ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Christmas features the "must do" saltwater fishing excursions along the coasts of the United States. Between now and year's end, we'll present a bucket list of fishing trips any angler would love to receive.
MONTAUK, N.Y. If you Google this town, a trendy Web site appears.
Montauk's town Web site highlights scrolling pictures of yuppie bliss, making you wonder when the ad for Grey Poupon will pop up.
Amidst the glitz and glamour, your food will be prepared by top chef's with the most excellent of presentations. You too can sip wine at one of the many wine tasting tours or play a round of golf. Let's cut the yuppie crud and call a spade a spade.
Montauk, on the tip of Long Island, means surf fishing, plain and simple. Locals will tell you it "is a quaint little drinking town with a major fishing problem!"
Montauk, or "M" as many call it, is a blue-collar fishing town with a side that the visitor's center doesn't want you to see. It's a darker side. A side every angler in America should experience.
One never truly knows what is happening with the fish because of insane water currents, tidal movements and movements of the fish themselves. All of this as anglers fight for the best rock. Then the big wind comes and changes the face of it all.
"M" is unlike any place in the northeast. The only areas remotely similar are Block Island, R.I., or Cuttyhunk, Mass., both off Montauk's eastern tip.
These places only resemble "M" and do not duplicate "M". You can fish a whole incoming tide on the south side and get back around to the north side and still fish 2-3 hours of incoming water. The slightest miscalculation can be the end of a good day with equipment failure or bodily injury.
This is a place where your lure swinging in the current varying by only a few degrees means the difference between hooking up and catching the skunk. "M" is a place where conditioning and stamina are a prerequisite for success. "M" is the place to hone your angling skills while testing your patience.
Montauk's resident surf guys are not your average Joe's. They are an eclectic group of personalities living a lifestyle. They sleep in their car. They each have their pet rock that has been good to them through the years.
This colorful crew invests in the best gear because they fish during the harshest elements . They give 150 percent concentration to the rocks, the waves and the fish. They fish in the dark. Some swim and fish at the same time.
But they do have one thing in common. The resident surf rats of Montauk go hard till it's time to go home.
Bill Wetzel, a well-known and highly respected surf fishing guide, basically asked if an interview was done so he could go fish.
"It's blowing super hard from the northeast right now and 9 foot waves are crashing on the rocks I want to fish," Wetzel said. "I am going to stand out there because conditions are right, right now and I ain't missing it."
That pretty much sums up the Montauk attitude and philosophy.
Surf anglers from all over the country appear at this most eastern point of New York from April through November. But it is the fall months that offer the best fishing, Wetzel said.
"The area offers so many opportunities for the most passionate guy to that newbie," he said. "You can fish blitzes, you can fish back bays or you can fish the end of the island or the rocks, as we call it."
Manufacturers in the fishing industry send their products here for testing. In fact, AquaSkinz, a leading manufacturer in surf and boat fishing dry tops and fishing accessories, was born on the rocks of Montauk.
"We developed the gear that we wished we had back in the day," said Kadir Akturk, President of AquaSkinz. "In developing and testing all of our dry tops, we came to Montauk. If you plan on fishing the lighthouse or the south side, you better have top shelf rugged gear. All of our dry tops were designed in this rugged environment during the cold, wet months of late fall."
As the fall progresses, Montauk comes alive when the hard wind blows. Heavy winds bring a growing bunch of extreme addicts out from the shadows. Like rats, these hard-core anglers pour onto the beaches and rocks in search of monster striped bass.
The more grueling and punishing the weather; the zanier the cast of characters appearing on the rocks.
"It's blowing right now, real hard from the northeast and most surf guys are sitting at home on their ass," Wetzel said. "But not me, I am going down to my rock."
Paul Melnyk hated getting beat up during his surf fishing excursions.
"While fishing, big waves crashing down on me made me feel like I was in a football game" Melnyk said. "I decided to put on flippers and a wet suit and fish while swimming."
Hardcore anglers have been wet suiting here since the 50s "M" is where this practice started. Now it is common and has become a fad. Melnyk calls the combination of fishing and swimming "skishing."
"Skishing is not too popular as only a dozen or so anglers actually do it, but this environment brings out a colorful crew and I am happy to be part of it," Melnyk said.
Then there is Paulie's Tackle. Paulie's is the local gathering place for anglers, a place the locals frequent and the newbies (a.k.a. Up-Islanders) will stop for information. A regular 'Cheers,' Paulie's always has a pot brewing as the locals and up-Islanders swap stories, coffee and cigarettes outside the shop.
And Paulie is usually holding court, sipping his fake beer and burning one in one of the multiple ashtrays strewn on the outside window frame. Just in case someone brings in a cow bass in the middle of the afternoon, there's an old school fish scale hanging in the background.
It's a unique place, and most, if not all leave with an indelible image burned into their brain about their time at Montauk, whether it was their first trip or their 100th this season. It never gets old.
This place is a hard-core fishery and environment. To best test your abilities, hiring a surf fishing guide is a must and every angler should put Montauk at the top of their bucket List.
"You can catch striped bass pretty much anywhere in the northeast," Wetzel said, "but the most passionate striped bass anglers come to this little town at the very end of Long Island in search of their personal best. Each character has a different personal best and it's not always fish."
To learn more about Montauk, contact at Paulie's Tackle at 631-668-5520. Bill Wetzel guides and can be reached at 631-987-6919 or Billwetzel50@aol.com.