CHAPTER 10 – American Cousins
Montauk In The Fall
Malcolm Gilbert and I look forward to our annual trip to Montauk, at the eastern end of Long Island, New York.
Over the years we have developed a good partnership, organizing the trip in equal measure without any fuss and with total trust in each other. The trouble is we are both a bit ‘over the hill’ and forget things. This year the first cock-up was by Malcolm, who, through the Internet, found a really good deal for a room at the Holiday Inn, Heathrow for the night before our flight plus two weeks parking for £65. The trouble was he forgot to actually confirm the booking, so it cost us £150!
The following day our Heathrow departure was delayed by an hour and a half. After we had boarded the captain then announced that we would be flying into 100 mph the winds that would extend the flight by a further hour and a half. In the end, a six-hour flight became a nine-hour one.
Eventually two very weary Brits arrived in New York and headed for one of the car hire desks. We had a choice from a line of impressive macho SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles to you). Malcolm, who has experience of these things, opted for a monstrous butch-looking Dodge Durango. Once in it he couldn’t release the hand brake (which was actually a footbrake on the floor). It was hammering down with rain, but I went to find a mechanic to help us. Eventually I found a guy who reluctantly sloped over to the waiting Malcolm who explained our predicament. With a look of utter incredulity and a shake of his head the mechanic reached inside and released a lever under the dash, little realising that Malcolm had left the engine running (these Dodges are very quiet!) so off the vehicle went, dragging the poor mechanic along the tarmac! Malcolm did manage to work out how to brake and we stopped just short of disaster. The guy just slowly shook his head and walked away, probably muttering “Oh man, how are they going to survive the USA?” Then within twenty minutes of leaving the airport we realized that we had the wrong vehicle. Despite appearances, we had chosen a two-wheel drive version and had to return to the car hire depot, battling through incredibly dense rush hour New York traffic to change it for a four-wheel drive which we knew we would need for the beaches. To say that Malcolm was tired and fed up would be an understatement. At this point, I thought it best to stay quiet.
With the delay in flight times, the appalling weather, the wrong vehicle and the New York City rush hour, we were very late for our meeting with the John Waldman and his family. We then got lost in a place called Glen Cove, which made it even worse, and had to be rescued by John who led us directly to the restaurant where the rest of his family had patiently waited two hours. By this time it was the equivalent of three in the morning UK time, and I subsequently fell asleep at dinner.
Tuesday 28th October
The weather was glorious when we arrived at Montauk Motel Cottage early in the afternoon. After unloading and sorting out the gear we spent a couple of hours looking around the Point, the Bluffs and False Bar just to get a feel for things. Neither of us connected with any fish that evening, but we had arrived; it felt good, and our confidence was high.
It was warm, wet and windy. In the morning we fished the Bluffs. We landed numerous bass including some keeper-size fish. In the afternoon a blitz really started and when I pointed out that some of the bass were in ankle deep water Malcolm grabbed his fly rod and caught a five-pounder on his first cast, followed by one of 6lb. I had left my fly rod in the cottage and was frustrated when Malcolm then hooked a huge fish that took him into his fly reel backing several times. Twenty minutes later I waded out into the foaming surf, clasped Malcolm’s fish to my chest and walked it onto the sand. On the scales it went over 14lb, and (are you listening you double haulers?) was caught six feet out in twelve inches of water. Boy, was I jealous! Malcolm lent me his fly rod, but by then the bass had gone out into the surf, and it was just impossible even in a wet suit to control the line in five-foot waves. In the evening we both took several good fish on spinning gear and bucktail jigs. We bumped into B.A.S.S. member Mike Cooper and his friend David, who were on their first striper trip. They described how they walked into a blitz on their first ever session, bagging up on stripers and bluefish at a rate of one a cast. They had a strange glazed look in their eyes . . . .
This was a quiet kind of day. We fished hard with bucktails around The Bluffs and False Bar, but still managed, between us, about twenty fish; the best being about 10lb.
