Visitors to Montauk call it “The End” because the village is the last stop when heading east on New York’s Long Island. Some of the natives call it the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” But, Montauk is more than just fishing or falling off the edge. The surfing off Ditch Plains Beach is world-class, and the sand is wide, white and clean. Deep Hollow Ranch, which offers beach and trail rides on horses, calls itself the oldest working ranch in the United States. Montauk
Lighthouse, which was built in 1796, is a National Historic Landmark. Montauk Downs, a Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course, is open to the public. Good
restaurants and nightlife are nearby, too. And, it’s an ideal place to visit by boat.
Like all the South Fork of Long Island, Montauk is a crowded vacation hangout in the summer. The beauty of visiting Montauk by boat is that life around the harbor
bypasses the crowded hotels, restaurants and shops. Transient slips are, in
general, reasonably priced; there are casual restaurants on the docks or within walking distance; the craziness of the village is more than a mile away; and the market at Gosman’s Dock is great for provisioning. Gosman’s is also Montauk’s go-to place for seafood and drinks dockside while watching the fishing boats come in.
Montauk Harbor is at the north end of Lake Montauk, which, until 1926, when the channel from Block Island Sound was dredged, was the largest freshwater lake in New York State. Today, the inlet is safe and easy to transit in almost all weather, making it one of the best on the East Coast. In 2015, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey measured at least 10 feet of water in the channel at mean low water—about as low as it gets. Range of tide averages a little over 2 feet. Most of the marinas and the commercial fishing docks are on the western side of the harbor near the inlet, or on nearby Star Island. Montauk Marine Basin is a marina and boatyard with transient slips for boats up to 50 feet in length. Uihlein’s Marina, next door, has transient slips to 35 feet. There’s also Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina, with transient berths for yachts up to 200 feet in length, and a newly renovated hotel. The Star Island Yacht Club & Marina has transient dockage to 165 feet, and what it calls “the largest ship’s store and tackle shop on Long Island.”
A good place to anchor out is south of Star Island. “There’s 6 feet of water at low tide in the anchorage area,” says Harbormaster Ed Michels, “but watch the channel on the way in if you draw anywhere near that. You might want to come in near high tide.” There’s no time limit on anchoring, as long as someone’s on board; unattended boats are limited to 12 hours. And don’t pick up a mooring; they’re all private. Anchor as close to South Lake Beach as possible, Michels says.
Visiting Montauk without wetting a hook is like leaving Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. “There’s now great striper fishing all summer,” says Capt. Rick Etzel, who’s been running charter boats in Montauk for 42 years and skippers the 43-foot Torres Breakaway. Other than stripers and the always pugnacious bluefish, Etzel says he catches fluke, black sea bass and lots of porgies. “Most of the action is inshore,” he says, adding that “offshore species that used to be 10 or 20 miles out have moved farther offshore. Last summer, some boats caught bigeye tuna, but 80 miles out.”
Even if you have your own boat, chartering a boat in Montauk can be worth the money. Etzel charges $700 for a half day of inshore fishing (that’s five hours for as many as six anglers), plus a tip for the mate. The charter fee includes everything but food and drink: fishing gear, electronics, licenses, bait and so forth. The mate will clean and pack the fish. And Etzel, like most Montauk captains, has a head full of local knowledge.
Party boats charge much less; you just walk on and go. Most will rent fishing gear, too. The Viking fleet has fast party boats with captains who have years of fishing under their sea boots. Or, take another tack with a light-tackle guide and catch a striper or bluefish on a spinning or fly rod. No matter your piscatorial preference, chances are good you can satisfy it in Montauk. That’s why it’s nicknamed the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.”
Montauk Travel Guide
Fishing is a big draw in Montauk, where charter boats and party boats head offshore for stripers, bluefish, fluke and black sea bass. This summer consider trying something new: hire a light-tackle guide to show you how to catch a striper on a spinning or fly rod.
For provisioning, try the market at Gosman’s Dock. The company runs a wholesale seafood business, too, so commercial boats often take up much of the dock space, but there’s usually a spot to tie up your dinghy.
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue.