Fishing Montauk , New York
When you think of the Fishing Capital of the World, you probably picture some exotic island tucked away in the tropics. One of the last places you’d likely consider for such a title is New York, but if you’ve ever been to Montauk, you know that this fishing town is worthy of the moniker.
Located a mere two-hour drive from New York City, Montauk is a fishing mecca for surfcasters, bottom fishermen and the offshore fraternity. Located at the very east end of Long Island, Montauk is a legendary fishing town with a long history of world-record catches and a local fleet of commercial and recreational boats that will make your head spin.
Depending on the time of year, you can easily catch 20 or more striped bass in a six-hour tide with all of them averaging more than 30 pounds. Or, head offshore and target 200-plus-pound bigeye tuna, as well as broadbill swordfish and marlin. Then there’s the bottom fishing, and the fly-fishing, not too mention the action you can find right off the beach. Simply put, Montauk offers a diverse fishery for all walks, no matter what you’re in to.
Striped Bass, Bluefish and False Albacore
Whether you’re a fly-fisherman, a light-tackle guy or someone who just likes to catch big fish within five minutes of the dock, Montauk’s striped bass fishery can accommodate it all.
Generally speaking, the earlier moon in June (full or new) marks the beginning of the season. The early season striper fishery (June, July and August) offers steady action on big fish in the 15- to 40-pound class for the boats trolling wire-line outfits during the day, drifting live herring or scup (called porgies locally) or jigging.
But if you want to target the bass of a lifetime, book a charter or hop on a party boat around the July and August moons and go out at night to drift live eels along Montauk’s various boulders, rips and muscle beds. I’ve always found the best fishing occurs leading up to the full moon with the best day usually falling two days before the moon. I’ve had nights fishing with my good friend Capt. Hughie Chancy where we caught 40 fish over 30 pounds in a single tide.
The famed fall run of striped bass ramps up in September as the migrating fish that pushed north in the spring begin their trek back south for the winter. As the sun begins to sink lower in the sky, it kicks off a mass migration. All of the bait — from sand eels to herring — start their southerly migration and almost all of them cruise right by Montauk at some point. The predators are never far behind.
Clouds of birds stretching for miles become the norm rather than the exception. You’ll find 15- to 20-pound striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, weakfish and bonito under these bird schools.
Many anglers target the mix of game fish with fly rods, light-tackle spinning outfits or diamond jigs. The frenzy brings out the combat fishermen and sometimes you’ll see 100 boats racing from school to school. Don’t worry, there’s plenty for everyone. The volume of fish is mind-boggling. This generally lasts until early November when you’ll see a brief lull.
On some years Montauk receives a run of herring between the last week of November and early December. If this occurs, watch out! Drifting live herring around the boat will register bites with striped bass until your arms fall off. And don’t be surprised if you get spooled from a big bluefin tuna that followed the bait inshore. During a December fishing trip to the Pollack Rip I got hammered and watched the line dump off my reel at light speed. I got spooled in 46-degree water! I didn’t stand a chance.
I’ll skip the shark game and go straight to the canyon fishing. The action starts in May and often lasts into December as anglers target eddies of warm water that push off of the Gulf Stream and up onto the 100-fathom curve about 70 miles offshore and sometimes much closer. You can find temperature breaks from as much as 55 to 70 degrees. Those high temperatures can approach the 80-degree mark.
To start the season, the bite is almost exclusively trolling. For some reason these fish just don’t respond to bait until the days start to get shorter. Trollers have a legitimate shot at bigeye tuna from 125 to 300 pounds, yellowfin from 30 to 120 pounds (with 50- to 80-pound fish being the norm), albacore, bluefin and let’s not forget big blue marlin, white marlin and monster-sized wahoo. If you like to catch dorado it’s a 100 percent guarantee that all of the lobster pots located on the edge will have more chicken mahi than you know what to do with.
The tuna will start hitting chunk bait at night around the first moon in August. This is my absolute favorite! We’ll set up at night, either drifting or anchoring and start a chunk line. Be prepared to cut six or seven flats of frozen or fresh dead bait over the course of the evening — that’s like 30 scoops of bait for you Southern California guys.
Most guys fish whole butterfish, sardines, live squid and mackerel on heavy gear set at different depths. During these evening forays you’ll want to keep a swordfish rod out to fish just above the thermocline but I’ve caught just as many swords on the tuna baits near the surface as I have on rods with stitched baits set down deep. Jigging with big diamond jigs is another great way to catch tuna as well.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can catch marlin, three tuna species, dorado, swordfish and wahoo in the same trip.
I am a bottom-fishing junky. Catching tuna and striped bass is all about finding the fish and landing them. Bottom fishing is a whole different ballgame and few places offer the consitency and variety you find in Montauk.
Beginning in May you can find unbelievable fishing for porgies, a tough little game fish that make for an incredible meal. Black sea bass will mix in a little bit later. These aren’t the same black sea bass caught in Southern California — these guys only reach about 10 pounds. The best part is you can catch bass and scup in relatively shallow water form 30 to 100 feet. It’s not uncommon to hook 100 of these tasty bottom dwellers in one day.
