MARCO DE STEFANO TIGHTENED HIS LINE . LIFTED HIS ROD AND SET THE HOOK
“I had a good feeling about this spot,” he said as a 7-pound fluke hit the deck. “I drilled a couple of doormats here two weeks ago on the same stage of the tide.”
We started the morning looking for big summer flatties in 90-foot depths at the Cartwright Grounds southeast of Montauk Point, which had been the doormat hot spot for several consecutive days. We then moved inshore to the Frisbees area to ice another keeper and several black sea bass. One more move put us tight against the beach, where 30 feet to the seafloor proved to be the magic number.
Quite frankly, we could have continued picking away at keepers in any of those locations, but the beauty of Montauk is that it has so many big fish hot spots, skippers often make short adjustments just to keep the lunkers honest.
“It is an amazing place,” says Destefano, who continually works to unravel the mysteries of what many consider to be the most productive port in the Northeast. “For consistency, variety and big fish, day in and day out, I don’t think there is anywhere between southern New Jersey and Maine that can outshine this place.”
TOPOGRAPHY AND SEAS
Examine a chart of Montauk, and its distinctive geology jumps off the page. The ocean bottom is scoured with cuts and gouges, hills and valleys, ledges and shoals, boulders and rock piles. A huge deposit of ancient terminal moraine, it pushes out toward the deep, cold waters of the open Atlantic while simultaneously bottlenecking the tides of both Long Island and Block Island sounds. Trace its edge and you’ll notice the rapid changes in depth and underwater structure points that cause the formation of strong currents, sharp rips, and a vibrant, restless sea that pulses beneath your bow on even the finest of days.
The combination of location, rough bottom and varied depths makes Montauk both a captain’s challenge and a fisherman’s nirvana. It would be an understatement to say this sea has character. This area, often influenced by heavy offshore
heaves, is not for the easily distracted, small of craft or faint of heart. While you can negotiate the inshore scene in a 19-foot center console under mild conditions, you’ll need a sturdy vessel to feel comfortable in anything more than what local skippers refer to as “a little chop.”
Serious inshore action at Montauk starts with summer flounder, since the season opens in May. These early runners are often big but skinny fish, with 5- and 6-pounders not uncommon, and keepers the rule more than the exception. As May rounds into June, a second influx of big fish sees a few doormats topping the 10-pound mark and a surprising number of 6- to 8-pound brutes pulled from 40- to 50-foot depths.
August and September are when you want to prospect for the doormat of a lifetime. In fact, last year’s late summer action saw double-digit fluke hitting the deck nearly every day the fleet could get out. While the top fish taken last year checked in
at just under 15 pounds, it’s likely even larger ones are out there. The Frisbees, after all, is where the late Capt. Charlie Nappi caught the world-record fluke back in 1977, a 22-pound, 7-ounce behemoth that flattie fans have been trying to topple for 40 years.
Think big in terms of your fluke rigs and setups here. Rather than targeting typical keepers weighing 2 to 4 pounds, roll the dice for a personal best. Use a dropper loop to secure a 5/0 wide-gap or straight-shank in-line Octopus-style hook on a 20- to 30-inch leader of 40-pound-test fluorocarbon line 6 inches above a 6- to 10-ounce bank sinker. For bait, add a strip of sea robin or bluefish belly that looks big enough to choke a 20-inch fish. You can also try a bucktail using the lightest jig you can get away with, generally 2 or 3 ounces, tipped with a 6-inch Berkley Gulp! curlytail in Nuclear Chicken. Add a teaser hook on a short dropper loop about 12 inches above the bucktail if you like.
“Don’t just drift around aimlessly,” advises Destefano. “Target structure, dips and ridges for the biggest fluke. With the bottom so varied here, this really is the Valley of the doormats. Be sure to make the most of that underwater terrain.”
BIG BASS IN THE MIX
Following right on the tails of the fluke, striped bass arrive by early May and set up quickly in such famous haunts as the Elbow, Great Eastern, Pollack Rip, and
under the light. As a general rule, the early bass, mostly teen-size stripers with a few weighing up to 30 pounds, respond best to trolled parachute lures, tube lures and umbrella rigs. The June moon usually offers a shot at even bigger bass, with some fish topping the 40-pound mark, and maybe even a fish or two tipping the scales at 50 pounds or more. As with fluke, 2017 proved a banner year in terms of cow bass, with one three-week stretch in late August and September seeing boat limits of fish that regularly topped 35 pounds.
As the waters warm, striper action shifts from daytime to the graveyard shift on live eels or bucktails tipped with pork rinds or Fat Cow Jig Strips or Otter Tails fished on three-way rigs. It’s always possible to live-line or chunk a few big fish during the day on bunker or other legal-size striper favorites if you anchor up-tide of a prominent, mussel-covered hump or large boulder.
Like most fishing hot spots along the Northeast coast, the summer is great at Montauk, but the fall is fantastic. With everything from scup to stripers sliding down the coast toward the south, Montauk Point serves as a staging area. Throughout October and into early November, stripers and bluefish — along with quick-moving pods of false albacore — tear into schools of migrating bait with a fury that’s unmatched along the Eastern Seaboard. At the same time, the sea bass and scup race each other across the bottom for tidbits of squid or clam in an attempt to fatten up before winter. It makes for unbelievable action, the kind you’ll want to relive in your dreams again and again as you await the coming spring season.
Keep in mind, Montauk is big water. Almost any rip can stand straight up and roar when southerly or easterly winds push hard against an ebbing tide.
“Everything about Montauk is amazing,” sums up Destefano, “from the swells, to the structure, to the payoffs.” If you are new to these waters, take a charter or two to look around and get a feel for the place before heading out on your own, and never leave port undergunned.
DOORMAT: Montauk is a known producer of hefty fluke, above.
30-pound fluoro leader 8-inch dropper loop 12 to 20 inches of 30-pound fluoro 2- to 6-ounce bucktail jig with Gulp! Swimming Mullet Lighter bucktail jig with Gulp! Jerk Shad
Fishers Island Shawong Reef Cherry Harbor Block Island Frisbees North Rips Montauk South Side Pollack Rips Great Eastern New York The Elbow Radar Tower Connecticut Fishers Island Long Island Sound Island Long ATLANTIC OCEAN Block Island Montauk To the Cartwright Grounds
KNOTHEAD: In Montauk waters, big black sea bass are also readily accessible.
4 to 6 feet of 50-pound fluoro leader 5-foot, 50-pound fluoro dropper
Loop knot to girth-hitch sinker 6- to 12-ounce bank sinker Live-eel Rig 6/0 hook, straight-shank Live eel Few baits tempt trophy striped bass like a big eel. Hook a live one (the bigger, the better) through both jaws on a 6/0 straight-shank hook, and fish it on a 5-foot dropper of 50-pound fluorocarbon, 12 inches above a 6- to 12-ounce bank sinker to position the bait off the bottom. Top Heavy Metals and Soft Plastics Drops fast and fools fish on the bottom and midwater Spro Andrus Bucktail Jig Various weights and colors appeal to an array of game
Otter Tail Curly Long Lively undulation entices even wary fish into striking
Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet Adds action and scent to any bucktail or lead-head