Pictured above: Bill battles a false albacore that headed for the depths.
Montauk has a reputation for being one of the best fishing destinations in the world, both from the surf and from a boat. I’ve fished Montauk both ways, but I think it’s even better as a kayak-fishing spot. The past few seasons, the fall migration has been fantastic, and a kayak can put you right in the middle of the day-long blitzes happening just off Montauk Point. The first time I fished Montauk using a kayak was in the early 2000s. It was good fishing for bass, blues and albies. After that, I adopted the mantra that if the winds are light and the swell is small in the fall, I get my kayak out to Montauk.
In early October 2011, I recieved an email from my friend Joey with an attached forecast showing just such a window for the three days over the Columbus Day weekend. Joey booked a room and spread the word. I spent Friday packing as I had been primarily fishing freshwater and needed to shift gears. I went to sleep early Friday and didn’t bother to set the alarm clock. I’m an early morning riser and figured whenever I awoke, I’d go. That was 2:35 a.m. I was on the road by 3:00 and arrived at Turtle Cove parking lot a little before 6:00 a.m., pulling into one of the coveted parking spots (there are only four). Danny, Joey, Joe, and Steve were already there. While I finished setting up, Bill arrived and we joined the rest of the crew who were already catching fish in the predawn light. Danny got a couple of albies and I lost one on a light spinning outfit. My drag was a bit too tight and didn’t have enough give for that first blistering run. If you have never caught an albie, it’s hard to describe. Their first run is similar to tying your line to a car bumper and having it drive off. Line melts from the reel, and it isn’t unusual for the initial run to strip off 100 yards.
Albies are most easily caught early and late in the day, but that first morning they weren’t very cooperative. We turned our attention to the accommodating bass. They averaged 30 inches, with the larger specimens going as much as 36 inches. There were bigger fish around but the smaller, faster bass usually beat the big ones to our offerings. We didn’t mind – the action was fantastic. If we wanted big fish, we could fish at night, but after a day of nonstop catching, nobody had the desire or the energy for it. The daytime fishing was so good, and we had to sleep sometime. After a few hours catching bass, we needed a break and headed back to the launch. It was a great first morning. While we laid on the beach, blitzes started moving toward us, well within casting range. When they were right at our feet, we grabbed our rods. We all got fish. Joey, Bill and I were using fly rods, and Danny, Steve and Joe stuck with spinning gear. By early afternoon, blitzes started appearing out of range so we hopped back in our kayaks. Reports from the previous days suggested the better afternoon fishing had been taking place on the north side, so Bill and I headed there. One hundred yards from the launch, we were in the zone. We set up just on the other side of the rip that runs out from the famous Montauk Lighthouse. The reports were dead on, and we had fantastic fishing for bass. The fishing slowed an hour before dark, so we headed in.
The second morning we were on the water as soon as we could see without a flashlight. The school of breaking fish popped up in the rip near the lighthouse, and from the bird activity, it looked like albies. Bill, Joe, and I went for them with the rest of the crew heading in the other direction. The albies raced off before we got there, but we had plenty of bass and a few blues. When bass are eating rain bait(bay anchovies), their bait of choice most often in the fall, they move along in large, tight schools that are easily fished from a kayak. Conversely albies, being a member of the tuna family, feed in a totally different manner. They slash through the schools. They are unpredictable and move extremely fast.
As the current and north wind pushed us away from land, the albies circled back, and we were surrounded by them. We all hooked up. At 9 a.m., I left the melee because I had promised Paul and Dave, who were joining us that day, that I’d meet them at Turtle Cove. Besides, I could see bird activity on the south side and it was in the lee of the wind. Paul arrived with Dave behind him. We launched and met Bill coming in from offshore. He said he was worn out by albies and needed to get away from them. He had landed over a dozen on the fly rod.
One of kayak fishing’s greatest challenges is casting to pelagic fishes with a fly rod. Trolling a fly is deadly, and it’s often the way we hook up with the long wand when fishing for open water speedsters but the action was so good that trolling was unnecessary.
We hit the north side again in the afternoon and the fishing was even better than the day before.
