Lou and Lenny discuss why Montauk is Mecca, the best beaches and the Mad-Max monster truck of surfcastingLou DeRicco and I met standing next to the maypole at a summer solstice celebration in 1966. We were wearing the same bow tie. We were both in Mrs. Costello’s kindergarten class, but I attended the morning session, and Lou the afternoon, so we didn’t know each other before that. But the classes were merged that day to perform a dance together, and we met. We then became lifelong friends.
Lou and I attended grade school, high school and college together, most often in the exact same classes. We raced Pinewood Derby cars together and later went to our first prom together. No, not as each other’s dates. We saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and Saturday Night Fever together. We learned to drive together. We took our first airplane flight together. The list goes on and on.
Lou and I overcame a lot of obstacles to our friendship along the way. He was a Stones guy. I was a Beatles guy. We both let that slide. He was a numbers guy majoring in business. I was a words guy majoring in English. Neither of us cared. Lou dug Bruce Lee. I dug Stan Lee. Okay, not exactly oil and water there, just different. But overall, we’ve always been a lot alike. Maybe that’s why we’ve never had a fight in over 50 years.
Lou dug Bruce Lee. I dug Stan Lee.
Lou became an outdoorsman around the same time I became an indoorsman. As in indoors at a bar or café, writing on a notepad (more recently an iPad). While I was there, Lou was out at sea, beside a stream or in the surf up to his knees. I guess between us we have the two sides of Ernest Hemingway covered. Oddly enough, each of those sides led us to Montauk.
I wanted to know a lot more about Lou’s passion for surf fishing. You can’t sit down for a meal with this guy without him talking about it, and his bubbly enthusiasm for it getting you charged-up and curious. So I convinced Whalebone to let me explore this with Lou and share it all with you.
Lenny: First off, tell everyone what surf fishing is.
Lou: Surf fishing is usually called surfcasting. It means fishing from the shore, i.e., from terra-firma and not from a boat. It’s basically fishing from a beach, a rock jetty … even a pier. It’s done in saltwater, not freshwater, so the term isn’t used to describe fishing at a lake, pond or a stream: that’s just fishing, not surf fishing.
Surfcasters stand in the saltwater of a bay or an ocean, or in places like the ring of boulders that surround the base of the Montauk Lighthouse. Some even swim through deep waters to climb onto rocks hundreds of feet from shore. That’s pretty commonplace in Montauk.
Lenny: How did you get into it, and why do you love it so much?
Lou: The “how did I get into it” part is pretty easy. The “why do I love it so much” is more … complicated.
When we were 14, my Dad and Uncle took my cousin Frankie and me out to Montauk for the very first time. It was a great father and son weekend, and I did some surfcasting … for the first time. We fished off the beach at Shagwong Point and from the east jetty at Montauk Inlet. It was really beautiful in both spots. And I got excited by the idea that you could toss a small lure into the expanse of the ocean and catch a fish! Just you and nature, mano a mano. No boat, no mate. It was so hard, but when you hooked a fish, what a reward! That dynamic, the challenge and the reward, is why I still love it so much.
Lenny: You love it because it’s hard?
Lou: Yes! Surfcasting can be very difficult. You need patience and persistence. You have many more unsuccessful days than you have successful ones. But when you succeed and you land a nice fish, man, it’s a real “high.” The thrill of a successful day surfcasting is better than anything I’ve experienced in any other sport.
But what I really love is this. When you’re surfcasting, you’re thinking about NOTHING ELSE—only what you are doing. I’m tellin’ you, work problems disappear, health problems disappear, money problems disappear, home problems disappear. All you’re thinking about is surfcasting. You’re not even daydreaming.
Lenny: Why do you come to Montauk to surfcast?
Lou: Well, Montauk IS where I started, but more importantly, Montauk is considered the “Surfcasting Capital of the World.” In fact, those words are printed on one of the Montauk Point State Park welcoming signs. Montauk is Mecca to surfcasters. It is on the bucket list of every serious surfcaster in the country, and, luckily for us, it’s in our backyard. Montauk is only a two-hour ride away for me. That two-hour ride brings me to an absolutely ideal surf fishing destination. It has tremendous current flow on all sides, plus the geography and geology are perfectly aligned to support the migration of many species of bait and predator fish. That makes it the perfect place to fish for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish — the real prizes in the northeast.
Montauk is Mecca to surfcasters. It is on the bucket list of every serious surfcaster in the country.
Lenny: So which beaches in Montauk are good for surf fishing? Do you have a favorite?
Lou: All the beaches in Montauk are good. But there are some that are better than others. Some produce fish much more consistently. Some are more easily accessible. Some simply more convenient.
For many tourists and newcomers to Montauk, Turtle Cove is the place to go. That’s the cove to the direct south and west of the Montauk Lighthouse, and it’s just a short walk from the Lighthouse parking lots. It’s good fishing and it’s a fairly easy and safe place to surfcast. But, unfortunately, it gets very crowded during the height of the fall run, during September and October.
