A murky shadow at first, Kevin Faulkner’s eyes grew the size of dinner plates as the creature materialized into view. The mere sight of a great white shark inspires fear and awe and is equal to its myth. A monster seemingly as big as the 26-foot boat circled just beneath the surface in the waters off Block Island.
Just as quickly, it was gone.
“It was a surreal experience,’’ Faulkner said. “There was a lot of jumping around by me. Definitely the biggest thing I’ve seen in the water. I’m not scared of the water. But if this thing swam up to you, you’d die of fright.’’
While Faulkner didn’t hook the legendary shark, its mere presence is why Montauk is known as a world-class fishing destination. And it’s why Faulkner sits in traffic nearly four hours simply to experience the magic that is Montauk.
The 38-year-old contractor from the Poughkeepsie suburb of Dover Plains could sail out of any harbor along the Hudson River or Long Island Sound. Yet he suffers the stop-and-go trek through the Bronx, over the Throgs Neck Bridge, along the Long Island Expressway to the traffic-choked villages of the South Fork. The view along the way melds from concrete jungle into Pine Barrens, and finally rolling hills and beach dunes known sparely as The End.
The rich and famous transformed Southampton and East Hampton into destinations for the jet set. Montauk is less pretentious than its neighbors to the west, a laid back beach resort at its core. Surfers and families flock to the white sand and roiling surf. But it has long been known as a fishing Mecca, luring hardcore anglers such as Faulkner.
The mere sight of a great white shark inspires fear and awe and is equal to its myth.
“I’d drive eight hours to get there,’’ Faulkner said. “Montauk is a very unique place. I’ve fished a lot of places with a lot of people. It’s pretty much unanimous. There’s nothing like Montauk. We’re just lucky it’s here.”
The waters surrounding Montauk yield spectacular fishing year round and offer something for everyone. There’s Zen-like surfcasting along the rocky shoreline guarded by the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Charter a boat to hunt sharks in the open ocean. Or come as you are and hop on a party boat for six hours of guilt-free fishing in the rips (turbulent currents) just offshore.
While it’s not equal to Key West or Oahu or San Diego in its diversity, migrating fish populations make Montauk a veritable feast of fluke, flounder, striped bass, sea bass, bluefish, tuna and yes, sharks of every stripe.
Frank Mundus put the East End village on the sport fishing short list for adventurers in 1951 when he harpooned a reported 16-foot, 4,500-pound great white. It was a feat that inspired the character Quint in the novel and film Jaws, which spawned a cultural phenomenon.
But great white sharks are the white whale of Montauk fishing, more salty story than everyday occurrence. Still, the legend is grounded in fact. The 17th annual Mako/Thresher Mania Tournament, which begins August 6, highlights Montauk’s connection to monster fishing.
“I think it’s reputation for shark is well deserved,’’ said Lee Ellis, 39, who lives and works in East Hampton when he’s not out on his boat “T-Bone” off Montauk. “There’s been a lot of shark hunted out of there. It’s a great place for a person to go out and get the biggest fish of their lives. Shark fishing is a great adrenaline sport.’’
Yet the region’s real rep is built on an army of weekend anglers intent on landing plentiful—and feisty— striped bass and blues.
“During the summer time, we get a lot of tourists in Montauk,’’ Capt. Carl Fosberg said before taking out the “Viking Starship” for a summer night fishing trip in search of bluefish and striped bass. “There are a lot of first-timers. It’s family-friendly and fun fishing. We supply them with everything they need. We make sure they enjoy themselves. It’s about getting the kids fishing.’’
A memory that sticks in his mind is the frigid conditions of a March fishing trip 60 miles offshore. A 9-year-old boy was one of the few anglers undeterred by the weather.
“It was really cold. The kid was die-hard,’’ Fosberg recalled. “He would not leave the rail. He was fishing the whole time. And he ended up catching the biggest fish on the boat.’’
A 25-pound tilefish was the prize that day.
“When you see a kid smile—so proud of himself—it’s a nice moment because you know that kid’s going to be hooked into fishing for the rest of his life,’’ Fosberg added.
It begins at one of the marinas dotting Lake Montauk, which spills almost directly into the Atlantic. Most boaters make a beeline east of the lighthouse, setting up between the mainland and Block Island.
Try night fishing from August into September. The Viking Fleet (vikingfleet.com), which features an $85 trip from 7pm to 1am, is the best bet. Bring a sweater because it can get cool. Sunsets are intense and there’s nothing like a full moon on the water. It will be an unforgettable experience either way.
“That’s what makes fishing so great,’’ Ellis said. “It is something different for everybody.”
Guide Bill Wetzel, a veteran surfcaster, said the fishing is the best he’s seen in the last decade. The ample rain and east winds have been a surf fisherman’s dream. And with 50 miles of sandy beach and rocky shoreline to roam, getting a line in the water is simple.
“Anybody can get started,” said Wetzel, who likes August best. “All you need is a rod and waders.”
There aren’t as many boats on the water this summer. One of the unexpected bonuses of a sour economy, say regulars. It’s also been great fishing so far. If you can stomach the slow crawl along Route 27, The End will reward your patience. From land or sea, Montauk offers world-class fun for every angler. And that’s no fish tale.