You may have seen more than the usual amount of whales this summer, but you probably did not see as many or from the same view as Tim Regan, @Southforksalt. Tim is a renowned photographer who specializes in all things nautical. More than his technical prowess—the guy is a whiz with a drone—Tim’s passion and love for Long Island’s marine life is the right lens to reveal the murky magic all around us on the East End.
Tim’s videos and photography are revealing and fascinating. Sometimes it’s unnerving to know how much activity there is just below the ocean’s surface—but I never miss a post. Ironically, the drone’s unique elevated aerial vantage is critical to capturing images of creatures submerged. Hamptons.com spoke with Tim to discuss…
It looks like you are out on the water almost every day…are you? Did you grow up on the water?
I’m drawn to the water daily. For the past decade, I’ve lived on the beach at my place of work. I grew up going to Sagg Main and Scott Cameron, mainly during the summers. I started lifeguarding next to Mecox beach when I was 16. After college, I didn’t know what to do for a job; I only knew that I loved the ocean and would like to be there every day, so I moved out east fufull-timend and picked up surfcasting after graduating.
Now I fish every day in fresh, brackish, and saltwater. I enjoy watching and filming the wildlife that calls the east end home, and the most incredible things I see occur along shorelines. I spend most of my free time on the water.
What is your dream boat? What’s most important to you in a vessel?
As a diehard surf caster, owning a boat does not really interest me. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy going on boats, and my sea legs work fine; I just derive immense pleasure from the unique challenges that shore-based fishing poses. I own a kayak and a rowboat from which I fish in the bay, the ocean, and most of the local sweet water spots. I am usually just wading, though, when possible.
That being said, I think two vessels that would suit me best would be a SUP from which I could sight fish with a fly rod, and also a Hobie pedal-powered kayak. Having fished so much from a paddle kayak, I can imagine how valuable hands-free propulsion would be for fishing.
What’s the craziest animal behavior you have observed?
It’s crazy how wild Long Island is. I would never have known until I started fishing. I see amazing things in the sky, on the ground, and in the water. Some incredible sights might only be experienced once in a lifetime, but nature provides beautiful sights daily on the east end. Here are some examples:
I once saw a bald eagle snatch another bird out of the sky with its talons.
I filmed a dolphin dying of natural causes this Labor Day. Violent splashes 40 feet from shore clued me into duress. There was no attacker, but there was no mistaking that this dolphin was dying in front of my eyes. It was very ominous. Its remaining air bubbled towards the surface as the dolphin sank slowly toward the sea floor.
I’ve seen different species cooperate on multiple occasions. Whales were dancing around a bunker school, condensing it. A giant bluefin tuna launched its attack into the compressed fish school. The whales were not feeding; I believe they were helping the tuna feed.
Dolphins seem to guide whales toward bunker schools sometimes. This could be a symbiotic relationship: once a whale lunge feeds, the bunker scatters, allowing the dolphins to divide and conquer more easily. I did not see the dolphins feed in these situations, though. They seemed to be trying to help the whale find the bunker.
I saw hundreds of spinner sharks hunting together this summer. They were within 100 yards of the beach and working a small area, maybe just a couple hundred yards wide.
I saw a giant whitetail buck enter the ocean and swim toward the horizon during a nor’easter. As a 15-foot shorebreak came crashing down on its antlers, I figured, “that deer just committed suicide.” Twenty minutes later, the deer came moseying out of the water unscathed.
Watching feral cats hunt can be pretty radical. I’ve seen them kill rats and bunnies. I was extremely close to the bunny attack. A cat I’m familiar with came flying out of the bushes, its limbs sprawled and its hair on end. The cat looked three times its actual size. The shrill bunny screeches ceased abruptly when the cat’s jaws broke the bunny’s neck. That grisly crunch and the experience itself are haunting.
How did you first get inspired to get into drone photography?