Just to the north and east of Turtle Cove is a spot that some consider one of the five best surfcasting spots on the entire East Coast. This spot is called “Under the Light.” Although it’s close to the easily accessible and safe Turtle Cove, it is a spot that cannot be called either. It’s a difficult place to get to, and it can be a very dangerous place to fish. When you’re fishing under the light, you’re standing on slippery rocks, exposed to the open ocean, at the easternmost point on Long Island. It’s not a place for the fainthearted or the inexperienced.
It’s a difficult place to get to, and it can be a very dangerous place to fish.
Going west from “Under the Light” on the north side of the island, there are a host of excellent surfcasting spots. There’s Scott’s Hole, The Bluffs, Jones’ Reef, Evan’s Rock, False Bar and North Bar. They’re all part of what we surfcasters call “The North Side,” and they’re fine places to fish.
Back on the south side, there are a bunch of good spots, spots that can be really excellent. Several are within the boundaries of Camp Hero, and go by the names Brown’s, King’s, Driftwood Cove and Caswell’s. But these are all difficult spots to fish. They’re for the more experienced of us.
Going farther west, as far as Ditch Plains, there are some rocky beaches that are much less accessible, require a long walk over very inhospitable terrain, and are as open to the elements as it gets. And, as you might expect, these difficult to reach spots yield the most consistent catch. Places like Warhol’s, Cavet’s Cove, Coconuts, Frisbees and Church’s. They are rarely visited by less experienced surfcasters, and that’s best for everyone for obvious reasons.
Finally, let’s get to some of the sandy beaches. These are the places accessible by a four-wheel drive with the required state or local permit. On the northern side of Montauk are great beaches like Shagwong Point, Gin Beach and Napeague. On the southern side are the Town Beaches, Hither Hills and the East Hampton Beaches. These are all reasonably comfortable to fish, and you get a good catch at each of them.
I don’t know that I have a favorite spot. But if you asked me what I enjoy most, I would say it is driving on the open sand beaches during the height of what we call the “fall run.” This is a time when we chase schools of striped bass and bluefish down the beaches as they follow and feed on the schools of baitfish along the shoreline. It’s some of the most exciting fishing anyone can experience.
Lenny: So is that what you fish for in Montauk?
Lou: We’re fishing for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. But much less weakfish nowadays, because their population has declined to the point that there’s just no realistic expectation of catching one. Striped bass and bluefish are the backbones of the sport in Montauk.
Lenny: How do you catch them? As in what do you do with the line and pole? Hard work?
Lou: Most of the surfcasters in Montauk use 10- to 11-foot fishing rods and artificial lures. We use a technique called “cast and retrieve.” You throw some kind of bait imitator into the ocean and reel it back to shore. That bait imitator could be metal, it could be wood, it could even be plastic. You pull it through the water in hope that a predator fish will see it, bite it and become attached to its hooks. You really hope you can bring it to shore. This can be hard work, but I’m telling you — it’s really FUN.
Oh … some surfcasters do use live eels as bait. But not that many.
Lenny: What time of year does a guy surf fish in Montauk? Why?
Lou: Surf fishing in Montauk typically begins in May and can go all the way through December. May and June can be excellent, but the HEART of the season has always been the fall … the FALL RUN! The run generally starts in early September and continues through late November, and sometimes even into December. It is a time when surfcasters from all over the country make their way to Montauk and experience some of the most magnificent fishing of their lives.
Lenny: What’s the best time of day for a guy to surf fish?
Lou: Anytime! But the really hardcore surfcasters fish the night tides. That’s when the bigger striped bass get caught. Funny thing is, those same night tides are less important when fishing for bluefish. And although the night may offer better fishing, I think that for most people, daylight is more fun. The visual spectacle of the sport is best during the day. You’ve just gotta see the daylight feeding frenzies called “blitzes.” A blitz occurs when schools of predator fish, like striped bass, bluefish and/or weakfish, trap schools of baitfish, like bunker, anchovies or mullet, against the shoreline or push them up to the surface of the water. The baitfish go crazy. There can be fish splashing, birds diving and baitfish leaping from the water, or even beaching themselves to avoid being eaten. It is insanity, chaos and mayhem, all at once—like something out of the documentary Blue Planet. Definitely something that every surfcaster needs to experience. Even something that non-surfcasters need to see.
And yes, of course you get soaked.
Lenny: Is it cold? Don’t you get soaked?
Lou: Is it cold? Are you kidding me?
In the early spring and late fall it is damned cold! I’ve even fished when it’s below freezing. And yes, of course you get soaked. First of all, if you fish wearing a wetsuit, you’ll always be soaked. And if you wear waders and fish in the rain or get knocked down in the waves, you will get soaked … especially in Montauk. Maybe it’s our own fault. When a bad nor’easter, or even a hurricane comes close to Montauk, we all head out there. During those times, the local officials always get stressed about the influx of surfcasters.
Maybe we’re just crazy. One year, one of my friends and I left Montauk and drove all the way up to Cape Cod because a hurricane was expected to hit the Cape with more force that it was supposed to hit Montauk. But the weatherman was wrong. The storm didn’t hit the Cape with any more force than it hit Montauk. It was “a bust” at both places. We drove up and back in the same day … all for nothing!
