THE GOLDEN AGE OF MONTAUK SPORTFISHING

From the Introduction:

In June 1994, a group of six veteran Montauk captains, all longtime friends, gathered around a table at the Tipperary Inn near the center of Montauk Harbor. Their faces were all permanently tanned, rutted, and scorched, evidence of lives lived on the ocean. For hours they laughed, told fish stories, remembered some of their best days fishing, and shared a few solemn moments. As witnesses to both the good and bad, they did not hesitate to criticize actions they thought had hurt the fishing in Montauk. All had been on the water the day the Pelican capsized, drowning forty-five souls, and each had played a major role as Montauk was transformed from an obscure commercial fishing port into a world-renowned sportfishing destination.

My friend Joe Gaviola and I had, from time to time, enjoyed hearing each of these men tell some of their stories, but we realized it might be even more fun if we could get them to sit down face to face to see what developed. We were not disappointed.

Around the table at the Tipperary that day were Ralph Pitts, Frank Tuma, Bob Tuma, Carl Darenberg, George Potts, and Harry Clemenz. Later that year I recorded Gus Pitts at his home on Shepherd’s Neck, and finally, Joe and I recorded Paul Forsberg in December, 2019 in an apartment above the Montauk Lighthouse Museum.

While this book focuses on the times these men recalled from their fishing days, each of them, and their wives, contributed in many important ways as members of the Montauk community.

No doubt there are many captains still working today who could add their own memories to what follows. Montauk’s fishing history deserves a more comprehensive look that includes not only an updated review of Montauk sportfishing but also the story of Montauk surfcasting, local bay-men, and the all-important commercial fishing industry. A much bigger book for sure. 

Nevertheless, that morning in June '94 the intention was simply to capture, in their own words, what these legendary captains had to say. Only when a ninety-one-page transcript of the tapes turned up twenty-five years later did Joe and I realize what a treasure we had recorded with this collection of first hand testimonies. 

The careers of these eight captains spanned the decades of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s when white marlin were plentiful, swordfish were caught only a few miles from the beach, giant bluefin tuna migrated through Block Island Sound every September, and sharks were so common that few boats even considered fishing for them. It was also an age when the notion of an angler profiting from a catch was never a consideration. It was an age of fishing only for sport, Montauk’s golden age of sportfishing. 

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