Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Montauk the Talk...and the Fish!

In early October, before Sandy destroyed the East Coast, I met up with some of my flyfishing buddies from different online forums for a flyfishing bake in Montauk, NY. This was my second trip to The East End, and I get more addicted to this place and its fish with each visit. And as you'll see in this report, it's not hard to understand why.

The Scenery:

What I caught Last Year:

The group, comprised of 9 guys, fished from both beach and boat, chasing enormous surface "blitzes" of striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore. We shared 2 cars, except those who only stayed a day or two because they live close enough to drive in. I personally spent 5 days in town, fished 1.5 days from a boat, and pounded the beach for 15 hours a day on non-boat days.
Gear for 4. There were at least 2 other cars.

I absolutely love catching fish from the surf. There's something about that early morning fog. Between crashing waves knocking you off your rocky perch and the circus of spin-gear fishermen casting over your head, the adage "one from the beach is worth 10 from the boat" transforms from mere words to a deep sense of accomplishment. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a few scares where my wading jacket got full of crashing, white  Atlantic brine. I broke 2 rods in the surf, and I also lost a cow of a striper that had to go breach the 30lb mark because a receding wave on a steep boulder-field beach sucked the fish between rocks, popping my 20# tippet. That, and I get impatient in my end-game. Oh well. That fish will haunt me and I will return another Fall for redemption.

Claim your rock early.

The blitzes were insane. Literal acres of black mass pushing across the surface, thousands of mouths opening and closing, stripers belly-to-back on top of one another. 
Keep looking. That's right--every surface disturbance from foreground to the boats is a bass.
And they were eating tiny bait.
It's not snot--it's anchovies.

Although I saw a lot of anglers landing 25-28", almost all my stripers were solidly beyond 30". That translates into double-digit pounds, which is more than a fun fight. And if the fish come close enough to shore, the fly anglers are much more likely to hook-up legitimately (lots of fish snagged accidentally by guys throwing 6" poppers or 3oz bucktail jigs on spin gear) because the forage this time of year is mostly 1.5" bay anchovies. Short, thin flies in white, tan, or brown got eaten quick. And even though the blitzing fish would push down the beach, 60' out from the boulder you chose as a platform for this endeavor, all the sudden big black tails would emerge from the foamy water among the rocks around you--25' and your fly will be eaten by an even bigger bass. But like that, the tails are gone. Being awake for 20 hours a day, fishing from shore and boat, it's hard to know what's real, let alone what's a fish.

Some beach stuff:

Jeff laid down some nice casts in the surf

Jimbo gets in on the cove blitz, despite his pathetic stripping basket

Wratch gettin' it done. 

Smallest bass of the trip for me. I would have taken these the whole time...

40" or close enough.

I think the rod was supposed to go behind me. Who cares? 

This was solid CCG, but it still got destroyed after a number of bass and rocks chewed it.

From a boat, you can drive right up to blitzing bass (stripers). One of the guides for our group was leaning over the rail of the boat petting the stripers as they ate their lunch along his hull. Albies (false albacore) on the other hand, are elusive. They pop up a hundred yards away--splash, splash, splash--and then they're gone. And then SPLASH -- right behind the boat! SPLASH at the bow! QUICK! CAST! 9 O'CLOCK! Your fly lands in the middle of what looks like 50 neon green lights flashing under boiling water 40 feet away. You tuck the rod in your armpit and strip with both hands so fast your tying your line in knots, you see the fish track the fly as you scream "EAT EAT EAT," and then it does, right as you lift the fly from the water to recast. Down it goes, 15-20-25 feet and then out goes your line--backing knot makes a little click as it tickles your guides on the way out. The drag screams. The fish--appropriately shaped like a football, is already in the other team's end zone. Boats are zipping by. You yell at them, "FISH FISH, I'VE GOT A LINE IN THE WATER! HEY, IDIOT --I'VE GOT A FISH HERE!" (or in my case, your captain does most of this yelling for you so you can concentrate on putting backing back on your reel as the fish turns to the right).  You think you've got it when that line-to-leader knot is suspending just above the water near the boat--oh right the boat, the fish can see it now, and DOWN it goes! Part II of the albie fight has begun,  the fish is doing tail-shaking circles 20 feet below. Can you pump straight up and down? NO! The fish isn't under the bow now, its headed for stern! You tell your friend to stop casting and move to the bow as you take his place. He drags his loose fly line along the deck and out of your way. The fish is going under the boat! The captain yells at you now "Don't let that rod touch the hull or it'll blow the fuck up! GO AROUND THE FUCKIN' MOTOR, DUDE!" Finally, the leader is visible again, the captain leans over the rail and grabs the leader and then the fish, by the tail. The fish's head is still pointed at the water when it comes out, and you can see him eye it as he leaves; he has plans to return...

Some boat stuff:
Hooked up!

Better have backing.

Another 40" class bass

Not all the albies were big, but they were all badass. 

Stripers or albies or bluefish, they're all amazing creatures with their own attitudes. I love these mid-Atlantic predators. I'm glad they call our waters home (by the way, NY's saltwater license costs $0.00). It's a short plane or car ride to visit these hungry beasts, and if you get the chance, I hope you do.

We left 'em biting...

Until next year, I guess I'll just Montauk the talk ;)

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