Montauk Life

Fishing

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE ........
THE FISHOOKER

 

June 15, 2001 - 4:00 AM

Captain Otto Haselman

Captain Otto Haselman

While the rest of Montauk sleeps, Capt. Otto Haselman rolls out of bed for another day on the water. 65 years old, ram rod straight, wiry, hawk nosed and bright of eye, Capt. Haselman is the full time charter boat captain of the Montauk based Fishooker. A fixture on the water, he's been recognized as one of the most dependable captains in the harbor.

Born in the Bronx, raise in Bayside, Capt. Otto first fished local waters in 1957. Then he was a typical pin hooker, recreational weekend angler, with a 15' run about and a 25 horsepower Evinrude. His full time ride was selling motorcycles, but it seems salt water rather than 10W-30 ran in his veins. Over the years he learned local waters. By 1984 he was ready to leave the motorcycle business and devote full time to charter boat fishing. He bought a 30' Sisu, and named it the Fishooker. Slowly but surely he built a reputation as one of the harbor's most dependable captains. Today he runs 130 charters a year, about the second Fishooker, a blue water 35' JC. A downeaster in style, with a high prow, rounded bow and flat rear, she's built for blue waters, as deep and far as her captain is willing to go to catch fish.

"I love the freedom of being on the water, and the people, too. When someone comes on my boat, they leave their troubles behind. All they want to do is catch fish, and I'm more than happy to oblige. Luckily for me, Montauk takes care of the fish!"

The Fishooker coming home

The Fishooker coming home

Today he's been chartered for the 15th annual Star Island Shark Tournament. One of our most popular tournaments, Capt Otto will be competing with over 200 other boats, for trophy fish. The stakes are high - over $50,000.00 in official prize money, plus the enviable title of top hook. Capt. Otto has been in his share of tournaments and done well. He's placed second three times, and today he's determined to get back in the winner's circle again.

By 5:00AM he's rolled onto the docks at West Lake Marina. His mate, Terry Cooper, is already there, prepping the boat for a full day on the water. Born and raised in Wisconsin, 37 year old Terry has been Otto's right hand man for 7 season. "I don't think there's a better mate in the harbor. He knows fishing, and he knows people." This early morning there's a lot to be done before the party can push off.

Terry's first job is to load the ice and bait they'll use today. Ice is a crucial part of equipment, They'll need 50 pounds to keep the bait cold, and ice down the catch. Terry fills two, bright red bushel baskets at the ice machine, shoveling in steaming shaved ice as the sun comes up. Waiting in line behind him, mates from other tournament boats wait, buckets in hand, kibitzing about the day to come. It's a friendly banter, amongst fishermen who know and respect one another. More than likely, win or lose, they'll all be back at the West Lake bar after the day, sharing a cold one and the inevitable fish that got away stories.

With ice on board, Terry's next job is to load up on bait. Sharking is bait intensive fishing, built around chumming. Central to success, is chum. That's any type of oily fish - mackerel or bunker generally - that can be dumped into the water to attract sharks. Sharks just love chum, and the oiler, smellier the better. Terry picks up 4, 5 gallon plastic tubs of frozen ground bunker chum. As for bait, Capt. Otto believes in carrying quantity and variety. Today he's taking a 10 pound frozen flat of bluefish, one of mackerel and a third of squid. To that he'll add a dozen fresh bluefish he'll catch on the way to the fishing grounds. Together, he's armed for almost anything.

The winning fish

The winning fish

He has to be - "Sharking is what we call, mystery fishing. You never know what kind of fish you might latch onto. One day it's blues, the next a big mako, maybe a thresher! You could hook a 100 pound pup, or a 1000 pound monster." Considering he's brought back a 650 pound tiger shark, you know he knows what he's talking about. To fight these monsters, Capt. Otto makes a through check of their gear. Like most he brings along over a dozen rod and reel combinations, from light weight gear for fluking and bass fishing, up to the big guns for off-shore. When it comes to sharking, you can never have too strong a rig. Capt. Otto uses big Penn 50 reels, with 80 pound test line. At $1,000.00 a rig, they're as serious as you can get.

As Terry loads the boat, Otto goes over the electronics and safety gear. Today's modern sport fishing boat has an array of electronic navigation and fish finding equipment NASA would be envious of. Central to that it a GPS - Ground Positioning System - navigation. Satellite based, this will pin point the location of a boat within 10 feet any where on the seas. More importantly, it will guide a boat to a pre-programmed location where fish may be. GPS location numbers are amongst a successful captain's most prized possession, and he guards them carefully. Capt Otto has his, and they should bring him to fishing grounds.