In addition to porgies and sea bass, the fluke (what Southerners refer to as summer flounder) invade the inshore waters beginning in May. Unlike halibut fishing where you hope to get a few bites, fluke are voracious predators and pave the seafloor around the corners of hard bottom, small depressions or wherever bait is present. These fish average 2 to 3 pounds but fish up to 14 pounds are becoming more common.
Moving on to fall, the porgie and sea bass fishing continues to improve until they start to move offshore in late November. Starting in October a new species enters the game — one that I would choose to fish for over everything else — the tautog — or blackfish, as they’re commonly called. In my mind, blackfish represent the ultmiate test of your ability with a rod.
We’d set up on hard bottom and watch clients not get a single bite in a half-hour. Then the captain would ask me to drop down to see if the fish were there and within minutes I would put a few in the boat. These fish bite so light that many anglers don’t even feel it. If you keep your line tight, you won’t get bit. The key the is to leave a little slack in the line so the fish can’t feel the sinker, but be prepared for a light, light bite.
When you set the hook on a nice blackfish, the game changes. Your rod will crumple over as you fight to get a 5-pound fish out of the hard bottom. It’s a blast!
Moving on to winter, the codfish bite starts in late January as the fish make their way down from Stellwagen Bank and other northerly locations to spawn on the areas surrounding Block Island such as Cox’s Ledge. This fishing is not for the faint of heart. The head boats have heated rails for a reason. You’re fishing in the dead of winter in the North Atlantic, often 30 miles from the point. The rods are encased in ice by the time you reach your destination. But when the bite is good, no one seems to mind.
No matter what time of year you head to Montauk, or what fish you plan on catching, every angler should plan on fishing these storied grounds at least once in their life.
Sure, you can fly to Costa Rica, Mexico or Panama and go through the hassle of dealing with customs and expensive flights, or you can make your way to New York and learn why so many refer to Montauk as the fishing capital of the world.
To read about my most recent trip back to Montauk take a look at this report in the BD Forums.
Montauk is extremely family-friendly with plenty to entertain the kids and the wife. You’ll find golden-sand beaches, great seafood, shopping and you are just a quick train ride away from New York City. It makes for the perfect family trip.
There are a number of ways to get to Montauk, but most folks either drive or take their boat. For boaters, you can tie up at the Montauk Marine Basin, Star Island Yacht Club, Snug Harbor, Montauk Yacht Club or Offshore Sports Marina (631-668-2406).
The closest airport is MacArthur Airport located in Islip. Southwest and a couple of other large airlines fly in here.
You can also get to Montauk via the ferry boat offered by Viking Fleet. This ferry runs trips to Montauk from Block Island, New London, Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. Their website has prices and more info.
Guides and Charter Boats
Chancey Charters — Hughie Chancey is one of my oldest friends and I can honestly say there really isn’t a better striped bass fisherman I know of. From our home waters along the western Long Island Sound to Montauk, nobody puts big fish on the deck like Hughie. This is a unique opportunity for BDOutdoors members. He doesn’t advertise as he generally just commercial fishes from his boat, but he gave the ok for BD members to call him for a charter. If you want to catch trophy striped bass, give Hughie a call at 631-838-7229. I’ve seen him catch five striped bass over 50 pounds (that’s the fish of a lifetime) on one moon phase!
Bluefin IV — I used to work with Capt. Michael Potts, mostly doing commercial trips or helping out on overnight charters to the canyons. His family has been charter fishing in Montauk longer than just about anyone and he’s a tremendous fisherman. From bottom fishing to targeting bluefin tuna, Mike’s seen and done it all! He holds the New York record for largest bluefish and we won the Montauk Mercury Grand Slam together in 2006. Not only is he a great fisherman he has more stories to tell than I can count. Visit www.bluefiniv.com.
Viking Fleet — The best party boat fishing you’ll find! These guys were the first and they’ll be the last. They pioneered everything. You can book anything from night striped bass trips to canyon trips targeting tuna and huge golden tilefish. They recently started grouper fishing in the Northeast, out in the canyons. Who knew there were grouper in the far northeastern canyons? If you are looking for a reasonable priced trip this is where to look. Visit www.vikingfleet.com.
Skinny Vinnie — I grew up in the same general area as Vinnie and he was the one person as passionate about the sport as me that young age. Vinnie helped teach me how to fish from the beach. The guy is just amazing at light tackle, fly-fishing and fishing the surf. Visit joeyccharters.blogspot.com.
Bill Wetzel — I’ve never had a chance to fish with Bill but have heard nothing but great things about him. He has been fishing the surf for a long time. Visit www.longislandsurffishing.com.
Where to stay
There are hundreds of little motels that accommodate fisherman in Montauk and honestly, they’re all nice and quaint. There are more upscale locations like the famous Gurneys Inn. After Labor Day the rates drop and most of the hotels are within walking distance of town and the beach.