Fishing The Nor’easter—Or Not

Sometimes I do it just to remember why I don’t do it

To ordinary people—sane people—storms like the one that battered the northeast coast this week mean cancelled airline flights, flash flooding, water in the basement, animated deck furniture and all sorts of other inconvenience, mayhem, even danger.

But surfcasters on Long Island’s East End rarely fit the description of ordinary people. And certainly never during a classic fall nor’easter. To surf fishermen, a big mid-season October blow is like a snow day to a school child: perfectly marvelous conditions to go out and play.

Big wind and driving rain conventionally mean fish close to shore.  It’s often not possible to cast far when the beach faces into the teeth of double-digit wind speeds. But in a nor’easter, on the right beach, it may not be necessary. Striped bass—big stripers—will be chasing bait into the white frothy wash.

Personally, fishing a nor’easter is like how I feel about fast food. When I eat it, I don’t really like it. But when I don’t have it for a while, I think I miss it. So, as if giving in to a misguided yen for a McDonald’s hamburger, I found myself trekking out to Montauk in the mid-week blow, just to remember why I don’t do it anymore.

Mind you, I used to.  Frequently.  When I was much younger. Stronger and more agile? Most likely. Less wise and more reckless? Without doubt.  Like the time I fished on the jetty directly beneath the Montauk Point lighthouse with wind-driven waves crashing the rocks below during an incoming night tide.  There was a handful of surfcasters scattered fifty feet apart, casting in the dark from treacherously slippery boulders. We caught fish on virtually every cast.

All seemed well until a rogue wave slammed the granite groin, splashed up, and about a ton of water whacked me full frontal. I got knocked back from my perch and wound up flat on my back, soaked, in pain, and unable to move.  As I struggled to catch my breath, imagining permanent paralysis, a distant voice from an unseen caster to my right called out in the night, “Are you okay?”

I summoned the strength to answer weakly, “Not really,” hoping he’d come to my aid. Maybe he didn’t hear me. Or maybe hearing me was good enough.  He didn’t come. He just kept casting and catching. After some very long minutes, I was able to slowly drag myself off the rocks, climb into my truck and drive home.  I made sure to take my fish with me, despite two cracked ribs.  My certain death would not be from lack of protein.

Another time–same location, similar storm conditions–I repeated this folly.  I had a friend along who had much better sense and did not leave the vehicle. Rather, Ron watched me hurl cast after cast fruitlessly into the deep dark Montauk tidal rip. I got skunked, but not hurt.  The next day, in a local tackle shop, my friend and I overheard two local sharpies deriding “some damned fool who was throwing lures in forty mph winds under the light.” We slinked out of the shop, remaining anonymous. But I also thought it noteworthy that Ron and I were not alone out there in the honking wind. Those witnesses were kindred spirits to this storm fishing madness.

BEACH CLOSED: NYS Parks Department shut down vehicle access to its beaches when the wind drove water up to the dune grass.

This week, my strategy was much more, ahem, reasonable. I rose at oh-dark-hundred, as I had every morning this season—the bite being best in the dark, before dawn, or after sunset. A quick read of the wind –already at twenty mph, due east–helped me determine there was only one place to go: Montauk Point, aka Mecca.

Rain was beginning to fall—sideways—and the forecast was for conditions to go downhill throughout the day. I justified my sojourn with the false promise that I’d just take a look. The wind would be horrible, the rain would be pelting, and no one in their right mind would be fishing. I’d be back in my truck and home to boil some farm eggs for breakfast before the BW was out from under the duvet.

However, when I arrived at False Bar, there was one caster already in the water, Justin from Ridge. The last time Justin and I fished together, earlier in the month, slot-size stripers blitzed Gin Beach, coming literally within spitting distance. I was casting that bright, windless Indian summer day barefoot and in shorts. But this morning, Justin was geared up in waterproof waders, knobby-soled boots, and a hooded Gore-Tex anorak. This would be no day at the beach.

The end of the outgoing tide left little water on the bar, but the wind pushed some in, which made up for the lack of distance on Justin’s casts. It was still dark and I watched the every which way waves beat him up in only calf-deep water. Justin was getting his ass kicked, but something else was happening: his rod was bent–over and over again. Justin nailed a fish on every cast!  “Fuck!” I said audibly in my empty and wind-rocked truck.  I knew then I’d have to get out and try.

WIND ON THE WATER: Gusts in Montauk hit hurricane levels during the recent nor’easter.

I too was clad in waders and boots, but my waterproof top was anything but.  It was more like the kind of windbreaker one might wear walking the dog in a shower on the Upper West Side. City slicker?

The minute I stepped out of my vehicle, I knew I was in for a very wet whupping. I held onto my door as I opened it, struggled to get my nine foot rod down from the roof rack, and cautiously made my way to the water’s edge. I dared not go more than ten feet into the waves—every slimy coconut-size rock on the False Bar is a broken ankle waiting to happen.

I threw a 1.5 ounce white bucktail lure as hard and as straight as I could. I was thirty yards to the right of Justin and the east to west sweep was so vicious that I had to reel like mad after each cast to pick up the wind slack, and keep my bowing line from crossing his.  On my sixth cast, a striper fifteen yards out broke water, slashed left to right—against the wind and current—and inhaled my lure. The braided line went taut. I was on.

MONTAUK NORTHSIDE: Mecca for surfcasters, especially in an autumn nor’easter storm.

Though the fish didn’t strike far out, it used the wind-blown current to fight hard for freedom.  I eventually prevailed and this schoolie bass was released.  By this time, dawn had broken, revealing a wild white-capped seascape beneath thick gray rain clouds.  The wind had intensified. Gusts were near hurricane strength, driving rain down my collar, soaking my upper body to the skin. 

The fish bite stopped.  It may have been the light, maybe the end of the tide, or perhaps the fish were scared off the bar by the seal which popped up in the surf giving Justin and I a sideways look that seemed to say are you guys for real?  Whatever the reason, the fishing was over; temporarily for Justin, for the rest of the week for me. I had my taste of the Montauk fall nor’easter. I expect it will be a while before I want to experience it again.  Maybe next season. 

Or, next month?

BAREFOOT BIRTHDAY KEEPER: Surfcasting the way we want it to be.

Comments are closed.