As Otto and Terry finish their prep, their sleepy eyed fishing party of 6 trundles down the dock. Loaded up with enough beer, soda, sandwiches and munchies to catch a shark, they step aboard the Fishooker. Like many it's a repeat party, one Otto's successfully fished with before. On their last trip out, they tagged and released a Fishooker record 48 sharks! Today their expectations are high - they're in a proven ship, headed into the East Coast's most productive waters to catch a prize winning shark!

Satisfied everything's in order, Otto cranks up the 420 horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine. The roar of the motor shakes the dock, as Otto throttles back it purrs like a well trained kitten. Terry throws off the stern and bow lines, as Otto eases away from the dock. With a gentle nudge of the throttle, the Fishooker edges out into Coons Foot Cove, headed for the open sea.

STAR ISLAND - 5:00 AM

Star Island Yacht Club is Montauk's premier sport fishing marina, and the perfect place to hold a world class shark fishing tournament. One of only a dozen Texaco Star Ports on the East Coast, she boasts 150 deep water slips, the biggest ship's store on the East End, complete repair facilities, diesel and gas, an on-site restaurant, and 10 acres of grounds. Each year it holds two tournament, today's 15th annual Shark Tournament, and the 10th annual Mako Mania tournament, on August 16 - 18. Since it's inception it's grown to be one of the largest on the East Coast.

Hoisting a 225Lb blue shark

Hoisting a 225Lb blue shark

Owner Sam Gershowitz has seen his tournament change over the years. "Our first one was a pretty rough affair!", he laughed. "Shark fishermen then were a pretty rough bunch, and the 70 or so boats we had in 1986 had more than their fair share. I remember coming down to the pool the morning after the first day, and there were 3 blue sharks at the bottom. We had drunk fishermen sleeping in the bathroom stalls and out on the parking lot."

Things have certainly changed since then. Today's tournament has 238 boats, some from as far away as Florida and Maine. In and amongst the traditional charter boats you'll find multi-million dollar Hatteras, Vikings, Oceans and Posts - the finest sport fishermen money can buy. Fortune 500 CEO's compete with everyday fishermen. Shark fishing has become a family friendly sport, and this tournament reflects that evolution.

Another thing that's changed dramatically, are the stakes. Make no mistake abut it, big time tournaments like these mean big bucks for the winning teams. The entry fee of $700.00 per boat entitles you to a crack at over $50,000.00 in official prize money. Of course, prize money and trophies are just the tip of the ice berg. Side bets amongst the boaters entered, known as Calcuttas, easily eclipse the official purse. This year there are 5 Calcutta pools, ranging from $200.00 to a whopping $5,000.00 per boat. Each boat can enter as many or few pools as they choose, with the prize money from each pool going to the winning boat from that pool. This year the total Calcutta to be won - a whopping $ 410,000!

Equal parts sporting event and carnival, a show like this is a arduous, labor intensive gig. To handle it, Star Island's staff grows from it's regular compliment of a dozen, to over 40. Heading up the operation is, Rich Janus, Star Island's General Manager. It's his job to make sure everything on and off the water runs smoothly. To say he takes his job seriously is a major understatement. During the 3 days he won't leave the property for a moment. He actually sleeps on the floor of the ship's store.

Rich's day begins at 4:00AM, overseeing the fueling and provisioning of the 110 tournament boats docked at Star Island. Each requires 50 pounds of ice, 5 cans of chum, and 20 pounds of frozen mackerel or bunker. Over the course of the morning, as much as 15,000 gallons of gas and diesel will be pumped. Dozens of dock boys scurry over the property, getting the fleet in order. At the breakwater, an observer is stationed, to be sure no boat leaves the harbor before the 6:00AM starting time. Funny, how some skippers just can't wait to get a head start!

After weeks of preparation the tournament has begun. On this first day's fishing, everything is going smoothly. The morning provisioning of boats has been done, and the fleet has steamed out of harbor. The weather is a bit iffy, with a fog bank crowding in from the north. But seas are calm, a gentle breeze from the south at 6 knots, and Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped enough water on Texas to float the state, has stayed a respectable distance to the south. With any luck, it won't make it's way into Montauk waters until Sunday, when the tournament is over.

