now bluefish were becoming scarce, maybe because they couldn?t compete with the striped bass, which were literally all over the place. Florida style guide boats began showing up, polling the shallows back in Gardiner?s Bay stalking individual fish, much the same as takes place in the Keys. The "herring run" in November would draw massive schools of giant stripers to feed, with gannets spearing into the water for their share of the prize. Thirty, forty and fifty pound bass would roll on the top in the middle of the melee. Chunking or "bunker dunkin" for stripers came into vogue, and once more the "googans" were able to be considered experts. Anchor up, start throwing cut up pieces of bunker into the water and catch fish. Nothing to it.

Fishangri-la is gone now and had been since the fifties, but the magnet still works. Over the years the harbor has grown, and now there are over a dozen different docks and marinas where charter boats are berthed. The main dock area is still occupied only by charter and party boats, but in addition, every other marina in the harbor has it?s own mini fleet, and they are all equally intimidating to a newcomer. Tuma?s is long gone, replaced by Lenny?s, a popular waterside restaurant. It is flanked by Duryea?s Dock, Salivar?s Dock and the Viking Landing, the original "Murderers Row".

These days the common man has a little more money in his pocket, and is more likely to be fishing on a private charter than on a head boat. There are still more than a half dozen party boats operating out of Montauk Harbor, and they carry their share of patrons daily, but there are also nearly seventy-five charter boats catering to whatever type of fishing you care to do. They range from 20?outboards that concentrate on light tackle fishing for striped bass, bluefish and false albacore to 50? sportfishermen that can accommodate private groups up to twenty or so. The vast majority though are what are termed "six packs", boats averaging around thirty-six feet or so and limited by Coast Guard regulations to a maximum of six passengers.

If it swims, Montauk fishermen can catch it, and if you want to catch it, you can always find a boat that is more than capable of fulfilling your dream. Typically, boats book half day trips lasting five hours in either the morning or afternoon, and increasingly in the early evening, mainly targeting striped bass and bluefish, but if you prefer bottom fishing for fluke, seabass or porgies, you can do that too. All day inshore trips usually fish for a combination of species. Offshore trips are available for shark or tuna, as well as extended or overnight trips out to the canyon.

Finding a boat is fairly simple. There are weekly fishing magazines that many of the boats advertise in that also include recent fishing reports from their advertisers. There?s the internet, where the same thing is available, and since many boats have websites, more information about the individual captains and their boats. Each marina has it?s own booking service and you can book your trip through them at the same price you would pay if you went to the boat owner.

Give it a shot! It?s got world class fishing without the inconvenience of extended travel.