The next morning, Columbus Day, the first blitzes appeared on the north side, so that’s where Dave, Paul, Joe, and I started. We immediately connected with albies. Then they erupted on the south side, and we took advantage of the opportunity to be in the lee of the north wind. We had all the albies and bass we would ever want. I enjoyed fishing close to shore, where I’d often have a school of bass all to myself without any boats. Ironically, I caught my smallest fish of the trip, a 25-inch bass, and my largest, a 35-incher, one right after the other. I decided to invite the 35-incher for dinner and put it on a stringer.
An hour later Paul, Dave, and I decided to take a break. We each had a bass we were keeping and wanted to get them on ice. We walked them up to the parking lot and put them in our ice chests. Paul decided to head home. As Dave and I walked back, we had a terrific view of the north side and it was amazing. There were schools of blitzing fish everywhere. I counted at least eight that were a quarter acre or larger. Dave and I got in our kayaks and as soon as we hit the rip we were into bass. We didn’t even have to fish the blitzes and compete with the boats there were so many fish. After a while Carl and Danny joined us. The boats started thinning out as the charters returned to port. We found numerous bass blitzes near shore. If Dave or I had a fly in the water, we didn’t go more than a minute without a fish. It was ridiculous the action was so good. It was the best three consecutive days of fishing I’ve ever had. It was a fantastic combination of weather, fish and camaraderie.
When the fish are on rain bait, which have been the predominant bait the past few years, small offerings are the ticket. Flies are better at imitating the small bait. The smaller the fly, the easier it is to cast. If the bass and albies are selective, which they can be, it can be tough to get bites on lures large enough to cast on spinning gear. A great solution is to use a fly or small soft-plastic lure as a teaser and use a metal or other long-casting lure as a delivery system. Some days the fish will hit almost anything and it doesn’t matter, but be prepared to use a teaser just in case. The most popular lures are small Ava jigs, Crippled Herrings, Deadly Dicks, or Stingsilvers. My personal favorite is a leadhead paired with a soft-plastic. White is the most popular color, but just as with flies, many colors work.
I prefer a rod rated for ¼- to ¾-ounce lures in the 7- to 7 ½-foot range. This way, when a hooked fish circles in tight, I can work the rod tip around the bow of the kayak easily. Sometimes I bring along a 9-foot steelhead rod rated for ¼- to 1-ounce lures. It’s great when the albies are hard to get in front of, as the extra length increases my casting distance by 50 feet.
The best all around line for kayak fishing at Montauk is 20-pound-test braid. Its thin diameter allows for long casts without sacrificing strength. With several feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader tied directly to the braid, you’re set. If the fish get finicky, we sometimes go as low as a 10-pound-test leader.
For fly-fishing, I prefer 10-weight tackle. An intermediate line seems to work best, but I carry a medium-sink also. My leader is 5 to 6 feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon. Small, sparse flies are best. I like to have a variety as the fish can sometimes be picky, especially albies with their excellent eyesight. I carry Jiggies, Clousers, epoxies, Deceivers and assorted others.
The majority of the time, we launch in Turtle Cove. The parking is extremely limited, so usually we park in the main lot above. It’s best to have a buddy along so someone can watch the gear while parking. Count on about a 10 minute round trip to park and walk down. Big-wheeled carts are helpful as the ground between the parking lot and water has big, round rocks and very soft gravel.
A brightly colored flag on the rear of the kayak is highly recommended. There isn’t any need for fish finders or a GPS unless fog is anticipated. Bring appropriate safety gear as this is the open Atlantic. On the water, it can get crazy in the middle of the day with all the boats and blitzes. If you can fish mid-week, it’s less crowded. Be considerate as kayaks are more maneuverable and can actually access the fish more easily than boats. Don’t cut off boats that are casting to a school of breaking fish. There are plenty of fish to go around.
The fall run at Montauk starts sometime in September and can last into December. Late September to mid-October is the best time from the kayak. Check the forecast, and if the forecast calls for light winds and small swell, you can’t go wrong fishing Montauk.