Montauk might be the most fish-crazed town in the Northeast. Every year anglers target striped bass, sharks, tuna, bluefish, cod, haddock, sea bass and more from Montauk’s shores and fishing fleets.
Perhaps the most famous striped bass destination in the history of the species, Montauk is a town rich with fishing memory.
Striped bass are a massive draw for anglers, but they aren’t your only option. You can target black sea bass, bluefish, scup, false albacore and bonito on the inshore fishing grounds and chase tuna and sharks with a relatively short run from the port.
As you read through this article, we’ll show you where, when and how to catch all of Montauk’s top game fish species. Or use the table of contents to jump to the types of fishing that most interest you.
Before we get there, from my experience, Montauk is just plain cool. You’re standing on the easternmost point of Long Island, among the biggest geographic obstacles stripers have to round on their spring and fall migrations.
These fish will, for the most part, stay close to land because shallower water offers prime conditions for ambushing baitfish.
Montauk is a striper mecca because this point concentrates fish moving through the area twice yearly, putting biting stripers and other fish within casting range.
What You Can Catch at Montauk
The following section covers the types of gamefish that most people want to catch when they venture out to the far tip of Long Island.
There is no doubt about who is the star of the show when it comes to fishing in Montauk.
The striped bass is, and nearly always has been (except for years when stocks were severely depleted), the main draw for both surf and boat anglers.
Stripers move into the boulder fields around Montauk Point, especially after dark, to pin baitfish like sand eels and menhaden in tight quarters to gorge on them.
Stripers typically migrate past Montauk Point between early May and late June as they head north from Chesapeake Bay spawning grounds to summer feeding areas in the Northeast.
Then, between early October and late November, they pass by again as they return to the mid-Atlantic in the fall. Warming water temperatures have pushed these runs earlier in the spring and later in the fall.
Stripers and other sport fish chase various baitfish species, and understanding what they’re eating can help you mimic this forage to catch more big fish.
That’s why we’ll take you through the striped bass fishing section of this article with those baitfish in mind because you can bet that’s what feeding stripers have in mind. We’ll also suggest lures to help you “match the hatch” for each baitfish.
Perhaps no baitfish is more popular than Atlantic menhaden, often called ‘bunker’ in New York and New Jersey and ‘pogies’ in New England. Juvenile menhaden are often called ‘peanut bunker.’
These hand-sized baitfish travel in enormous schools and are one of the ocean’s primary protein sources for game fish ranging from snapper bluefish to thresher sharks. Striped bass devour them.
Often, when a single bunker is fleeing a pursuing striper, it will swim across the top of the water and leave a wake in its escape attempt.
Throwing a topwater lure, like a pencil popper, when bunker are plentiful can be the most fun you’ll ever have striper fishing. Big stripers will absolutely explode on these lures from beneath.
Mimic with: Pencil popper, bunker spoons, diamond jig, Crippled Herring.
Sand eels are another striper favorite. These pencil-sized fish also move in massive schools but are slightly more likely to be in the wash of the surf than menhaden. Stripers often push sand eels right into shore, where the bait has nowhere else to go.
If you see sand eels throwing themselves from the ocean onto dry land in a frantic effort to get out of the water, it’s a good idea to stop and cast.
Mimic with: Bucktails between 3/8th and 1 oz., diamond jigs, Crippled Herring.
Atlantic mackerel are another migratory North Atlantic game fish that stripers, especially larger ones, will devour in a heartbeat. Mackerel will typically migrate toward the continental shelf in the winter, and return to inland waters in the spring.
This pattern coincides with the northward return of striped bass, providing stripers with a larger meal.
Mimic with: Savage Gear 3D Mackerels Stick Bait
River Herring and Mullet
Though not typically as abundant as sand eels or bunker, both herring and mullet are larger forage species for striped bass that can inspire ravenous blitzes from sizable schools of fish.
Mimic With: LiveTarget Mullet Swimbait
Follow the Wind
We introduced you to the forage because understanding the bait is key to finding stripers. Where that bait will be is dependent on a few conditions, especially with the most common baitfish, the bunker.
Bunker are filter-feeding fish that usually swim into the wind with their mouths open to gather plankton.
On many east-facing beaches, a west or northwest wind is ideal. However, a north wind will put fish on the beach on south-facing beaches like those along Long Island’s south shore.
There are exceptions, but as a general rule, south and west winds are best during striper seasons. An east wind bringing cold, wet air, makes fishing difficult.
Catch More Stripers
We’ve given you some important pointers to catching stripers at Montauk already. Still, we suggest you read our full guide to surf fishing for striped bass for lots more information including timing, tackle, techniques and expert tips.
While you’re at it, check out the best striped bass fishing beaches in New York.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a creature that will inspire more awe and excitement than a shark. For anglers, certain shark species provide incredible angling opportunities in the Northeast.
On any day in Montauk, you might hook a tiger, thresher, mako or blue shark. Occasionally great white sharks take the bait, but these top predators are highly protected and off-limits to deliberate angling or harvesting.
Commonly Caught Sharks
The following species are most targeted by anglers fishing out of Montauk.
