with the infinite vermiculate entwine of contradictory water.
Elemental blues that rise. Fall. Run.
Steer the tide beating
across Shag Lump.
Feel the restless cortex,
at your keel.
A thing alive,
all passing must reckon.
Peer through telescope eyes,
from the Point
at the fleet
a dazzling ornament
afire with morning,
on the wootz pauldron
of Block Island Sound.
in its glittering,
a buckling horizon,
reprising a promise
spoken to those
sheltered from the ocean.
Far beyond the
battered, venous cliffs
of The End.
men float and
crowns viscid and windscalped,
through the dawn.
What tenuous vows
we fisherman speak.
Of safe return
It is impossible for me to look upon the north Atlantic and not feel a sense of foreboding.
I suppose, though, that there is ample precedent for one to feel this way when faced with such a rugged sweep of ocean. Jaws. The Andrea Gail. Captain Ahab. The Titanic. Gnarly water and serious weather. Hell, even a rack of snow piled along a beachfront weirds me out. Fiction and real events aside though, the unease that I feel when I stand along northeastern shores comes not from fear, but rather from a total unfamiliarity of the water and from being wholly unsure of how to even approach the fish that lord over the shores of the northeastern seaboard. For the fish blitz and ball bait at Long Island’s eastern most point are literally, and figuratively, very different animals from those brutes that haunt the paradisal shallows of the American south, Caribbean and beyond.
With that being said, I’m a relatively fishy dude. I have a grasp on the general rules that apply to all fish and all fisheries. I can certainly look at a piece of water determine whether or not it “looks good.” I have little doubt that I would be able to find a way to get tight one way or the other. However, there is a marked difference between hamfistedly running around and taking shots in the dark at areas that appear conducive to harboring the right kind of marine life and actually taking the time to decode the habits of those fish that are present and getting a particular fishery dialed in to such a point that allows one to anticipate and predict where said fish want to be and will be. Such is the quest of any angler.
And as an angler, this apprehension felt towards the personally uncharted waters of the northeast is at once that and a source of great motivation. As my tenure in New York City grows ever longer, so does my desire to figure out the amazing the fishery that the northeast lays claim to. And even in my spite of constant southbound journeying in search of redfish, snook, and the like, I have, over the past two years, and with the help my friend Panos, another Floridian expatriate, begun to further explore and learn my de facto home waters. Though I have managed to bring a few excellent fish to hand in my angling odysseys from New Jersey to Boston, success in the pursuit of gaining insight into new waters is not measured in fish caught, but rather lessons learned. Needless to say, I am an eager student, and a trip to Montauk would certainly provide a first education.
As is my custom, I spent the week leading up to our journey obsessing over weather reports. Usually this entails my pouring over meteorological data from seven or eight different outlets and going grey over a wind forecast that tips from 8mph to 9mph or precipitation models that suddenly threaten 30%. This time it was a little different. A week before Panos and I were to fish our first day in the shadow of The End, 20 knot winds rose out of the east and began blasting across eastern Long Island. Rain, clouds, and even dirty water, as I had been led to understand, would be of little consequence to the fishing. They might even prove beneficial. Wind however could render the waters that churn against Montauk’s stony shores unfishable.
A hundred text messages must have passed between our phones. What-if’s and did-you-see’s and it’ll-be-alrights. And us with nothing to do but wait. The wind blew for six days straight without breaking. A contingency plan was formed. Not that getting wasted in a shitty motel for two days is much of a plan, but it was the best we could come up with in the absence of fishing.
Ultimately, it was not until the eve of our departure that the forecast began to call for the blow to diminish. The wind was predicted to drop below 10mph over the two days that we were supposed to fish. Our gamble against the oft turbulent october weather, scourge of northeastern angling hopes, had paid off. Crawling into a bottle would have to wait.
Columbus Day weekend of this year outfitted coastal New York with calm winds and plenty of sunshine. And on that Sunday, beneath a mid-October sky flush with sunset and thin, shaly skirts of incarnadine cirrus that wrapped the firmament and its sill entire, Panos and I loaded up his whip and we began our pilgrimage to Montauk in search the ravenous hordes of striped bass and bluefish that descend each year upon the shoals of anchovies, eels, and rain bait coursing below the storied bluffs at the eastern end of Long Island.
We arrived at Montauk’s Lido Motel shortly after dark. Reminiscent of Islamorada’s Key Lantern Motel and Bluefin Inn, the Lido is the kind of unembellished, first-rate dive motel that any intrepid angler would know on a look and be happy to call home for a few days. Or even a few weeks. Beds laid over with patterned, aplique quilts that recall the Amish. Mattresses that sink in the middle just so, ready to complain in the choral mewling of overworked, worn springs under any small weight.
The cloying chemical odor of faintly perfumed bar soap permeating the entirety of the small, boxy space. White paint on the walls tinted yellow with age and salt air. A huge insect sheltering in the junction of ceiling and wall.
Too many are my memories of trips and dreams of fish dreamt in rooms no different than this. The lack of amenities is comforting. It allows you to focus on what’s truly important. Fishing.
That evening, before Panos and I set out into the dark and chill of autumnal Long Island, we checked in with our good, and very tall, buddy, Capt. Vinny Catalano, to discuss and formalize our movements for the following morning. Catalano informed us that due to the recent awful, windy weather, nobody had fished Montauk for the last five days, and that the state of disarray in which the schools of bass and blues were or were not in was an unknown quantity. Despite that, there was no lack of confidence that we would encounter and get tight on the bass and blues we had come in search of. Even if it might take a little more work than usual. Our conversation ended with Catalano telling us that first thing in the AM, during that hour of almost dawn when most fisherman prefer to be setting out, we would be facing and unfortunate wind against tide situation. And that even with the diminished winds it still might be rather ugly, and that meeting before 9am would be a waste of time.
Sleeping in on a fishing day. What a world.
(To be continued…)