Carl Darenberg III is the scion of Montauk fishing legends, the owner and operator of Montauk Marine Basin marina and sponsor of the iconic shark tournament.
Darenberg and his two children work at the marina his father, Carl Darenberg, Jr., opened in 1955. He’s grown up fishing the waters off Montauk, and at 61, is old enough to remember a different era in sports fishing, when big corporations chartered boats and hooking a great white or shark finning were legal.
One echo of the past is the 41st annual Montauk Marine Basin Shark Tag Tournament, which offers the thrill of hunting shark and a purse of $50,000. The tourney runs June 23-25.
Last year’s event drew 80 boats and the grand prize winner was a 9-foot, 388-pound mako landed by repeat champion David S. Carlson.
LIP: Explain the origin of your shark tournament.
CD: Frank Mundus [the inspirational boat captain behind Jaws] was a big shark fisherman. And we used to say, ‘Why is Frank going for shark?’ There’s so many white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish and giant tuna. It didn’t make sense. But what happened around that time, fishing for swordfish became extinct. So people started to look at shark fishing as a pretty easy fishery to get into. It wasn’t expensive to do. It became quite popular. And lo and behold, so did shark tournaments.
LIP: What’s your fish tale?
CD: One year, back in the 70s, we were getting ready to lock up. The tournament was over. We had given away the trophies. I see this 25-foot boat pulling up to the dock. I look in the back of the boat and see this mako—1,068 pounds! It was the largest shark I’d ever seen. Everyone came from around the country to see this thing. It was an amazing shark.
LIP: How has the tournament evolved?
CD: When we started the tournament 41 years ago, it was a family tournament. We didn’t give any prize money away. It was just trophies. It was a nice outing. Nowadays unless you give away money people don’t fish too many tournaments. So we started giving away some money.
LIP: Shark fishing brings to mind a savage battle between man and beast. But your tournament takes a humane approach.
CD: We’ve always called it a tag and release tournament. The fish that do get brought in get looked at by NOAA Fisheries that come out of Narragansett, R.I. These biologists dissect the fish and use of lot of the sharks that do come in as specimens for research. This year we’re giving away circle hooks, which are designed to hook the fish in the mouth and dissolve. A local environmental group—the Concerned Citizens of Montauk—is donating 1,000 hooks to us. Hopefully the circle hook will help us not kill so many sharks. We cut the hook off, and if the hook is in his belly, that can be a problem for the shark.
LIP: Do you get a bad rap for running a shark fishing tournament?
CD: We’ve never been bothered by anybody.
LIP: What’s shark fishing season?
CD: My tournament at the end of June is one of the best times. That’s when sharks start to show up. By the end of June, you get enough warm weather and southwest wind to give us that warmer water that we need. But this year, because we’ve had such cold water temperatures, I think anything earlier than my tournament might be a problem.
LIP: White sharks are part of the Montauk lore. Why aren’t white sharks a category in your tournament?
CD: You can’t catch a white at all. It’s an endangered species. But a lot of white shark sightings are really basking sharks. They’re a very big shark. But basking sharks feed on plankton. The most popular sharks we catch out here are mako, threasher and blue sharks. Federal law only allows you to catch one shark per day.
LIP: What is the state of the Montauk shark fishery?
CD: There’s been somewhat of a depletion over the years. The finning of sharks—which has been banned—hasn’t helped either. It was done here years ago. I used to get so upset when guys would bring these bags of fins in. You knew damn well they threw all those sharks away.
LIP: What keeps bringing people back?
CD: Montauk is technically unspoiled. It’s much better fishing than other ports on Long Island. That’s why people make that drive. It’s 120 miles just to go fishing? Especially in that traffic? [laughs] Montauk still has that lure. People want to catch the big one.