Now. all Rich and the crew can do is wait for the first boats to return.

THE FISHOOKER - 9:00 AM

Lisa Nathanson examing a mako

Lisa Nathanson examing a mako

The Fishooker is almost in position, some 20 miles due south of Montauk Point. So far weather conditions have caused a slight shift in Capt. Otto's plans for the day. Normally, he'd troll fresh bluefish for bait on the way out, Today's he decided to pick his blues further out, away from the inshore fleet. "Keep an eye out, Terry!" he called from the flying bridge as they inched their way through Shagwong. With one eye on the radar and the other on the water, Otto picked his way through the inshore boats trolling Shagwong. Even with radar, maneuvering through a fleet of 50 other boats in a thick fog can be an unnerving experience for any captain.

Finally they've arrived at a likely spot. Keeping the customary 1 mile distance between boats, Otto cuts the motors and Terry begins rigging. Since they'll need fresh bluefish he puts out a light weight rod with a tin, and begins jigging. That's when the fun begins. Crash! Something, and it sure isn't a bluefish, has taken the tin and is on the run! The small Penn reel nearly explodes. One of the party grabs it and tries to calm her down. Before you know it. the spool is nearly empty and the fish is still running for home!

" Geez, it's gotta be a small blue shark" - Otto isn't particularly interested in playing with even a small shark on light weight tackle. Short of cutting him loose, precious fishing time is going to be lost fighting what is in all likelihood a throw back. "Wind her in, slowly, try to turn her", is Terry's advise. Funny thing, the party's having a ball! It might only be a baby blue, but he thinks he's Frank Mundus bringing home a great white!

After over an hour of back and forth, Terry picks up the leader at the boat. As he leans over the side, the head of a pup blue breaks the surface. With an easy pull, it's on the Fishooker's deck, thrashing around. "Little guy can't be more than 50 pounds", Otto sez. "What do you boys want to do with him?" Now, in olden days, that little blue might well have gone home to the dock with the charter. Times were, when the only good shark was a dead shark, and the more the merrier. Shark killing was the norm, and even the smallest specimen felt the gaff.

Today's shark fishermen are a more conservation minded lot. Sure, some fools still pull anything from the seas to impress their friends or appease their demons. Experienced sharkers leave the small ones alive to grown up and be trophy fish. In the case of a tournament, small fish only win the contempt of the crowd and your fellow anglers. Like most, Star Island sets minimums - 100 pounds for a mako, 175 for blues and 150 for all other species.

The baby blue is set free, and the Fishooker begins laying out a thick, oily chum slick, and waits.

STAR ISLAND - 4:00 PM

It's a picture perfect day for a tournament. The fog has burned off, leaving a hot, muggy day behind. Hundreds of shark hungry spectators are already thronging the grounds, hundreds more are expected. The parking lot is already overflowing, more cars are lined up as far as the eye can see down Star Island Drive. A festive air fills the senses, with BBQ's on the lawn, colorful sponsorship tents erected, and the restaurant teeming with hungry folk.

The Susie E's 609Lb. mako

The Susie E's 609Lb. mako

What draws them to this spectacle? Certainly the hope for a glimpse of a monster shark hoisted on a rope! That's not a sight the average tourist sees every day. Perhaps the unconscious need to see one of their worst nightmares up close? Could it be the vicarious thrill of the hunt?It could be all of the above and much more.

What ever the reasons, the air is buzzing, as the first hunters enter the breakwater. The first boat in looks an unlikely looking candidate. Low slung, battle ship grey, with a tall tower and lobster boat design, she looks more like a working boat than a shark hunter. The Susie E hails from Rochester, NH, and her crew looks like a bunch of pirates.

As she eases into the weigh in slip, the crowd starts to push forward against the ropes separating them from the weigh-in area. Fathers perch young sons on their shoulders for a better look. A Japanese tourists readies his Nikon for a good shot. Old salts crane for a better look at the first catch of the day. Young boys with shark tee-shirts look impassively on as the dock crew wrestles the fish to the stern.

What ever it is the Susie E's caught, the Star Island crew is having a hell of a time getting it out of the boat! At first they put a rope around it's tail, and hoist it half out. Even to the inexperienced eye, it's big what ever it is. The old salt in the crowd spies it's tell tale square fins and white under belly - "A mako, and good size, at that!"

