Like Tilting at Windmills

It was immense yet streamlined in its monstrous, aerodynamic shape
Steven Forsberg Sr. and Stan Dacuk of Montauk landed these double-digit blackfish on Saturday.

Last Thursday was a rather blustery, chilly day mixed with intermittent rain. The dampness ran through my many layers of clothes and ultimately my body as I rummaged around in my garage securing my fishing tackle and gear for what would likely be my final fishing trip of 2018 the following morning out of Montauk. 

The marine weather report noted that the easterly winds would veer slightly to the southeast overnight and slacken, thereby bringing in some much-needed warmer temperatures. That said, I made sure to pack my thermal gear, oilskins, and a few heavy sweatshirts for protection against the increasingly chilly ocean waters. Better to have more clothes than fewer this time of the year.

Waking up at 4:30 on Friday morning, I noticed from my bedroom window that the clouds had broken and the stars shone brightly, highlighted by the vivid clarity of the planet Venus to the south in the early morning sky. As predicted, the wind, too, had dropped off. It was going to be a nice day on the water.

When I arrived at the docks of the Star Island Yacht Club, the temperature was a rather balmy 41 degrees. Only two boats were still in the water, including the Bluefin IV, a well-seasoned, six-pack charter boat under the guidance of Capt. Michael Potts, who has owned the beamy 41-foot wooden craft since 1975. 

While I’ve known Potts for nearly four decades, I had not set foot on his boat in several years. I had a few invites to fish with him earlier this season, but something else had already been planned, negating a day of fishing.

“We fished yesterday at Cartwright and the C.I.A. grounds, and the action was not great,” he explained to me and five other anglers in the main cabin, speaking of locations south and west of Montauk. “Today, I think it’s best to go southeast of Block Island and try it.” The plan was to focus on blackfish and perhaps catch a cod or two.

After throwing the lines off at 6:15, it was still dark as we exited the jetties that protect Montauk Harbor to begin the 90-minute ride. Hot coffee, small talk, and jokes were exchanged in the cabin as we looked forward to the day ahead. 

The ride out, as Potts warned, would still be a bit bumpy as a result of the previous day’s breeze, but the seas were slowly settling down as we crept up to one of the five, 600-foot-tall wind turbines three miles southeast of Block Island. 

Passing underneath the giant wind fan gave us chills as we all took out our cameras and iPhones to capture the moment in the bright early morning sun. Looking upward, the massive structure overtook the sky. It was immense yet streamlined in its monstrous, aerodynamic shape. 

About 20 minutes later, we had reached our first stop. It was time to get serious, drop anchor, and fish. 

Joe Garsetti, the first mate aboard, ensured we had enough fresh skimmer clams for bait, as well as an assortment of green, white, and hermit crabs to impale upon our hooks. No doubt about it, the fish waiting on the rocky bottom below us were going to have a nice selection to choose from.

Unfortunately, only a few blackfish were in residence, as the fish were fussy and off their feed, with the bites few and far between. For the next seven hours, we bounced around from rock pile to rock pile looking for better action. A few fish here and a few fish there was the best we could manage. That ultimately comprised a true mixed bag, including cod, blackfish, pollock, ling, cunners, porgies, sea bass, and mackerel. 

Between bites, we were entertained by a few giant finback whales, their spouts of water periodically blowing high into the air, but for whatever reason, the fishing just never took hold. The fish gods had spoken. It was not to be.

Indeed, the reports from other boats in the area echoed our frustration. “One party boat to the east at Cox’s Ledge only got one cod, a haddock, and some small porgies,” Potts relayed from atop his fly bridge in the early afternoon. “We’ll keep trying different pieces here and try to pick away.”

Finally, at 2:45 and with the sun now obscured by clouds, it was time to pull up the anchor for the last time and head westward for the long ride home. We caught enough fish to secure a nice dinner or two. Not every day will come with excellent results. It’s what makes fishing the challenge we appreciate.

“Depending on the weather, I will probably keep the boat in the water until the end of December and pull it out then,” said Potts at the helm of the stout craft, which was built by the noted local boatbuilder Ray Chichi in his garage in Greenport in 1970. “I hope to be back in the water in early March, when there hopefully will be some codfish around.”

March can’t come soon enough.

At the Tackle Shop in Amagansett on Sunday morning, the owner, Harvey Bennett, was in a jovial mood readying for his end-of-season holiday raffle drawing. Bennett was also in the midst of confirming the results of the largest striped bass taken on Saturday, the final day of the season, as well as finalizing the end result of the heaviest fish landed over the past month.

In calm conditions, Saturday’s striped bass contest had many anglers plying the nearby ocean surf. Alas, unlike last year, no fish were landed. 

“We had good conditions and many people fishing, but it seems the fish have moved out of the area for good,” surmised Bennett. 

The lucky winner of the raffle was a combined entry of the East Hampton trio of Tony Sales, Sam Doughty, and Shelly Becker, who will need to decide amongst themselves how to split a 10-foot Shakespeare surf rod and matching reel in three pieces. John Micena of Hampton Bays also won a portable Coleman cooler.

Doughty kept his fishing hot streak alive when he captured the largest fish taken over the past month with an eight-pound codfish, besting your said scribe, with a fish that was a few ounces heavier. Doughty earned the prize of a Penn 706z surf reel. Not to be outshined, Rick Spero of East Hampton came in third with a huge, six-pound largemouth bass. 

Money raised from the raffle and contests will go to underprivileged youth in the Dominican Republic. Ever the charity giver, Bennett remains in a holiday rush to ship a few more boxes of baseball goods, shoes, clothing, and school supplies to a school in the Caribbean country before the end of the year.

“Some boxes I sent back in early November got there, but unfortunately, three were lost or stolen and have not been recovered,” he lamented. “There was probably around $3,000 of goods in those boxes, including a bunch of stuff that was donated by Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’m devastated.”

Bennett has filed a loss claim, but it is unsure if he will receive any compensation. “It will take months if this ever gets resolved,” he said. “That’s why I’m in a huge rush to get some more donated goods there as quickly as possible. The truck to pick up the stuff is coming not long after Christmas.”

Happy holidays.


We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at fish@ehstar.com. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.

Joe Garsetti, first mate of the charter boat Bluefin IV, with a brace of codfish landed on Friday Jon M. Diat