With bat­tle-ready gear and casts di­rected by mus­cle mem­ory, Mon­tauk’s soli­tary surf­men out­last the fair-weather crowds chas­ing stripers at the east end of Long Is­land, New York. By STEPHEN SAUTNER

TThey say the blitzes in Mon­tauk, New York, have gone away with the tides. The acres of froth­ing stripers that once rounded the point — seem­ingly on a daily ba­sis dur­ing au­tumn just a few years ago — are now a fad­ing mem­ory. With them have gone the In­ter­net he­roes: the Go­pro-wear­ing Youtu­bers, the In­sta­gramers, the cell­phone junkies look­ing for the sugar high of a fish on ev­ery cast. They have wheeled away like a flock of rest­less gulls, set­ting up in places like the Cape Cod Canal or some other hot spot where fish­ing for “large” is cur­rently “epic.”

But still stand­ing along Mon­tauk’s rocky shores and sandy beaches are the keep­ers of the old guard: the surf­men. They vary in age. Some have faces chis­eled and fur­rowed from sea­son af­ter sea­son of wind and waves and salt. Oth­ers are fresh-faced and ea­ger. All have eyes that be­lie se­crets: starry bass-filled nights, or the heart­break of a parted line or straight­ened hook and some­thing un­men­tion­able for­ever lost.

They are mostly soli­tary. You may find them perched on boul­ders with white wa­ter cream­ing all

around. They fire out cast af­ter cast. The cleats of their boots stand in the same foot­steps worn smooth from decades of an­glers who came be­fore them. Other times they walk past, silent and ghost­like, head­ing out as dark­ness de­scends. Their rods hang over their shoul­ders like weaponry. They don full wet­suits or waders with foul-weather tops cinched tight. They wear mil­i­tary-style belts with gaffs, pli­ers and knives se­cured to them. They look as ready to bat­tle with the el­e­ments as with fish. Yet it’s the less tan­gi­ble op­po­nent — fa­tigue, lone­li­ness, bore­dom or lack of con­fi­dence — that of­ten proves most for­mi­da­ble.

True surf­men know fail­ure. They of­ten cast from mus­cle mem­ory alone. They think of the 30-pounder that crushed a buck­tail next to a par­tic­u­lar out­crop a decade ago, or the sav­age blowup on a pen­cil pop­per from an im­mense fish that never came back. Maybe this time it will. They ro­tate their go-to lures: bat­tered swim­mers, needle­fish, darters.

And just of­ten enough, they are re­warded. Knees bend, a rod lurches sea­ward, and the drag yields yards of line. A bass is landed. The fish may be re­leased, or it may be kept. Watch a surf­man han­dle his catch, and there is lit­tle wasted mo­tion. Look closely, and you may see his de­fault thou­sand-yard stare re­placed by an ex­pres­sion best de­scribed as reaf­fir­ma­tion.

Then he casts again. All surf­men have one thing in com­mon: They are re­lent­less. They cast and hope. Cast and hope.

A surf caster fishes the fall striper run off Mon­tauk, New York.

Bob Howard

Brian Damm

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