Few places remain as close to “ground zero” for consistent fall fly-fishing action as Montauk. Reliable day-to-day action can begin as early as Labor Day, but the third week of September is usually a safe estimate as to when baitfish begin to congregate in open water and false albacore move in from offshore. The albie action takes center stage and will last unless severe weather dive ocean temperatures down too quickly. The 2017 fall run of false albacore remained strong until just after Veteran’s Day. A solid week of high winds and rough seas put an end to the fun the third week of October in 2018.
In both cases, striped bass took over once oceans subsided, and somewhat consistent action with smaller striped bass had in Montauk until at least mid-November.
Montauk is one of the few places on the East Coast with a large and vibrant fly-fishing charter fleet. Local captains are joined in the fall by others who tow their boats to Long Island’s east end for the four to six weeks of peak action. Most of these captains have been at this for decades and cater to long-standing repeat customers, though calling around can often score you a last-minute booking.
Surf action requires a state access permit, though a 4×4 vehicle and additional permits are invaluable assets, especially later in the fall when striped bass migrate west along the south-facing sand beaches.
A highly detailed “hatch chart” would barely do justice to the variety of baits that can trigger feeding off Montauk Point in the fall, but three species drive most of the action. The bay anchovy is probably the most important, especially as the fall run starts. Successful streamer and surface imitations span from exact replicas to highly impressionistic attractors. There are no rules except to pack a good variety of options for each trip.
At least 90 percent of fly outfits for the fall run are 9 or 10 weight. Most fishermen opt for intermediate line, though floating and heavy sinking lines have their uses.
Leaders are usually self-made and in the 9-foot range overall. Many taper from 40- to 30- to 20-pound mono, with a lighter tippet, primarily for the leader-shy false albacore. Debates continue online and in the pubs about whether an albie tippet is best made of light mono or fluorocarbon.
The fly reel should be packed with 20- or 30-pound backing with fresh and reliable knots. If you are even remotely successful, at least a couple of fish will take you well into backing. The reel’s drag should be checked and serviced, if necessary. With any luck, you will be adjusting it as you hone your fish-fighting skills and dial in the right amount of drag for your outfit. The ultimate drag setting is usually much heavier than when you set at the beginning of the day.
The Montauk fall run is one of those fisheries where snotty weather is a good thing. A rainy morning with a brisk northwest or northeast wind has a way of thinning the fleet while putting fish in a real feeding mood. This is far from ideal fly-casting weather, but when the fish are boiling 20 feet from the boat, even a horrible cast will get the job done. I’ve had guests on my boat comment that there were moments when they thought they were going to die, but the fishing was so good they quickly got over it.
Such is the fall run in Montauk.