Even though the beaches are cold and empty, the fishing is heating up in Montauk. People have been flocking to "The End" of Long Island for the 2013 cod season, which has been particularly strong and is heading into its prime time.
"The cod fishing has been much better this year because it's colder. Last year it dropped off because of the warm weather," says Carl Darenberg, owner of the Montauk Marine Basin. "We've had a ton of fish in January, but our major run is in February and March. The best is yet to come."
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Cod are abundant in Long Island waters because they are moving down from up north. "The codfish come this way to spawn," says Capt. Mark Marose, who's run a 40-foot charter boat, Capt. Mark, out of Montauk for the past 12 years. "Plus there's a lot of herring around, which draws them." Charter boats take passengers about 25 miles from the shores of Montauk, southeast of Block Island, R.I., where they anchor in 125- to 150-foot-deep water. Codfish have a tendency to dwell around shipwrecks and rocky bottom.
Most captains head out before dawn. "It's important to get on your spot early in order to get first crack," Darenberg says.
Skimmer clams and high-low rigs with diamond jigs are used to catch cod, which are known to put up a good fight.
"You work for your codfish, but it's an exciting catch," says Joel Lucks, 62, of Kings Park, a lifelong fisherman and an outdoor photographer-journalist who went out with Marose. "You can feel the weight and the anticipation of a big fish coming up from 125 feet."
The pacing of cod fishing can vary by the time and the tide. But, they typically bite all throughout the course of a 10- to 12-hour day trip.
"There are times when you are waiting for a bite and other times the fishing is just lock and load where you have everybody catching fish at once," says Capt. Jamie Quaresimo, who for the past five years has run the Miss Montauk, a 65-foot charter boat.
In addition to cod, you may pull up some ling, pollock or an occasional black sea bass.
Cod fishing doesn't come without sacrifice, as it's an extremely cold-weather sport. Being on the water can lower the air temperature by 10 degrees.
"It's for the hardiest people," says Lucks. "You need to be prepared for the worst by being protected. In addition to a knit hat and gloves, you need layers of warm clothing, preferably rain gear that overlaps your waist. And fishing boots are a must. Once your feet get cold or wet, you can be miserable for hours."
Weather plays a big role in the cod-fishing experience, too. The winds are closely measured to determine the size of the waves. Trips are canceled if the waves are 4 to 6 feet high.
"It all varies day-to-day," says Quaresimo, who suggests making reservations. "Basically we go out anytime Mother Nature lets us."
You don't have to be a professional seaman to fish for cod. The captains and their mates on charters provide all the equipment and tips on how to reel them in.
"Many people come out this time of year to go fishing that have never been," says Quaresimo. "We get a lot of newcomers because cod is such a well-known fish."
Recently, fishermen have been pulling up five to 12 cod apiece, ranging from 6 to 25 pounds. Mates on the charter boat will clean and slice up your cod into fillets or steaks, then bag them for you. (Keep in mind that they work for tips.)
"Cod is one of the best eating fish in our waters," says Lucks, who prefers his broiled with fresh garlic, crushed tomatoes and butter. "It's a white, flaky fish that is very delicious."
COD-FISHING BOATS IN MONTAUK
CAPTAIN Capt. Jamie Quaresimo
INFO missmontauk.com, 631-668-1545
COST $110 per adult, $70 per child, holds 25-35 people
CAPTAIN Captain Mark Marose
INFO captmark.net, 631-668-6773, 516-885-1932
COST $1,300 per trip for six fishermen (can be divided)