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On the Water: Fair Winds, Jimmy

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 06:09
A regular at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Jimmy Buffett performed there in 2013 with Mac McAnally.
Robert D. Comes

Ocean bathers last week were dismayed that many local beaches were closed for swimming. High seas, swells, and rip tides emanating from Hurricanes Idalia, Franklin, and Gert far offshore were the culprits.

Combine that with the blue super moon and even sitting on the beach was a challenge at high tide, as water rushed over the sands and up to the edge of the dunes. Folks had to find other endeavors to enjoy before the ocean began to slowly calm down.

That said, there was one group of water bugs that were happy at the arrival of the long-period swells that pounded the shoreline. For those who stand atop a surfboard, it was nirvana. There were waves to shred.

“Yeah, I’ve seen more surfboards than surf rods in the back of pickup trucks the past week or so,” confirmed Capt. Harvey Bennett, the former owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “They are clearly having a good time right now.”

No doubt, Jimmy Buffett, who died last week and had a house on North Haven, probably would have been one to have ridden his beloved board in his better days, given the ideal conditions. He loved to surf.

Buffett lived about five houses down the beach from us and was a constant presence here during the summer months for over 25 years. He loved the water, surfing, and sand of the East End.

Beloved by many around the world, he was incredibly humble and friendly. It was only two weeks ago that I saw him take his final trip on his sailboat aptly named Music, a 35-foot Morse he had built about 10 years ago. Like his father, he enjoyed sailing.

He was too far away to take a photograph on that tranquil evening, as he sailed about Shelter Island Sound. I figured I would have a few more chances before he headed back to warmer climes later in September as he usually did. Little did I know.

“Jimmy was just a regular guy,” recalled Bennett. “He would usually stop in on his way back from Montauk. He was very down to earth, and he loved his fishing, sailing, and surfing. He just absolutely loved the water.”

Buffett was also close with Rusty Drumm, a fellow surfer, who shared many waves with him over the years. Drumm was also a longtime senior writer and “On the Water” columnist for this newspaper, a founder of the Oceans Institute at the Montauk Lighthouse,  and an author of several books. Buffett once graciously offered the use of his house in Hawaii and St. Barts to Drumm and his wife, Kyle. Drumm was fighting a battle with cancer, and died before he could take him up on the offer. He was that kind of friend.

“Him and Rusty were very close,” remembered Bennett. “Fellow surfers stick together. And those two did. Rest in peace. He was a good man.”

There’s no doubt that a beach, surfboard, and sailboat await the man from Margaritaville in heaven. I also hope he enjoys that cheeseburger in paradise there too. Fair winds, pirate.

As for the fishing scene, the ocean swells did not quell the excellent yellowfin tuna bite not far off Montauk, sometimes in view of the Lighthouse. As an added bonus, more bluefin tuna have shown up in recent days, mixing in with the yellows.

Buffett was also a passionate angler. He regularly took his boat Last Mango offshore out of Montauk in the pursuit of various pelagics. No doubt he would have boated a few yellowfins by now.

Closer to home, Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor also lamented the passing of Buffett, who was a frequent customer of his establishment for decades. “I did not see him in my shop this season, but he was such a nice, gentle person,” he said. “He was very generous with his time, had a great sense of humor, and loved to fish. I will really miss him.”

Inshore light-tackle aficionados continue to await the arrival of the hard-fighting false albacore. Buffett was equally adept with a fly rod in the pursuit of the popular top-water speedsters.

“I wish I had better news, but the albies have not shown up as of yet,” said Capt. Merritt White of Gunkholin Charters, a light-tackle guide. “The first day they appeared last year was Sept. 4, so it shouldn’t be long now.”

Merritt noted that the local waters are “flooded with peanut bunker and anchovies, so the table is set.” Elsewhere he said that many cocktail blues are around, as well double-digit gorillas, “if you know where to look.”

“Plenty of blowfish and especially kingfish, are around near the entrance and beach to Three Mile Harbor,” reported Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “Striped bass are also showing up more, plus the albies and Spanish mackerel should be here any day too.” 

Fishing tips, observations, and photographs can be sent to [email protected].


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