“I was always fishing, and then I started to make [fishing] rods. Once I had a shot, I jumped on it,” says Apostolides.
Like most who have worked in the Montauk surf, Apostolides remembers the first time he saw an all-out bass blitz—when it seems there are more fish in the water than water itself. Anyone who has ever seen a 100-yard-wide body of fish rise to the surface does not forget it. Apostolides says it was November, right after a moratorium that prevented striped bass fishing from 1984 to 1990 had ended.
Montauk creates new fishermen. It can also crush old ones.
This year, the parade of people is steady, but not overwhelming. Word is out that the fish have not been on the beach the way they have been in past years. The Internet has taken over as the delivery vehicle of fishing news, and people follow reports posted by other fishermen. But that is a flawed approach to fishing. After all, fish swim. If one person posts that he or she was knee-deep in bass on a Wednesday, by the time the “submit” button is pressed, winds have changed and so has the fishing. Apostolides is not an Internet kind of guy.
“Guys come in and tell me their Internet names like I might know them,” he laughs. He grabs a small torch used for soldering and lights his cigarette in the doorway of the shop. “I give out good information. If people call and want to know what’s happening, I’ll tell them.”
But he doesn’t give up the secrets of the “sharpies,” a term used for that breed of fisherman who is seemingly capable of catching fish in a parking-lot puddle. Sharpies are fishing when no one else is, and usually catching, too.
“Those guys deserve their secrecy. I would never put more fishermen under their armpits and tell anybody about them catching fish,” says Apostolides.
Of course, that is assuming the sharpies even tell Paulie. Fishing from the surf is a sport that is cloaked in 007-type secrecy. If one man is walking the sand or climbing rocks at 3 a.m. and catching fish while the majority of fishermen are tucked in their beds or racing to the popular places in hopes that the fish will show, then he deserves to have his secrets. Those sharpies and veterans become known throughout the town. They become characters in the play.
Guys like Gary “The Toad.” Vito Orlando. Willy Young. Montauk legends.
And one by one, they pass by the tackle shop to see Paulie or Sue, the mother hen of the crowd. She works at the shop, and is deftly handling phone calls, checking in tackle shipments and answering questions. She seems to love the names and faces.
“They all come with the territory,” she laughs.
The World According To Yee
You can ask a dozen people what they think of Jack Yee, and they all have a slightly different answer. There may be better fishermen on the beach, and guys who are more universally loved. But it is impossible to deny that Yee has cemented his reputation as the mayor of the local beaches. At 72 years old, Yee says he has not wet a line in three years. He is not the picture of health, either, and it is not hard to see why. He spends most of his time in his truck, driving all over Montauk taking photos and gathering fishing reports for his website, jackyee.com. He smokes often and clearly drinks enough coffee for a small army brigade. He’s got a nasty cough.
Yee has been a Montauk fixture for 40-plus years. He started the Montauk Surfcasters Association in the ’70s, and also got what he calls “politically active.” No doubt others would call it something else. He has a box of dog treats on the floor of the backseat, and every time he happens upon someone with a dog, he says, “Hey, happy dog,” and produces a treat.
Yee also almost had the biggest catch on record from the Montauk surf. One morning, after spending time re-spooling and fixing his reel from a night of busy bass fishing, he hit the beach with his finely tuned Penn reel. He tied on a plug, let fly with a cast, and before it hit the water, a helicopter flew over the bluff and into the path of his lure. The tackle snagged the skid of the copter and pulled on the reel so hard the plastic drag screw on top melted, and the shaft bent. A lot of guys would perhaps laugh off such an incident, but not Yee.
He’s not that type of guy.
He charged to the parking lot on the bluffs and did all he could to find the helicopter. A cop talked him down, told him to go to town and chill out. If you tallied the amount of big bass Yee has caught, and then counted the number of times he has been asked to chill out, the numbers would probably be close to even.
Yee tells the story from a chair outside Paulie’s. He sits with Bob, or “The Hack,” as he introduced himself. The Hack is helping out around the shop, waiting for the fish. They talk about the morning’s bite. Earlier, The Hack spoke of a woman named Kathy who had beached a 33-pound striper while the dudes around her struggled.
As Yee begins to tell his stories, a boy of about 4 years old who is walking by with his parents comes over. He is carrying a small stuffed animal, a whale. His name is Willy, he tells Yee. Yee speaks to him; asks him if he is going to go fishing. No, the boy says, he has no time. He is going home the next day. But he is proud of his whale.
It seems everyone in Montauk has a fish story.
Minutes later, Yee is back in his truck and getting ready to do the rounds to gather info for his site. At the entrance of the beach next to Paulie’s, he stops to talk to Kathy Callen, the woman who had the big fish in the morning. She is a pretty blonde wearing a pink baseball cap, driving a 4×4 that has fishing rods on top. A Jack Russell terrier named Benny sits on her lap. They both greet Jack Yee happily.
“How did we meet, Kathy?” Yee asks, knowing the story.
Kathy tells of her first time surf fishing, being on a rock in the waves. She hooked a big bass. So big that it pulled her from the rock. Yee ran in and saved her—and the fish.