It’s hard to beat fishing for thresher sharks, which have tails almost as long as their bodies. So, if you are live-lining a bunker and see a tail protruding two or three feet from the water, approaching your bait, you know you’re in for some excitement.
At times these sharks will whack the bait they’re pursuing with their whip-like tails before eating it.
Atlantic menhaden and bluefish are popular thresher shark baits. Threshers can be found in near-shore waters as early as June, but are more prevalent in July and August.
The tiger is the largest and meanest of the sharks that Long Island anglers can legally target. The New York state-record tiger, caught in 1986, weighed more than 1,000 pounds.
Tiger sharks are considered second only to great whites as threats to humans.
Bluefish, bunker, and chunked bait are all popular choices to target tigers.
Blacktip sharks are notoriously mean and will fight as hard as anything that swims.
With warming water temperatures along the coast, these sharks, historically more common in the Carolinas in the summer, are becoming more prevalent in Montauk.
Blue sharks can be ravenous and numerous in the waters off Montauk, especially when captains create a slick by chumming the waters. Chunked bait, bunker or bluefish are popular baits for blue sharks.
Anglers rarely keep or eat blue sharks, but they provide an opportunity to catch a big fish.
Bluefin tuna are another star of the show in the Northeast, because they can reach weights exceeding 1,000 pounds, their meat is legendary for its flavor, and their fight is second to none.
These muscled, brilliantly beautiful and incredibly fast fish are often taken by captains trolling. However, fighting bluefin tuna on stand-up spinning gear has become an increasingly popular trend in the Northeast.
Yellowfin tuna are another popular catch. While they don’t reach such massive sizes, they are big and powerful and will make your reel scream.
In the early summer, anglers often find tuna between 15 and 50 miles from shore. As waters warm in July and August, tuna will push to deeper water, making for longer runs to find feeding schools.
You need excellent boating skills and a seaworthy boat to safely fish for tuna and other far-off-shore species. If you don’t have both, it’s best to hire a chartered boat back in Montauk or another port and go with well-equipped experts.
Also, anglers targeting highly migratory fish, including tuna and other species, must apply for a permit first.
How to Catch Tuna
Run and Gun
Many captains will ‘run and gun,’ in the early and middle summer months, looking for large schools of bunker and dropping birds, knowing that there are likely tuna feeding on them from below.
Poppers, stickbaits, and oversized soft-plastic jerkbaits can be good lures for tuna feeding on top. Anglers typically troll using spreader bars of squid-imitation baits to attract schools of feeding tuna.
Later into July and August, as fish push deeper, chunking baits like a sardine at various depths until you find tuna can be effective.
Anglers will use terminal tackle like a pressure-lock snap with an attached weight to hold your bait at the desired depth until a fish strikes, at which point the weight unlocks and can slide up and down the line.
Setting chunked baits at various depths using these release clips can help determine the depth where tuna are feeding. When you find a productive depth, set all your baits accordingly.
A relatively recent addition to the tuna fishing arsenal is the butterfly jig.
Initially popularized by Shimano, butterfly jigs are made to mimic a baitfish fleeing upward through the water column. The idea is to drop them straight down, reel up as fast as possible, and then stop, drop, and repeat.
As you can imagine, having a tuna hit a jig you are reeling up as fast as possible is a breathtaking experience. This tactic is one of the most fun ways of targeting tuna and requires stout, stand-up spinning gear.
Understanding how to use a fishfinder can be crucial in locating schools of feeding tuna.
In the early summer, these fish are more likely to feed on the surface, where you might spot them. However, as water temperatures warm, you’ll want to mark schools of bait and the tuna feeding on them with a fishfinder, typically farther off-shore.
Cod and Haddock
Cod are one of the most popular food fish in the Northeast. Targeting cod and pollock and haddock has been a regional fishing tradition for more than a century.
Anglers can keep 10 cod at least 21 inches and an unlimited number of haddock at least 18 inches all year in New York waters.
Through the spring and early summer, haddock will move into water less than 100 feet deep, making for shorter runs for both the party boats and recreational anglers targeting them in private vessels.
The best time to target cod and these other bottom dwellers is typically between December and April when anglers have the best success fishing waters ranging from 90 to 150 feet deep.
Fishing methods vary, but nothing beats bait for catching cod. Both clams and squid strips are popular. You’ll adjust your weight depending on the current and depth to hold it on the bottom.
New England lore has it that God created the cod to feed the people, and the Devil tried replicating his creation. This legend explained why the cod has a white lateral line along its side, and, burned by the Devil’s hands, a haddock has a black lateral line.
If you told Northeastern anglers they could only have one food fish for the rest of their lives, we’d bet more would choose fluke than any other species. These flatfish are highly sought after for their delicious white flesh.
You can target these fish, also known as summer flounder, anywhere in the Northeast with varying degrees of success. But only one city holds the current world record, a 22-pound, 4-ounce fluke caught out of Montauk in 1975.
The most popular method of fluke fishing is using bucktails with a teaser or trailer.
Fluke, like other flatfish species, are opportunistic bottom feeders.
Working the sea floor, especially where there is structure or rapid changes in depth provides your best odds at catching fluke.