My drive to fly came at a young age. One of my first memories occurred on a red-eye flight. I was woken at first light to see the sunrise from the cockpit, and the view burned into my memory. I thought I’d be a pilot someday. Fast forward to 2016– I’m addicted to fly fishing videos on YouTube, and I found this one from Peter Laurelli. Peter was droning himself fishing for stripers from the beach, and you can see dozens of bass in the frame. Suddenly a seal appears, and the fish get spooked. Rather than running for deeper water, the fish swim around to the seal’s tail and begin following the seal. Mind blown, I turned to my wife, Ali, to show her the footage. She said her brother could get me a discount on a drone, so I pulled the trigger right then and there.
How much has whale activity on the South Fork changed in your lifetime?
I never saw a whale until this past decade. Now I see them almost every day from May to November. In warmer months, humpback whales swim and feed just 50 feet from the beach. I’ve heard stories from folks who lifeguarded in the 1960s about whales passing by; it sounds like it wasn’t an everyday occurrence then. I don’t know, though; I wasn’t there. All I know is that ten years ago, there weren’t any whales swimming within 100 feet of the beach. I can’t even recall the first whale I saw. But there’s no question that their momentum has been building since they arrived, and it’s all due to the recovery of their fishy food item, Menhaden (bunker).
What’s your favorite marine animal and why?
I relate to dolphins. They are excellent bodysurfers, and I’m not too shabby myself. I actually bodysurfed WITH dolphins about twelve years ago. It was freaky. I exited the water quickly when they joined me and my friend Matt in the face of a wave. I always regretted that. They came to join us in the specific break we chose; I feel like they dug our skills and wanted to crush some party waves.
There isn’t anything cooler to me than watching the humpback whales from shore. They are so mighty… and I actually saw one of them bodysurf too! This summer at Shinnecock, a whale rode a wave right into a bunker school, lunge feeding just after the wave crested. It didn’t have the easiest time exiting the shallows, but it was a successful feed! I caught it on drone… there’s even a handful of sharks in the same wave the whale surfed. So, long answer short, humpback whales are my favorite.
Where do you recommend going fishing on the East End? Generally, do fishermen share those insider tricks?
Before I was born, anglers would never share their spots. Even tips and tricks were scarce unless you had a mentor or discovered stuff on your own. Today is entirely different. The thirst for instant fame via social media tempts folks to post pictures immediately after they catch fish. Careless ones will leave landmarks in their photos, giving away the location. I made some of those “rookie mistakes” when I was starting out… it’s called “spot burning,” and it can ruin fisheries.
Basically, one person posts about a big fish being caught. The subtle rock formation in the photo’s background makes it obvious to some people where this fish was caught. If one big fish was caught there, there should be more, so everyone who saw the picture knows the rock formation is going to that spot on the next tide. The original guy who caught the fish might get crowded out of his bite.
In my case, I had some dopes come and clear my fish out of one spot. They didn’t understand that fisheries are finite, so they harvested very greedily. Years later, the spot has still not recovered.
I wait to post fish pictures or videos until much time has passed since the bite. If anyone can tell where I was fishing, it doesn’t matter because the fish I caught have been gone for weeks.
It’s tough to choose the wrong fishing spot on the East End. If you’re looking to bend the rod with some kids, you will do well with a worm under a bobber at most local ponds. Most ponds have boat ramps or public docks to fish from. You can catch largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, sunfish, perch, pickerel, catfish, carp, and many other fish species.
For similar saltwater fishing (for a beginner), I’d head to a bulkhead near an inlet in the bays. Instead of a bobber, I’d use a sinker to get my bait to the bottom. Use shrimp, clam, or blood/sandworms. In the summer, one can expect to catch fluke, sea robins, striped bass, bluefish, blowfish, porgies, blackfish, and many other species. Your success may depend on the tide stage, but if you put in an hour at one of these bulkheads, you could materialize a bite. Once the water becomes inundated with the scent of your bait, you will start getting a lot of bites. That could take 20-30 minutes, so be patient!
I love teaching kids to fish, and I’m an NYS-certified guide, so feel free to reach out if you’re looking to catch ‘em up!