Lenny: What gear does someone need to surf fish? What do you use? What do you wear? What is essential?
Lou: Montauk surfcasting is done wearing either a wetsuit or a set of waders and a pullover jacket. Most casters carry a lure bag and wear a belt with a pair of pliers, which is used for removing hooks from a fish … or anyplace else.
In the rocky parts of Montauk, we all wear Korkers, which are spiked shoes that help provide stability on the slippery rocks. Some guys wear protective gloves. At night, most carry at least one battery-powered light … and some carry a second as a backup. After that, there are a host of other items that guys have. A hat, a knife, a camera, glasses, bug spray, even a pork-rind holder. The coolest thing that I carry is night vision goggles. I can’t tell you how many times those goggles have put us on to fish—whether it was seeing fish splashing on the surface in the dark or seeing where fishermen were releasing fish without using their lights, to avoid detection—those goggles showed us fish we might never have known about.
One night we got into a four-hour blitz because we saw a guy trying to throw a 25-pound striped bass under his truck without anyone seeing him. Little did he know that because we saw what he did, we were able to pull up next to him and stay there for hours catching fish after fish. It turned out to be one of the best nights of fishing I ever had. Without the glasses, we would have driven right by him!
Lenny: Is there a surf fishing community in Montauk?
Lou: There’s definitely a surf fishing community in Montauk. There are several men, and a few women, who are very avid surfcasters and spend countless hours fishing the shoreline of Montauk. Many are strong advocates of local beach access and conservation. Over the years, they’ve worked with the NYS Department of Parks and the Suffolk County Department of Parks doing things like beach clean-ups and grass plantings to support the sport and the community in general. They have a relationship with the Montauk Chamber of Commerce and countless local businesses.
One great organization is the Montauk Surfcasters Association (MSA). At one time or another, every Montauk surfcaster worth their salt has been a member of MSA. If anyone has interest in joining the Montauk Surfcasters Association, you can find them online at surfcasters.org.
Just you and nature, mano a mano. No boat, no mate.
Who are the all-stars of surf fishing? Any Montauk locals? You once had a nickname, “Best surfcaster you never heard of.” WTF? After all, you are in that TV commercial by the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.
Lou: I suppose you could say there are some all-stars in surf fishing. Some are from years past, and some from more current times. I’ve always looked up to the guys from the earlier days of the sport in Montauk. Guys like Joe Bragan, Jack Yee, Willie Young, Jack Frech, Charlie Ruger and Don Musso … a host of others. These are guys who fished before the days of cell phones, the internet, GPS and YouTube videos. These are names that most Whalebone readers have never heard, but they are names that are respected and even revered in our sport.
You can’t mention my name with these legends. I’m simply a guy who loves the sport and spends time surfcasting in Montauk. And as far as the nickname you mentioned, that was given to me by Mr. Zeno Hromin in an article he wrote several years ago. Zeno is one of the publishers of Surfcaster’s Journal Magazine, and a respected surfcaster in his own right. And I think The Montauk Chamber of Commerce put me in that commercial only because I happened to be there the day they came to the beach with cameras.
Any surf fishing media? Ever make the mags?
Lou: There’s a lot of surfcasting-related media, both traditional and digital. There are magazines like The Fisherman Magazine and On The Water Magazine. And there are online publications like the previously mentioned Surfcasters Journal. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get on the cover of some of these magazines, and I’ve even been interviewed a few times about surf fishing in Montauk, Jamaica Bay and elsewhere. It’s flattering, but it’s led to some serious abuse from my closest friends … like you.
Let’s get into your truck. What exactly is it? What’s in it?
Lou: My truck … well, my truck is kind of different—different from everything else that is out there. It’s a 1975 diesel-powered Mercedes Benz Unimog, a four-wheel-drive, military surplus vehicle that was originally a Danish troop carrier. I converted it to a beach buggy. But for surf fishing only. It has 42-inch-high tires and ground clearance of 19 inches. It has two 15,000-pound winches, one in front and one in the rear. It has an onboard air compressor, three air tanks, a stainless-steel fresh water tank, two bunks and a chassis-mounted BBQ. It has a front-mounted cooler rack and interior- and exterior-mounted rod holders that can hold up to 10 or so fishing rods. It has three 6-foot-long full extension draws that can carry more fishing gear than the average person can use in a lifetime. It’s simply one of the most functional fishing and off-road vehicles ever made, and there are very few places that it can’t be driven.
But I wouldn’t call it very comfortable. It does have heat, but no air conditioning. It’s got an iPod-compatible radio for listening to music, but the ride … not so smooth. Of course, it’s got marine VHF radio, so I can stay in contact with my boating friends who often alert me to shoreline fish activity they see.
You have to come for a ride with me. Right on the beach, half in the wash, half on the sand, driving into the rising sun, windows open, wind blowin’. We can listen to “We Are The Champions” like in the old days drivin’ to high school. Just not so loud.
Last question: Rumor has it that you are Louie Cock of Disco Vs. Rock fame. Are you?