Fishing the Flat Rock, Montauk

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Montauk Point Lighthouse, mid-late 1960s. We used to park under the light right in front of Scott’s Hole. There was a path we could walk to get out to the flat rock. 

Most people don’t know this, but there’s a big rock right off the front of the Montauk Point Lighthouse at about 200 feet that’s flat and has room for two people to fish. Back in the late to mid 1960’s, when the lighthouse was in its original form, before they added the erosion control measures, you could walk around the whole light. At a good low tide, there’d be 15-20 feet of sand that you could walk out on and get out closer to that rock.

Well, it was accessible only at the very end of the outgoing and the beginning of the incoming and you had to be absolutely careful of the time of the tide. If you weren’t, it was very easy to get knocked off and swept away. You basically had one to one and a half hours of fishing before you had to leave. It was crazy, but it gave you an extra 200 ft to get into the rip and so it was pretty good even in the daytime. If you did get a bunch, it was really difficult to get back to the beach when the tide started to run because even though the tide was coming in, if you waited too long, you really couldn’t get to the beach because it would pull you out. It was a long pull to get back if you had fish on a stringer. We fished that rock only in the day because it was actually pretty scary.

In that time, there were only a few guys who fished there. One of them was Whitey Polaski. And Greg Osenick was one of the guys that fished that rock too. Sometimes Marvin Wollman would come out with me. Marvin was a lightweight guy and would get knocked off pretty easily and I would pull him back up. We’d keep on fishing and he’d keep on getting knocked off. It would happen a few times and then after a while we’d both leave the rock because it was just too much with the waves getting too big. Most of the guys would stay away from Marvin because he was clumsy and terrible at fishing, but Greg and I would fish with him because he loved fishing Montauk and he was quite the character. After he retired, he drowned in 1991 or 1992 while fishing around False Bar using waders. Jack Yee found him right at the surf. He was my fishing buddy and our family friend and I still miss him after all these years.

We all mostly used waders and the risk factor was pretty high. Using them to get to the rock was borderline crazy. This was in the time before wetsuits. Fishing was harder and you couldn’t cast as far and you only had 20 lb. pink Ande. It was also before the era of bucktails, so 90% of the daytime fishing was done with poppers or tin. We used Luxor Reels and Lamiglas 1165 Supercutters (Honeysticks). We didn’t have any kind of studded boots or shoes or Korkers. All we did was buy felt and glue it onto the soles of our waders. That’s it, no studs. Things were slippery all the time, but we did good. Slipping wasn’t a big issue when when we were 25-30 years old, we just kept on getting back up.

That rock is barely visible today even at at low tide, so very few people even know the it’s there. With the changes to the lighthouse and how mother nature has changed the ocean floor, there’s more water in front of the light than there used to be so you can’t even get there anymore. It was pretty crazy and scary, and we took all kinds of risks and had makeshift equipment, but man, did we catch some fish!

 

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Marvin Wollman, 1969. He drowned while fishing near False Bar in 1991. He was my fishing buddy and our family friend. We still miss him to this day.

 

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Next stop, England 1963

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Bruce Fradl, 15 yrs, with his mom Nancy and their 1963 Volkswagen bus at Jones Reef in the fog with the 24 lb. and 26 lb. bass he caught.

In the summer of 1963, I was 22 years old and it was my first summer fishing Montauk. Not knowing anybody, I just happened to go down to somewhere around Evan’s Rock and just walked in the water. There were eight or ten guys in a picket line fishing and I got on the end, the down tide side of the picket line, on the outgoing tide. We were catching pretty large bluefish, anywhere from 12 to 15 lbs., and I had a few fish on my stringer. In those days I used a chain stringer and an army pistol belt. I was on the right side, facing the water and there about 8 to 10 people up tide of me. As I’m fishing, I keep hearing a voice coming from the left side of me asking for help.  It turns out to be a young kid, about 13 years old, he had a fish on and it was literally pulling him out.  No one was helping him, so when he got to me, I was the last guy on the line and the next stop was England!

So as he got to me, I grabbed ahold of him and helped him out.  He was still fighting the fish and I just held onto him. When he got the fish in, we were sorta tangled up with stringers and rods and reels and a big wave came – one of the larger rollers – and it dumped us a little bit. The fish, which was still on his yellow darter, landed on my leg. It put a hook through my waders and bit a hole in my waders at the same time.  I filled up with water and that 15 lb. fish almost ended up drowning the both of us. I dragged Bruce, his stringer with a few fish, my stringer with a few fish and his rods and reels and plug bags and we managed to get back to the beach.  He told me his name was Bruce Fradl and he was 13 years old.

His parents, Gary and Nancy, were there with their old Volkswagen bus.  They thanked me and his father patched up my waders, gave me a cup of coffee and back in the water we went.  This was 50 years ago.  Bruce was 13 and I was 22, and even though he was younger than me, we became good friends.  We all fished together and as his dad got older, Bruce and I would go out.  I ended up being very good friends with his father Gary, who was an excellent fisherman and a real gentleman.  His mom, Nancy, would walk the beach collecting plugs after a storm. We’d fish together, eat together and had lots of laughs. I became part of their extended fishing family and Bruce and I are still great friends.

