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Sixty-Something: My Greatest Montauk Fishing Story

T.J. Clemente

A picture of Thomas Clemente Sr. and Elizabeth Clemente. (Photo Courtesy of the Clemente family)

It was to fish with my dad and brothers that I first came out to the Hamptons thirty-seven years ago. I was surprised to hear from my Aunt Kate that my grandfather used to take the train out to Montauk in the 1920's to fish off Montauk. She said, "Grandpa would bring enough fish home for the whole neighborhood!"

However, it was those Montauk fishing trips that started at 4:30 a.m. from the Montauk Marine Basin that still seem like yesterday - yet were now over 30 years ago. My father kept his boat, a 43' Egg Harbor with twin Cummings Diesel engines, back at the NYAC Yacht Club in Pelham Manor, N.Y. It was about a mile from his home. The boat was named the "Lady Elizabeth," after my mom, and she did come on almost every family fishing trip to Montauk for 20 years. First with her children, then her grandchildren. Every August, he would rent the same slip at the Montauk Marine Basin, usually with a call to Carl Darenberg Sr. around early July. He used to save it for us.

The ride to Montauk across the Long Island Sound through the Plum Gut (Orient Point) and then over to Montauk was a ritual ride. One time we passed the liner Queen Elizabeth II as it was in Long Island Sound that day. Once in Montauk, we would load up on gas and then wait for the rest of the family to arrive. That would include brothers, their wives and kids, my wife and kids, and in the end, there might be from 8 to 15 having a dinner at Gosman's every night. Then it was off to bed for the early start. Those fishing the next day slept on the boat, the others in nearby motels.

We had many successful days catching tuna, but my favorite day was a day we actually caught zero fish, but had the most amazing day on the water of my whole life.

As I recall this trip only consisted of me, my wife at the time, my brother Elia, plus my mom and dad. It was a hot August day and there was practically no wind. The ocean was flat and had that oil slick dark look, as it does when it is that still.

We had our usual pre-5 a.m. start and were all on deck as we passed the Montauk Lighthouse on our way out to fish in the ocean. After a few unsuccessful hours, things began to happen. I recall the first amazing event was a giant bluefin tuna broke the surface and jumped perhaps 50 yards behind the boat. We couldn't believe its size, the speed it was moving and how close it was. That only made us more determined. So, we went in the direction it was travelling and started to trawl at a moderate speed. Next, we realized we were being trailed by packs of hammerhead sharks, four or five to a pack. It's never that fun to be that close to that many sharks and hammerheads are really ugly too.

However, soon in front of us seemed to be a lot of activity. It was a spool of bonito tuna in a frenzy taking up about the size of a football field. Then boom, a giant blue marlin jumped high into the air. It's coloring seemed a florescent blue, it glowed, you could see muscle flexing, and sadly back then, there were no phone cameras to photograph or record this. But, the best was yet to come.

Trawling through the frenzied tuna proved useless because they were freaking out being hunted by both the marlin and the hammerhead sharks. I once caught a bonito tuna off Sailfish Point in Stuart, Florida and when after reeling the smallish tuna to the back of the boat and lifting it into the boat, out of nowhere a shark jumped and bit the belly right off the tuna! We watched the tuna die of shock between the boat and the water still on my line!)

Now it was getting late in the day and it was time to head back to Montauk Harbor - still the best was yet to come. As I said before, the ocean was flat as there was "calm" wind - as they call zero wind in nautical circles. Soon, the ocean began to glow sort of golden. My brother Elia looked up at my dad and mom, up on the bridge of the boat, and said shines! Shines are the small fish huge whales love to feast on. Then we saw a whale break water, its spout shooting up the water. My dad slowed down the boat so my brother could get his expensive camera from down below to get a photograph, and by the time he returned my dad had put the motor in neutral and we were in the center of a pod of whales. Literally surrounded and not by a great distance, but less than ten to twenty yards in all directions. They were rolling over and getting a great look themselves. My brother took photos. There were at least eight or nine whales!

We were scared. We were thirty to forty miles from Montauk in the ocean and feared these huge creatures might flip the boat, they were under us, next to us, in front of us and behind us. Then they withdrew as suddenly as they appeared.

Back at the dock in Montauk, we tried to tell others about what had just happened, but really couldn't get it all out coherently. It was my best fishing day ever, even if we didn't catch any fish.

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