The hoist shudders under the weight of the fish, as they try and winch this monster out of the Susie E. It's massive head is tangled in the back stay of the boat, and won't budge. A dock boy is sent for a pair of heavy duty chain cutters. To get this baby out, they'll have to cut the stainless back stay away, first.

After a struggle the big fish is free, and is brought to the dock. My Lord - it is a big mako, 7 feet from stem to stern and as round as a defensive tackle. If this is any indication of the fish to come, it's going to be a record setting tournament! As the crew hoists the beast into the weigh-in position, you can hear the whispered guess from the crowd - " 350 ....... 375 ....... 500...... hell, it's 500 or nothing!".

As the crew from the Susie E watches, the scales settle - " 609!" The crowd roars, the crew pounds each other, Rick Janis beams. "That's the way to get a shark tournament going!" Last year's biggest fish was 200 pounds lighter, and we've just begin. There's likely to be even bigger monsters destined to be weighed out before this clam bake is over.

AT SEA - 4:00 PM

The crew of the Fishooker are having a tough day. Although they've hooked up with a half dozen blue sharks, nothing of size has been landed. In constant radio contact with Star Island, Otto already knows about the Susie E's mako. "That's one fish that won't be beat today, not by us." With the 6:00 deadline looming, Otto decides to call it a day and head for home.

STAR ISLAND - 5:00 PM

Home from the hunt

Home from the hunt

The parade of arriving boats has picked up. With 20 sharks in so far, the Susie E's catch remains the catch of the day. One of only 3 makos takes so far, she's almost double the size of her runner up, a 358 pounder taken by the aptly named Dazed and Confused. With any luck at all, this massive mako will win the overall Star Island prize for heaviest fish and biggest mako, not to mention what ever Calcuttas the Susie E's a part of.

As each boat arrives, the orderly processing of fish proceeds. Once the boat is secured to the dock, the fish is swung out and weighed. Once recorded, the fish is lowered down to the dock, where a crowded row of blue sharks alongside a few makos has formed. Each fish is documented by the National Marines Fish Service representatives. It's vital statistics are recorded - weight, girth, length, sex - and it's inspected for any unusual features. The smaller blues are quickly gutted and carved up for steaks donated to the local food bank.

The Susie E's 609Lb. mako

A future winning captain looks on

The National Marines Fish Service's Lisa Natanson is in charge of dissecting the makos and larger blues. Working with the skill of a surgeon, she and her crew open each up, and perform a dockside autopsy. Vital organs are removed and weighed. Back bones are stripped to determine age. Stomachs are opened, and ingested food catalogued. In previous tournaments, when a pregnant female was found, it's still alive young would see the first light of day by spilling out onto the dock in view of hundreds of spectators. This year, no females are taken.

This entire spectacle becomes a ritualistic dance, performed on a blood stained concrete slab. An assembly line of referees, scientists and butchers transform the monsters of our worst fears into little more than slabs of meat in vinyl take away bags. Within minutes a complete fish ceases to be anything more than a blob of guts in a dumpster and someone's dinner.

The shark may be amongst the fiercest creatures in the sea. But here on land they're no match for the world's most dangerous animal.

EPILOGUE

Although the Fishooker didn't bring in the prize fish, her party had a great time. They did what so few do - go to sea in hope of landing the big fish. So they didn't, but not for the wont of trying. Frank Mundus, the greatest shark fishermen of them all once said - "Even if they're out there, they won't always let you find them." That's why they call it fishing, not catching, Pilgrim.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as absolute master of this known world, the hunted can sometimes be as brave, smart and lucky as the hunter. Fact is, the ocean is a very big place, with miles of sea for fish to hide in. There are days when all the electronics, and modern marvels in the world, won't put a fish on the end of your line. So it should be. The sport is all the better for the effort it requires.

At tournament's end, the Susie E's mako was not only the biggest mako taken, but the biggest shark overall. That earned the happy crew $25,000.00 in official prize money, plus a healthy share of the Calcutta pools.

Overall this 15th tournament was a rousing success. Over 50 sharks were weighed-in, and 1500 pounds of meat donated to worthy causes. If you'd like to attend the 2002 tournament, it'll be held on June 13 - 15.

STAR ISLAND YACHT CLUB - 631-668-5052
THE FISHOOKER - 631-668-3821
THE SUSIE E - 631-523-8862

 

 


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