Bruce has been fishing his whole life.   He’s an excellent hunter, a fabulous fisherman and an great friend.  He also makes the best bucktails on the planet.    They’re designed to fish Montauk because they have a lot of hair and you can find them at his site, Montauk Saltwater Tackle.  This fall, we’re hoping to have a reunion with some real old time Montauk regulars.  We’ll fish, and laugh and have a big ol’ Montauk breakfast.  Just like the old days.

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Chief Rockhopper, Barry & Bruce Fradl. Together, they’ve caught (and eaten) countless fish.

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Sleeping in the Dunes, 1963

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My 1949 Willys in the parking lot under the lighthouse. Montauk, 1964

I got out of the army in December of 1962 and the following Spring I started fishing Montauk. It was the spring of 1963 and not knowing anyone and not really knowing how to fish for striped bass, I would just fish all night. In the daytime and in between tides I would sleep in the dunes, mostly at North Bar.

One night in June I was sleeping in the dunes with my waders on and my boots were visible from the beach buggy track. I felt tugging on my boot and sat up to see what was going on. Low and behold, there was this nice little lady tugging on my foot because she thought she had found a dead body. I woke up, looked at her, and she said, “Young man, I thought you were dead. Would you like a hot chocolate?” Which I gratefully accepted. Her name was Gladys Hammerschlag and she was the nicest lady. The next morning I saw Gladys, her husband, Herb and brother-in-law, Ed, in the parking lot under the lighthouse. At the time they were already in their late 60’s and had been fishing Montauk since the late 1940’s. Their beach buggy was a 1949 Willys 2 wheel drive station wagon with a flathead 6.

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Inside my 1949 Willys.

Back then, no one shared information, everything was very secretive. But they were kind and gave me some information on where to go, what to do and we became friends. The next year they decided not to fish anymore and asked me if I would like to buy the Willys. I said I would love to but I didn’t have any money. Being the wonderful people there were, they said I could pay it out at $25.00 a month. The total cost was $250 and I paid them every month. In those days there weren’t many tire options available, so the guys would cut the rims apart and add pipe in between to make the rim wider. Then they put the tires back on and there would be a bigger footprint on the sand. I drove it all over the beach including Shagwong in 2 wheel drive. It was great, it had a sink, a bed and some cabinets. I loved that Willys and after I got married, my wife Rheba and I continued to enjoyed it. Off the beach it couldn’t drive very far, so I kept it at the Mobil station which was next to Martells and used it for the next three years until it died. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

Rheba in the '49 Willys. The Coconuts, Montauk, 1964

Rheba in the ’49 Willys. The Coconuts, Montauk, 1964

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Barry with the ’49 Willys. The Coconuts, Montauk, 1964

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Striped Bass on the dock at Montauk, 1972

On the dock in Montauk

On the dock in Montauk, 1972

September 20, 1972
Striper approx. 35 pounds

This picture was taken on Wednesday right before I finally got some sleep after fishing since Monday night. We went to Duryeas Dock to clean this fish to take home. We caught 350 lbs that night. I was so tired, I could barely stand. I don’t know how I stayed awake like that. Usually we’d drive our van out to Montauk on Friday night. The tide would determine where we fished. We would fish through the night and if the kids would let me I’d sleep an hour or two during the day and then go back out Saturday night and do the same thing. So we would fish all night Friday and Saturday. Then we’d drive back to get home around 4 on Sunday. I’d go right to sleep and then be up at 5 am to go to work on Monday.  Man, that was some determination.

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1974, North Bar Striper

 

1974, North Bar Striped Bass

June 1974
Resting by Gossmans
Caught North Bar
30 – 32 lbs. something like that

I caught this one with an 8′ ugly stick made by old man Johnny Chronic with a Penn 710 with an 8 lb. andy line. It’s 2012 and I still have this rod.  To catch this fish, I swam with it. Started on North Bar and swam/floated in my waders along with it and ended up on False Bar. I caught another that night that was 28 lbs. Did the same thing, walked in the water down to False Bar. It took almost all night to catch those two fish. There was no one there but me and Gary Fradl and we had a good time.

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My first fish, 1963 Weak Fish


The first fish I ever caught casting. I had just gotten out of the army on December 20, 1962. I caught this weak fish on the east side of the east jetty at Shinnecock on the sand beach with a J8 Tin with a white bucktail. It was the first weak fish to be caught on Long Island in many, many years and I didn’t know what it was. It was my first fish caught in the surf and I brought the fish to Altenkirch’s tackle on Shinnecock canal to find out what I had caught. Old man Altenkirch saw the fish and started jumping up and down (literally!) and shouting “They’re back! They’re back!”

And I said, “what’s back? I don’t know what it is.”  So then he told me it was a weak fish. The weight of the fish qualified for 2nd place in field and stream magazine.  Altenkirch weighed the fish and entered it in field and stream fishing contest.  Some fisherman in FL caught one 6 oz. bigger and won a boston whaler and I got a little pin.  But I didn’t have it on ice overnight, so it could have lost some weight.  After I caught this fish they started showing up and people started catching them.

Here’s my mom, Anne, holding the weak fish.  She was always a good sport when I brought fish home!

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