My first trip to Montauk was not by boat. It was aboard what I called my “land yacht,” a 1965 Volkswagen Microbus I used as a part-time crash pad when I needed to put in some late- night studying for a college exam. I would park it near the campus, get a couple of slices of pizza and hit the books. It didn’t matter when I fell asleep, only that I woke up on time.
The Cat and I—yes, that was its name—were known to take off on a whim, and when one of my buddies suggested we hit the road for Montauk, it was merely to find our way east and keep going until we ran out of land. However, once the VW’s time had come—with well over 120,000 miles on it—it was, as Melville opined, high time to get to sea. My first charge was a 24-foot Owens cabin cruiser with a forward V-berth and an old hand pump-activated head—not much more. (As the years passed, I eventually worked my way up to a 93-foot gem, but that’s another story.) Each time I set out on a watery journey from my homeport in the Gerritsen Creek area of Brooklyn, New York, I ventured farther away until finally, I made it out to Montauk.
The town has a rich history. Its indigenous tribal people existed on the harvest of the fertile land as well as the seemingly inexhaustible supply of food from the forests and the sea. And it is this last notion, with that special tie to all things nautical, that has drawn cruisers and fishermen to these unique environs for generations. While many settings near and far adhere to the same mantra, Montauk has long been known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World and for good reason. With its location jutting out some 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, it is perfectly situated for the annual migration patterns of many of the most sought-after pelagic fish, including tuna, white and blue marlin, striped bass, bluefish, wahoo, the major variety of sharks, and others. Tournaments are plentiful and there is a daily buzz that can be felt from just before dawn to well after sunset.
The inshore and offshore action, even out to the legendary Canyons, always seems to be right on the money. From top-of-the-line sportfishing boats bristling with the latest electronics and impressive tourney accouterments—hydraulically operated outriggers, cockpits the size of your home living room, freezer compartments and ice-making machines, custom ﬁghting chairs, and a seasoned crew—to center console models with quad outboard power hanging off the transom, to ﬂounder pounding, ﬂ uke drifting and porgy hooking outings on the family cruiser, everyone will be in the bite.
Ironically, it is from shore that elite ﬁshermen ply their Zen-like approach to piscatorial adventures. “Trust me, with surf ﬁshing, it is deﬁnitely not about the catching,” one veteran of “sudsing” the long rod once told me. I can conﬁrm he was absolutely right. While I’ve plied the shoreline for years, with catches few and far between, I am very good with that. There is something really special about the time just before dawn, when the eastern horizon begins to glow, the surf line is a gentle hush with the living ocean heaving slightly and there’s just the hint of breeze coming off the calm water.
Then there is the moment at day’s end, when the last arc of the sun is about to disappear and, as the soft evening colors start to wrap things up, you glimpse a swirl of the white, combing, incoming waves.
Surf ﬁshing on Montauk is unparalleled, and if you have never participated in this sport, now is the time to make it happen. There is specialized gear, including rods and reels, all sorts of plugs, poppers, lures, feathers, and gadgets and gizmos—some homegrown by the locals—that have proven to be fish producers. But as my aforementioned wizened old salt also intoned, “Fish have tails.”
While many local surf casters are reticent to divulge their secret spots and techniques, I have met some who will gladly share. Then again, you can always get a guide. One of the most popular is Bill Wetzel, a licensed pro who will take you on a six-hour excursion in his beach buggy, all tackle included, and guarantees everything but the weather and the fish.
During some downtime from fishing, you might want to explore this area’s abundant history. With great all-around views, a visit to the Montauk Point Lighthouse is a must. Commissioned by President George Washington in 1792, it is the hands-down image of what the hamlet is all about. Wear comfortable sneakers to climb the 137 steps to the top.
