November 06, 2022
By Joseph Albanese
I finally had the timing down, launching my bucktail seaward and turning sideways just in time to avoid the full wrath of the crashing wave. Though my position atop the surf-pounded rock was precarious, the risk was worth the reward: Every fifth cast was intercepted by a hungry striped bass weighing a dozen pounds or so.
Montauk Point is just 120 miles from New York City at "The End" of Long Island, but it is a world away. Despite the ritzy glamour of the nearby Hamptons, the town of Montauk remains a quaint fishing village. Dutch explorer Adriaen Block first came upon Montauk Point in 1614 and proclaimed it "Hoeck van de Visschers"—Point of the Fishers. This remains an apt description of the area, from where commercial fishing vessels head out daily.
On the offshore reefs and wrecks, anglers can target bottom fish such as black sea bass, porgies and blackfish, while bluefish prowl the beaches and inshore waters. Striped bass, however, are the undisputed kings of the wash in Montauk, and there’s no better time to target them than during the fall run, which kicks off in September and can go as late as November.
If you’re going to Montauk to hit the surf, you better go prepared. It has been said that the meek shall inherit the Earth, but the brave will get the oceans, and there’s perhaps no better evidence of this than the rocky interface where water meets land surrounding Montauk Point. The boulder fields are washed over by pounding surf when the wind picks up, making navigating the shoreline difficult for even experienced surf fishers. But the ensuing calamity stuns baitfish and provides an easy meal for the striped bass and bluefish that prowl the rocks, making the exercise a worthwhile endeavor.
"On calmer days the wading isn’t quite as treacherous, but you should always keep both eyes open for rogue waves that can send you tumbling," says veteran surf fishing guide Bill Wetzel (631-987-6919). A dry top prevents your waders from filling if you do take a wave overhead, and always wear a tight-fitting wader belt to keep water out in the event you get knocked over. Studded overshoes that bite into the rock, like Korkers Casttrax and Rocktrax, should be considered standard equipment when the surf is up. Wetzel suggests stout rods of around 11 feet with plenty of backbone that are capable of tossing lures weighing anywhere from 1 to 3 ounces. Signing up for Wetzel’s website (surfratsball.com) will give you access to decades of his logbooks and up-to-date info on what’s happening in the wash.
Shore access is accomplished thanks largely to New York’s State Park system. Montauk Point State Park allows folks to cast plugs under one of the world’s most historic lighthouses. Camp Hero State Park provides access to the Point’s south side and lets casters wander around a defunct World War II military installation. Hither Hills gives anglers access to sand beaches farther west, both on the ocean and in the bay behind. But those that prefer to skip the baptism by waves have plenty of other options, as Montauk’s many harbors and marinas are home to numerous charter and head boats. Star Island Marina and Westlake Marina are two of the more popular options.
“Trolling is the most consistent way to catch striped bass, but bait and diamond jigs have their place,” says Capt. Hugh Chancey III of Chancey Charters (631-838-7229; facebook.com/chancey.charters).
Prime time for him is the second half of September and lasts about a month. He says you can still catch stripers through November, but the biggest bass typically head out at the end of October.
And the captain knows a thing or two about big striped bass, having caught 33 stripers weighing more than 50 pounds around the point over the years. Trolling spoons and umbrella rigs have accounted for many of those fish, but Chancey says to not discount light-tackle jigging as a big-fish producer.
“Last year one of my clients landed a 52-pound striper they hooked while diamond jigging,” he says. “When the conditions are right, it’s an exciting way to hook up.”
Though he has the stripers dialed in, they aren’t the only fish in Chancey’s repertoire. He loves bottom fishing, too, and the rips and wrecks around Montauk offer plenty of opportunities to score with a variety of species. Porgies, also know as scup, provide fast action and coolers full of tasty fillets well into the cooler months. Black sea bass are among the most delicious fish that swim and the rocky waters around the Point hold plenty. When blackfish season kicks off in the middle of October, Chancey dedicates most of his attention to the scrappy bottom dwellers.
“Once blackfish opens, it’s game on,” he says. “We have a very good fishery here in Montauk, to the point that we’ve caught them by accident when jigging for striped bass. Quick access to deep-water wrecks right outside the port mean we can be catching fish just a few minutes after leaving the dock, but we can also steam north and fish [Long Island] Sound, or go farther south and hit the deeper holes. We can put together a really nice mixed bag, sometimes including cod.”
Whatever the season, Montauk is a place of bounty. But throw on your waders or hop on a charter in the fall and you’ll encounter some of the best fishing the East Coast has to offer without having to endure the throngs of city dwellers who flock to the area during summer.
IF YOU GO…
Where to stay, eat and drink in Montauk
The Snug Harbor Motel and Marina (631-668-2860; montauksnugharbor.com) is one of the most affordable lodging options in Montauk. Located right across from beautiful Lake Montauk, this motel offers a variety of rooms sized to fit solo travelers or families. The attached marina has a launch ramp and transient dockage for those who bring their own boat.
Gosman’s Dock (631-668-5330; gosmans.com) offers fresh seafood in a variety of dining options. Choose from full-service on the rooftop, à la carte dockside or indulge in your favorite shellfish at the raw bar. However you decide to dine, the salt air will enhance your entrée.
Though it’s officially known as the Lobster Roll (631-267-3740; lobsterroll.com), one of the area’s best eateries is known simply as “LUNCH,” thanks to the giant sign on the roof. This no-frills restaurant has some of the best lobster rolls you’ll ever eat, plus all your other seafood favorites.