The Memory Still Haunts Me

It was Halloween scary
Charlie Bateman of East Hampton landed this striped bass on the Oh Brother! out of Montauk. Jon M. Diat Jon M. Diat

On Oct. 23, I joined a group of friends for a full day of fishing on the Oh Brother!, a charter boat out of Montauk whose captain, Rob Aaronson, and his first mate, Rudi Bonicelli, are seasoned pros who know the inshore and offshore waters around Montauk as well as anyone. 

They are quality people who are also blessed with a sharp sense of humor drawn from their decades of fishing. They work well as a team. And, most important, they make me laugh. Good friends are like that.

We had an early departure time of 5:30 a.m., and Bonicelli, who is a mean cook on the side when not wetting a line, untied the last stern line in the dark. Sunrise would not occur until 7:08, but Aaronson figured that the flood tide would be productive at that early hour at the Pollock Rip, just off the Montauk Lighthouse, before we continued our trip in search of black sea bass.

Nearing our destination, I noticed several large red lights to the east blinking simultaneously on the still-dark horizon. Having not been near the lighthouse at night in quite a while, I quickly realized the lights emanated from the five windmills that comprise the offshore wind farm located about three miles south of Block Island. The windmills tower hundreds of feet over the Atlantic Ocean, and their presence, especially when viewed up close in the daylight, is impressive.

But their unique glow at night also gave me déjà vu as I stood on the stern deck taking in the rhythmic pulse of lights to the east. 

The scene brought back the uneasy memory of an experience I had about 25 years ago while fishing from the ocean beach in Bridgehampton. Even today, I’m still perplexed. Appropriately, it was Halloween scary.

For a few days prior, rumors abounded that a good striped bass bite was going on at the beach in the early morning. I drove down to the ocean to check it out. It was about 3 a.m., with a cloudless night sky, and the air was rather warm. The ocean was unusually calm, and there was barely any surf. After unpacking my gear and fumbling with my flashlight trying to pick out my lure of choice, I finally began to cast into the inky blackness ahead of me.

About 20 minutes later, with nary a strike, I trudged back up to the beach in my waders to select a different lure. There had to be a striper feeding in the early morning wash. Facing back at the water and taking in the beautiful mass of stars shining brightly above, I was suddenly jolted by a sight I have never seen before: eight blinking red lights flying in a sideways V formation.

The lights were in perfect unison and distance apart, and were heading west to east across the beach at an astonishing speed. Equally confusing was that whatever passed in front of me over the open ocean happened in a span lasting no more than three seconds. And it did not make a sound. Utter silence.

I stood there in disbelief, and I blinked and rubbed my eyes. I tried to comprehend what I had just witnessed. I knew what I saw was real, but it made no sense. At that point, probably not more than a minute after the event, fear took over. I also felt incredibly alone. 

Catching a striped bass was no longer my goal. I gathered my bag of lures and my rod, and ran back to my truck as fast as I could. I didn’t even take the time to remove my waders. After trembling the whole way home, I retired back to the safety and comfort of my bed. 

To this day, I still wonder what it was, and until now have told only a few people about it. 

It was most certainly a close encounter of the unknown kind. 

Going back to the fishing trip, Capt. Aaronson made good on his prediction, as the striped bass action was solid on trolled bucktails. It took barely more than a minute or two to hook into a bass once the lure reached the desired depth. After securing our limit, we headed closer to the windmills, where the sea bass were also in a hungry mood. A great day by all accounts. And no U.F.O.s were seen.

“Saturday was a washout with the nor’easter, but there were stripers taken on Sunday from Georgica to Napeague,” said Harvey Bennett at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Looks like we will have a good fall run this season. Squid have been good in Three Mile Harbor, too.”

Bennett also announced details of two fishing contests to help underprivileged children at a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic. The first contest is for the largest fish landed (any species of saltwater or freshwater fish can be weighed in) by Dec. 15. The lucky winner will receive a 10-foot Shakespeare fishing rod. 

The second event is for the largest striped bass taken on the final day of the season (Dec. 15). Bennett will provide a Tackle Shop hat and a Salty wooden surf plug to the angler coming out on top. The $20 entry fee also includes a one-year membership in the Amagansett Sportfishing Association and entry into a raffle for a Penn 706 surf reel.

“This is all very casual with no hard rules,” he said. “I will even accept pictures of fish and estimated weights. This is just to have some fun and raise a few extra bucks for some very deserving kids down there.” 

Bennett also reminded people that hunting season is now in full swing. “Archery deer and woodcock season are now open, so folks walking or hiking should be aware,” he said. Today also marks the opening day to hunt small game, including pheasant, quail, rabbit, and squirrel.

“Good bass fishing along the surf and blackfish, when the winds lay down, have been solid as well,” Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton said on Monday, which also happened to be his birthday. “And the run of Halloween squid continues in Three Mile Harbor off the docks.”

 


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