The magic of time is that you can remember the best things of long ago as if it were yesterday. Something I fondly remember were those Montauk fishing trips with my dad and my brothers. Time has a way of separating brothers as we grow older and as we have our own families, but there was a time when we all we did things as one unit and fishing with dad for tuna off Montauk was at the top of that list.
It would all start with the trip to Montauk onboard Dad’s 43′ Egg Harbor from Pelham Manor, N.Y. to the Montauk Marine Basin. We would all show up at the boat, early in the morning for the 6 to 7 hour boat ride. Dad would always be excited to have all of us onboard. My mom would be there too, with our favorite foods stocked in the galley. We would all gather up top on the bridge and our adventure would begin. Dad loved to recite the “Loran” settings (The GPS of the 1980’s), the course angles and time to each location. It had to be a throwback to his 8th Air Force B-17 experience from WW II preparing for those dangerous bombing missions when one out of three planes did not return.
We would ease out of the boat slip and gather speed until we were knifing through the Long Island Sound heading east at top speed. It was not quiet when the twin diesels were opened up to achieve the boats top cruising speed. Then the stories began of trips in the past and what we might achieve on the trip at hand. Our goal was always the elusive giant blue fin tuna, the fish that we never ever did catch; although we believe we hooked one once and it just “ran the line” and “stripped the real,” my brother Elia quipped at the time, “It was either a giant blue fin or a submarine!”
When we arrived at Montauk Marine Basin, the Darenbergs were there to greet us. Carl Jr. would greet dad and help pump the gas with a, “Welcome back Mr. Clemente,” and Carl’s mom would be there with a clipboard to tell us what our slip location would actually be; we always tried to reserve one we could get the boat in and out of easily and usually that’s what we got. Then, brothers John, Jim, and Elia would spearhead the purchasing of the bait and other needs for our next day’s early adventures. The debate over what to buy, how much, what kind of teasers was amusing and pure family decision-making. We always had something new to try, something the giant blue fin would surely “strike.” After the whole family walked to Gosman’s Dock for a big dinner. We would go to sleep early in different locations (I would sleep high up top on the bench couch of the bridge while mom and dad had the captain’s quarters). Our 4:45 a.m. departure out into the Atlantic for the fishing adventure usually started with us being awakened by large engines of nearby fishing boats leaving. No one ever over slept for that pre-sunrise trip out the rock walled Montauk Jetty into Block Island Sound to aim at the Atlantic Ocean along with the historic fishing grounds off Montauk. Then we would watch the powerful sunrise over the ocean. It was always breathtaking.
Dad would plot a course to where my brother’s research claimed the tuna were, based on winds, water temperature, ocean floor depth and dock gossip. There were great debates, with usually one bother convinced we were heading in the wrong direction.
The many scores of hours trolling was the glory. We saw whales, sharks, even a jumping blue marlin, but when we saw tuna fins breaking on the surface it was always a special moment. Our success back then was usually good. However there was nothing worse than heading for the long trip back from the ocean to Montauk empty handed. My brothers took not catching a fish personally; they were always bummed out when we were shut out. Dad was always optimistic saying, “We will get some tomorrow.” Luckily on our trips we always caught tuna. We even went out on some rough days when I personally wondered (to myself) how much bigger waves could get.
However when we had a great day we would cruise by Gosman’s Dock Restaurant a bit closer and slower to proudly show off our catch with tuna stacked everywhere. In those days you could exchange the tuna for credit against your fuel bill. Of course we kept enough to feed all of us throughout most of the winter.
I will forever remember the whizzing sound of the giant Penn reels when a strike hit and the way dad would drive the boat in reverse to keep the line directly behind the boat. The smile he showed when the tuna was safely onboard is a smile I can still see vividly in my mind as I write these words; the pride and joy of watching his sons catch tuna as a team was huge to him. His last words to me as he lay dying in his bedroom surround by all of us were, “I just wish I could see one more Montauk sunrise.” He died the next morning right after sunrise.