Whither October?

September’s promise fizzled badly as we reached the shank of the surfcasting season. Is this to be the fall run that wasn’t?

OCTOBER BLOWS: Three vicious storms took their toll on East End beaches and the fishing prospects during surfcasting’s signature month (click here for video).

They came from afar.  Jeff from North Carolina, Big Brother Frank from California, Ken and Lisa, Steve and Dina from Delaware.  

Even the widely-scattered Red Hill Gang made the pilgrimage —Felix from Florida, Doc from Virginia, Bob from South Carolina. Representatives from Gotham were on hand too: Don Dolce from the upper east side, Broadway LeeBob from the UWS.  They came to this Mecca of surfcasting, Montauk, for the fall run of striped bass and bluefish.

But it never happened.

A small bass here, a rare bluefish there. Some one-and-done schoolie striper blitzes. Essentially, not a run of keepers or Albies to be found all through October, which should have been the shank of the season. Even the professional gill-netting crews working the beaches were flummoxed. With so few bass in their haul, they discarded dogfish and skate along the Napeague stretch in disgust.

NAPEAGUE BEACH MASSACRE: Sand sharks (dogfish) and skate abandoned by gillnet crews dismayed by a lack of more lucrative stripers for their efforts.

Things were so bad even “The Faithful” sought alternatives.  Verizon Charlie fished the North Shore from Port Jefferson to Orient Point. He struggled even there to catch stripers-in-diapers, though he reported sightings of an occasional keeper.  LeeBob hit Robert Moses State Park mid-Island where he had fun-filled sunny mornings catching micro-bass before going on stage. Billy Black fished his secret bay locations and scored some double digit evenings. Amazing Randy and I got well with some small bass early on.  Robo-arm Big Brother Frank returned to the east end with high hopes and his casting wing healed.  It was a good thing he caught fish in the summer, because this fall he only got clams.

PLAN B: Chicken mushrooms in the woods for North Carolina Jeff……..
……GIANT QUAHOGS in the mud for Big Brother Frank and me.

The Delaware crews came and then left town in record time this year. Scarce fish drove North Carolina Jeff to Plan B: ‘shrooming (mushroom hunting) in the East Hampton woods and Montauk dunes. Last I heard, he’s alive and well, but lacking any trophy fish. However, he did go home with a cooler filled with 4 pounds of bluefish filets and 10 pounds of chicken mushrooms.

All this was most puzzling because the ocean was alive with humpback whales, harbor seals, frolicking dolphins and sharks of a dozen varieties. All feasted on acres of bunker bait that had gulls and gannets hunting and diving furiously, and should have attracted the predatory migratory species that we surfcasters await the whole year long. However, the crescendo we all expected after a hopeful September simply did not materialize. The season to date has been an overture without the symphony.

TEEMING OCEAN: Bunker bait that should have attracted game species offered much to diving gulls and gannets, but little to fishermen on the beach (click here for video).


For a few days at least, as summer turned to fall, history happily attempted to repeat itself. The Red Hill Gang of Brooklyn came fishing earlier than usual this year. Good timing; we ran into a few days of small bass blitzing on the north and south side of Montauk.  Doc Charlie the Cat paid the price of a treble hook through his index finger for the short bass he connected wth at the Sewer Pipe, just hours off the plane from JFK. He winced at his wound, but smiled broadly at his catch and kept on casting. He notched one more milestone on his determined quest to be a local sharpie.

RED HILL REDUX: For one morning only, the glory days of the Brooklyn Capos’ annual fishing trip returned.
FISH AT ANY COST: Doc Charlie paid the price of a treble hook through his finger for this shortie bass. But he never lost his smile.

