How a day boat can bring friends together.
For 10 summers, I had a share in a group house in Amagansett near the beach in a neighborhood (let’s call it, “the Dunes”) that didn’t allow groups of unrelated people to split the rent. I felt justified breaking the letter of the law because, in spirit, the friends who shared the house felt more like family than friends.
After a morning walk to town for coffee at the Amagansett Farmers Market, we rarely wandered far from the house or the short walk to the beach. We made exception for bicycle rides to Montauk and pancakes at John’s Pancake House, drinks at Cyril’s, lunch at the Clam Bar (chubby deep-fried clam bellies; steamers when we were lucky).
We were a group that liked to do everything together, which meant that we soon learned it was easier to cook dinner than to go out. Tables for 10 or more on summer Saturday nights are hard to find.
So when someone suggested a fishing trip, it was no surprise that eight of us hopped on the boat. It was a recreational fishing boat with a large capacity. There were at least 50 other tourists on it and a large staff to show us the ropes. When I heard that our quarry was to be fluke, I was more than a little disappointed.
I am not typically a fan of flat fish that stare at you, one eye at a time. Fluke and flounder fall into the category of fish that taste fishy and have a flaky, fish-like consistency. But we were there for the sport, so in spite of my lack of enthusiasm for the idea of eating what we caught, I was still game for the adventure.
Before we set sail, wrapped in life preservers, the staff instructed us in how to bait the hook with chum—chunks of gory fish guts. I was expecting worms; the idea of using fish to catch fish seemed a little…cannibalistic, but the food chain works in mysterious ways. I didn’t expect to have much success. I liked the idea of fishing and I loved being on the water, but I didn’t tend to have much luck with anything that required coordination. I expected my line to get tangled or for the bait to fall off the hook when it hit the water, or for the fish to outsmart me by eating the chum but not catching onto the hook.
But as it turned out, fluke were either very easy to catch or I had an unexpected knack. Almost from the minute I cast my line amid the crowd of amateur fisherpeople, I felt a tug on the line. With the help of one of the professional shipmates, I carefully reeled in the fish and landed the flopping flat bottom-feeder at the bottom of a large plastic bucket. It was as if the fish jumped onto the hook without any encouragement from me. It could not have been easier. Fluke must be easy to catch, I thought.
I loaded my hook with ammunition again and lowered the line into the water, and moments later felt the tug on the line. This time, I reeled it in myself, and with a bit more of a fight with the flapping fish, I managed to get my catch into the bucket on my own. Over the course of the morning, the same thing happened again and again, though sometimes I needed assistance getting some of the larger fish off the hook and into the bucket.
Meanwhile, my friends stood around chatting. After a few aimless attempts, most of them had given up. They were enjoying the boat and the water, but weren’t really fishing. Instead, I tore from side to side of the seacraft, wherever I heard the fish were biting. By the end of trip, I had amassed 13 good-size fish, while my friends had caught three among the eight of them. It was a fluke, that I, the least athletic and most uncoordinated among us, had managed to catch the most fish.
I thought the pleasure of the day had ended with our disembarkation from the boat, but one of my housemates, a very accomplished cook, undertook to grill our fresh catch outside on our back deck. The preparation was simple, the whole fish—scaled and gutted—was lightly brushed with butter and served with lemon wedges. I was expecting to make a dinner consisting only of the corn we grilled alongside it. However, when we were all seated around the table, I tasted the fish that had been deboned and laid out on a platter, and it was, without question, the most delicious fish I had ever had, and I proceeded to eat a full portion. I can’t say that I was converted to fluke that day, but I did learn an important lesson: The tastiest fish is one that’s been swimming in its natural environment earlier in the day.
While writing this article, Nancy Davidson, a Manhattan-based writer, learned that her maternal grandfather also enjoyed recreational fluke fishing in Montauk, albeit several decades earlier.