The striper action along the beach is excellent. If you’re an early riser, grab a cup of coffee and a tasty banana nut muffin to go and catch the sunrise. Looking for a day at the beach? Did you bring your surfboard? Ditch Plains, Kirk Park and Navy beaches are the places to go. Let somebody else drive the boat and visit Block Island via the Viking Fleet. Or if you’re up for some horseback riding, check out the trails at the family-owned-and-run Deep Hollow Ranch. Founded in 1658, it’s billed as the oldest working cattle ranch in the country.
Dining also tops the list of things to do in during your stay. As one would expect, seafood reigns supreme. Gosman’s Dock, established in 1943, offers its famed restaurant, topside deck, inlet café, fish market, and clam bar. Reservations are required. The Gig Shack on Main Street is also a dine-out delight. With its extensive menu featuring fish tacos, ribs and lobster rolls, laid-back ambiance and live music, this watering hole guarantees a great night out. If you have a taste for pulled pork, BBQ and onion rings, saunter over to Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café. The seafood is outstanding as well, and the kids will love roasting marshmallows over the outdoor fire pit for s’mores. Alternatively, opt for fine dining at the Muse at the End, which showcases a wide variety including steak, chicken, fish, salads, and other delicious surprises. Just thirsty? Ask your marina manager to recommend the best bars; there are plenty from which to choose.
The area offers an excess of first-class, full-service marinas. Check with any of the online marina guides for suggestions, but make your reservations well in advance. One of my all-time favorites is Gone Fishing Marina, a 180-slip facility that can accommodate boats up to 66 feet in length with a 6-foot draft. And Dave’s Gone Fishing restaurant, where every table offers a spectacular view of the surroundings, is a definite crowd-pleaser. If you have a large boat, consider mooring at the Montauk Yacht Club. With the ability to accommodate vessels up to 220 feet with a 12-foot draft, this 232-slip marina provides first-class resort amenities, including three restaurants, bonfires, surf and paddleboard lessons. The 170-slip Star Island Yacht Club is a full-service facility with a huge ships store, Travelift, on-site dining, heated swimming pool, and more. People come to enjoy the myriad of social events, such as fishing tournaments and cruising club rendezvous.
For those coming for the fishing, check in with your marina manager for all the seasonal regulations, throwback sizes, limits per species, permits, if any, and other important information you’ll need. If you prefer the experience of local knowledge to increase your fishing success, try your hand with Montauk Outfitter, licensed and insured experts in kayak as well as surf fishing. If your boat is not rigged out for fishing, there are many opportunities to private charter a boat for the day, evening or half-time angling.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Montauk as much as I have over my many years of visiting. It’s a fishing wonderland with plenty to discover.
Gone Fishing Marina
467 East Lake Drive
(631) 668-3232 • goneﬁshingmarina78.com
Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina
32 Star Island Road
(631) 668-3100 • montaukyachtclub.com
Star Island Yacht Club
59 Star Island Road
(631) 668-5052 • starislandyc.com
500 West Lake Drive
(631) 668-5330 • gosmans.com
668 The Gig Shack
782 Main Street
(631) 668-2727 • 668thegigshack.com
Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café
435 East Lake Drive
(631) 668-3200 • crabbycowboy.com
Muse at the End
41 S. Euclid Avenue
(631) 238-5937 • museattheend.com
Montauk Point Lighthouse
2000 Montauk Highway
(631) 668-2544 • montauklighthouse.com
Deep Hollow Ranch
1929 Montauk Highway
(631) 668-2744 • deephollowranch.com
Captain Gene Kelly Montauk Sport Fishing
(631) 668-2019 • montauksportfishing.com/booking
(888) 395-2564 • fishingbooker.com
Montauk Fishing Charters
(631) 668-1635 • montaukfishingcharters.com
Capt. Ron’s Famous Fishing Charters
(516) 835-4910 • captronsfishing.com
(929) 259-1594 • montaukoutfitter.com
Bill Wetzel, licensed guide
(631) 987-6919 • longislandsurffishing.com
462 West Lake Drive
(631) 668-5700 • vikingfleet.com
By Ken Kreisler Southern Boating, June 2017