The next day, with a nearly full complement of the Red Hill googans aboard my truck, we chased a splashing school of stripers far into rock-strewn Oyster Pond Cove.  When we couldn’t travel any farther than the beach boulders allowed, we waiting hopefully for the fish to double back in our direction. And they did.  I knew if they came within reach of the water’s edge where we stood, we’d get only a single cast or two at them. So I demanded that everyone hold their cast.  Amazingly, my usually undisciplined buddies complied.  All was quiet. Without warning then, the fish boiled up in the shallow water among the rocks less than 50 yards out from where we stood.  “NOW!” I shouted.  In seconds, everyone of us was fast on a fish.  No keepers, but the nearly decade-long skunk was off for Felix, and Don Dolce.  Bob wouldn’t arrive until the next day. He had to settle for a tailgate lunch on the North Bar as we watched the fish bust water well out of reach.  They never came within range again for the rest of the weekend.

TAILGATE PARTY AT THE NORTHBAR: BBQ wings and cold beers on Montauk’s North Bar took the sting out of a fishless afternoon.


September’s promise carried over to the first Saturday in October. It was early evening, and I was deep into dinner prep with guests expected around 7pm. Suddenly, my phone came alive with a text alert from Verizon Charlie: “Fish blitzing here at Shagwong Point.” I answered with a non-commital, boilerplate message: “Good luck. Catch ‘em up, big guy,” then went back to my chopping and dicing. Five minutes later VC followed up: “Get here NOW!” his text demanded. When the fish text rings twice, woe to those who flout its call. I left instructions for the BW to keep an eye on the eggplant roasting on the grill, suited up in my waders, and took off to the east . “On my way,” I alerted VC.

For the next two hours, the fishing was epic. Thick schools of bass roved in the wash an easy cast off Gin Beach, Shagwong Point, and into Oyster Pond Cove. VC and I tossed bucktail lures at them—the fish eschewed any others—and caught schoolie after schoolie for nearly two hours. VC had 30 fish or more. I had about a baker’s dozen. Nothing large enough for the table, but an old time blitz of fat, feisty fish here, there, everywhere. We left them biting in the wash at dark.  When I returned home, the eggplant was a burnt mass of charcoal. Small price to pay.

“JUST LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS:” Perhaps an exaggeration, but two hours of non-stop schoolies at Shagwong was as good as it got this October (Click here for video).


Before the 2nd week of October was gone, two massive nor’easters tore up the east end beaches.  And a third blow, a stormy, somber sou’wester on Halloween, shut down the fishing hard for two days or more each time. Times like these are why God invented clamming, I tell myself. 

As the month waned and new moon tides surged, there was no sign of a recovery.  October was for all practical purposes a bust on the east end. Interestingly, water temperatures remained above normal, leading some pundits to theorize that we’re still in a summer bite.  The big fish are simply not sufficiently incentivized to furiously feed for their winter journey south. That’s fishologist-speak for break out the golf clubs.

So, is November the new October? Is the fall run moving to December?  Or are the good old days gone for good? I guess anything is possible in these times of climate chaos. Even the forecast for the coming scallop season is morose. . Let me get another look at that clam rake.

WHO’S THAT GUY WITH THE SCHOOLIE? “Hey, mister, leave that fish alone!”
SECRET BEACH: In secluded bays, Billy Black has been known to have double-digit catches in the dark of night.
BEHOLD THE RARE BLUEFISH: A gorilla the likes of which we seldom saw this October. The fish, I mean; not the fisherman.
BROADWAY BASS MAN: LeeBob and company have more fun per fish-pound than anyone else on the beach.
WHO SAYS THERE’S NO KEEPERS IN MONTAUK? A couple of 30-plus pounders kept hopes alive for stalwart surfrats.
JUNE SWOON: Before he left the beach for the injured reserved list, BBF was a cocktail bluefish’s worst nightmare.

2 Responses to “Whither October?”

  1. Michael Antonoff says:

    If fishing this season was “so bad” as your text attests, why am I seeing pictures of all these happy fisherman holding, ah, fish! Handsome prizes all, I might add. Clearly, FishTails needs a hands-on magazine editor to reconcile words + pictures. Just once I’d like to see you standing on the beach empty-handed. Just saying.

  2. Fred Abatemarco says:

    Michael–How many striped bass dinner pix have you seen? Exactly none. Or sumptuous trays of smoked bluefish? Very very few. Pay attention. We’re looking for “Keepers.”

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