We started at False Bar just before first light where I quickly took three stripers to 12lb. All were on bucktails. I was wondering what Malcolm was doing back at the car. Then bass started to pop and swirl on the surface right in front of him. Baitfish seemed to be everywhere and the bass went into a frenzy, and so did I! Running back to the SUV, I grabbed my fly rod, thinking, “How can I fail?” Much to Malcolm’s amusement I did just that. I cast every which way but could not get a hook up. The problem was: how can a bass select my tiny fly amongst all that real bait? Well the answer is that they didn’t. Malcolm had no such trouble and knocked out twenty-five good bass on bucktails. I became more desperate and waded further and further out to sea in my wet suit until I was floating and getting tossed all over the place. At times totally wrapped up in my fly line and exhausted, I finally gave up and floated back to shore. I am sure that Malcolm only lets me come with him for the entertainment value I provide!
Later we went back to the beach where a great blitz had been going for an hour already. The birds were working the whole of the shoreline for two miles. Anglers were lined up shoulder to shoulder. We both leapt out of the SUV, Malcolm went to his favourite flat rock near False Bar whilst I ran down the beach looking for space and fish. I found some bass on Jones Beach and bumped into Mike Cooper again; onto another blitz. His face was a picture when his rod bent into a ten-pound bluefish.
I waded out in my wetsuit and was surrounded by bass and blues. I didn’t need to cast – I just swept my bucktail on six feet of line and watched as the bass and blues smashed it, right under my nose. The fish were swimming right through and along the waves and the baitfish were everywhere. Finally after three hours, and just at dusk, the blitz was over. Wearily walking back down the beach to find Malcolm, he was slumped against the SUV totally wiped out, but elated. We had both experienced wonderful fishing with big bluefish and stripers. Malcolm had taken his fish on bucktails, or 60g bass Bullets, that cast a very long distance. Local anglers were asking him just how he was doing so well!
Saturday 1st November
On Friday night Walter Hingley had arrived from Massachusetts, so, in the early hours of Saturday morning, all three of us went to False Bar. Walter took three fish, Malcolm took five, and I took nine. The fishing then went very quiet for the rest of the day. It always does this when Walter comes. He has an eight-hour drive, including taking two ferries; we feel for him.
A disappointing day with only the odd fish at False Bar and the Point. Poor Walter had to face the long trip back to Massachusetts.
We found a mixture of blues and bass at White Sands, South Shore Beach. These fish were really hard work because we had to chase them down the beach in the SUV, and then we had to fight our way through crunching surf to make a cast. We could only get one or two before the fish went out of range and the chase began again. Later in the day Malcolm took a small fish at the Bluff and, at False Bar, in the dark, I had a good keeper bass. Malcolm hooked and lost two fish.
Found some small blues at White Sands. Slow fishing, but in the evening Malcolm spotted some baitfish in a corner of the beach, by West Jetty. Shortly, a shoal of bluefish came by and, together with four guys from New Jersey travelling in a Hummer military vehicle, we got some hook-ups. Then bass began to appear around the baitfish and I took one on a fly after an hour of trying. In the meantime the others were landing one fish after another on spinning tackle. Why do I punish myself like this?
Neither of us can remember what we did or where we went or what was caught. Either age or exhaustion got the better of us. We were low on energy.
This will always stick in my mind as a truly remarkable day. We started fishing at around 6.00am. At the Point, fish were busting everywhere. Malcolm could just not put a cast wrong and proceeded to get hook up after hook up on bucktail. Many of the fish were keeper-size in the low teens with the odd one or two being in the fifteen to nineteen-pound range. Only when his arm muscles began to seize did Malcolm consider stopping. It was 1.30pm! That morning Malcolm was in what the Americans call ‘the zone’; he could do no wrong. At one point I failed to get a hook-up for about an hour, whilst Malcolm continued to catch one fish after another. We swapped rocks, he even loaned me his last chartreuse bucktail, but nothing would work for me. My frustration only added to Malcolm’s amusement. At one stage we had acres of blitzing fish in front of us and we only had to share it with two other anglers. The usual thing is that the grapevine (assisted by CB radios) would have resulted in crowds descending on us. This day the grapevine failed.
My catch rate started to pick up but Malcolm was just awesome. In the end I had to stop him. We were totally wiped out. We staggered up the beach to the SUV. I was so covered in fish slime I had to go for a swim to wash off. On our return we bumped into Mike Cooper. He and David had also bagged up, big time. Mike is a good and seriously lucky angler, to find three blitzes in one week. After some refreshment and a rest, Malcolm dragged me back to the point at 4.00pm to find the fish still present and breaking the water like dolphins. If anything, there were slightly larger fish present, and at 6.00pm we had both had our fill.
In that two hour afternoon session Malcolm accurately counted forty seven fish to his rod, and genuinely believes that he caught and landed very close to two hundred fish for the day. Added to my paltry one hundred bass and the fact that we were mainly catching a single year class of around thirty-two inches in length, we had caught and released over one metric tonne of stripers in a single day. Neither of us can remember hitting the sack that evening, but we felt our sore backs and aching muscles when Malcolm insisted we have our customary 4.00am breakfast the following morning.
Started at the Point with a few fish that petered out. We ended up driving to Hither Hills, looking at White Sands and found wonderful bass to ourselves in the slew (slough). I stuck with the fly rod and took fish and Malcolm used the six foot single handed spinning rod with a quarter ounce bucktail, took an eighteen-pounder on the second cast and hooked and landed a ‘gorilla’ bluefish on the same gear. Malcolm’s fish practically spooled him on several occasions as it powered away on its side over the sand bar some thirty yards away, and kept on going. The bass were beaching themselves and totally filled the slew. I didn’t have to cast my fly, but just drop it onto their noses. My best fish weighed 12lb. Walter again joined us on the Friday evening and the fishing shut down once again. Walter should consider changing his name to Jonah.
Things had quietened down. This was the first and only day that we were all stumped. Malcolm had a ‘skishing’ session (fishing in wetsuit and flippers) with a chap called Paul Melnyk. He got very cold and scared himself to half to death, by spending three hours drifting a quarter-mile off the South Shore.
The weather was glorious and Walter, Malcolm and I started at the Point, where one or two fish were taken. John Waldman joined us as we searched the South Shore but found no action. After Walter and John had departed, Malcolm (not one to give up easily!) took a look at the jetty and found small bass popping against baitfish in the corner. He took seven fish up to 5lb on the light rod and then drove back into Montauk village to alert me. By the time we returned, the shoal had broken up and my efforts with the fly rod we to no avail. Malcolm managed to take three more with the light rod. With enthusiasm renewed, we went to the Point to fish in the dark and I did really well taking nine fish on a darter plug. Malcolm had four. We learnt later that Walter had taken a few small fish at a place called Coconuts, just before he had to leave to return to Massachusetts.
Our last day. We took a couple of fish in the morning at the Point, then it was time to go home. Once we were packed and headed for JFK we had to take a look at White Sands en-route. All along the beach we could see anglers with rods arched over, hooked up to keeper-size bass. We were to learn later that really big fish had begun to hit the surf; some of them near to 35lb. There is always next year ….
Notable events during the week included the theft of Malcolm’s fly rod, reel and spinning rod off the top of the car. By contrast, I left my plug belt by some rocks and returned four hours later to find them still there. I kept leaving my rucksack everywhere but it was always where I’d left it when we returned. The soles came off Malcolm’s second pair of wading boots.
We made a bit of an impact on the local bass fishing scene and have enjoyed genuine friendship with our American angling hosts who are so wonderfully generous. One thing is for sure; only premature death will stop us making our annual striper pilgrimage to Montauk in the fall.
Author: Mike Oliver
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.110 Summer 2004.
Photo: Simon Lewis
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008