The edges of rock piles, mussel beds, dips or valleys, and areas that fluctuate between rock and mud bottom are all popular spots to target these ambush predators.
Spearing, another type of baitfish, is a popular fluke bait. You can fish a spearing alone on a hook or as a bucktail teaser.
In the summer, look for fluke feeding in 30 to 90 feet of water with structure and current.
If you’re looking to target fluke without natural bait, try bucktails tipped with Berkley Gulp strips. Chartreuse, pink and red are popular bucktail color patterns.
Porgies and Black Sea Bass
Anglers often catch porgies (scup) and black sea bass in the same areas off Montauk.
These species also commonly feed on the bottom and near rocks, steep drop-offs, or anywhere with a current break. Both species move into warming water near shore around May and June.
Black sea bass seek water between 20 and 50 feet in late spring when they spawn. As a result, you should find abundant sea bass around any structure, whether rock piles, wrecks or reefs.
As water temperatures warm into mid-summer, they’ll move to deeper water in the 100-foot range. Then, by winter, they’ll move even farther off-shore for the winter.
Bucktails and teasers are the most popular baits for sea bass and porgies. Tipping these lures with squid, squid strips, fluke strips, or Berkley Gulp baits are all popular methods of hooking more fish.
Using a fishfinder to locate bottom structure including rock piles, reefs and wrecks will reliably lead you to these fish.
The bluefish is perhaps the most voracious predator you’ll find on any inshore flat in the Northeast.
These missile-shaped fish travel in schools and absolutely shred schools of baitfish.
They’re so vicious that they’ll create a veritable buffet for other species. Striped bass sometimes lie in wait beneath a feeding school of bluefish to grab the pieces of baitfish that inevitably sink.
Bluefish will eat until they’re incapable of consuming more, then regurgitate what they’ve just eaten to continue feeding. Swimmers have been injured by schools of blitzing bluefish.
Your best bet for targeting bluefish from shore in Montauk is hitting the beaches in May and June. That’s when hordes of bluefish chase schools of sand eels and bunker along the shoreline.
In the spring in Montauk, look for west winds to put the bait against the east-facing beaches, with bluefish right behind them.
The hours before a low-pressure system moves in can also create ideal circumstances for near-shore bluefish blitzes.
For your best shot at shore blues, focus on the hours immediately before or after high tide when there’s a wind at your back, especially from mid-May through mid-June.
As the summer progresses and water temperatures warm, blues move off-shore.
Fishing deeper water or at night, primarily from a boat, becomes the most productive method for targeting them after the end of June. Party boats run special ‘night blues’ trips for a reasonable fee if you’re interested in tangling with a ton of them.
Another popular inshore species for light-tackle anglers is the false albacore, a.k.a. albies. These tiny tunas are typically found around Montauk from late August through early October, feeding on sand eels and other small bait.
False albacore range from football-sized to larger specimens pushing 10 pounds. They are a particularly popular species to target fly fishing because flies like streamers in sand eel patterns can mimic the predominant forage.
They’re such muscled, fast fish, they make for an excellent fight on light tackle.
Deadly Dicks are a popular conventional lure for light-tackle anglers.
You are most likely to find albies around strong currents and rips in open water, chasing schools of sand eels and peanut bunker.
Bonito look a lot like false albacore but are slightly smaller and skinnier.
Like albies, bonito also feed heavily on sand eels, peanut bunker, and silversides. Small lures and flies that mimic these baitfish can be incredibly effective.
Bonito typically hold on near-shore drop-offs, and because they feed predominantly by sight, your best bet is targeting them in clear-water conditions.
Bonito are popular table fare, whereas albies are almost always released.
Where to Fish in Montauk
The most popular surf fishing location in Montauk, without a doubt, is Montauk Point, or “underneath the light,” as you’ll hear locals say.
At the end of Route 27 through Long Island, Camp Hero State Park has lots of parking right behind the beach at Montauk Light. This spot is by far the most popular destination for shore anglers. Walk down a path to rock-covered Montauk Point beneath the lighthouse.
In May and June and again in October and November, you’ll see many surfcasters along the beach. Some even wear wetsuits to swim out and climb onto large rocks.
This rock beach can be challenging to fish, but with a pair of Korkers cleats on your boots and extreme care, you can become adept at it in time.
Ditch Plains Beach
For anglers less interested in climbing over or swimming out to rocks, there’s Ditch Plains Beach, a sand beach a few miles southwest of Montauk Lighthouse.
Ditch Plains will be a more accessible surf-casting location for anglers just getting used to the sport. It also can provide fantastic fishing.
The same schools of stripers and bluefish pushing around Montauk Point will pass Ditch Plains but without the rocks and crowds.
If there’s a powerful north wind, you will also find yourself more comfortable on the protected south side of Long Island.
Anglers more capable of venturing off-shore, including the charter fishing fleet, head to structure that will typically hold schools of fish, including bluefin and yellowfin tuna, as well as marlin, mahi, and other blue-water species.
What seasoned anglers refer to as “the canyons” are off-shore underwater valleys.
These deep-sea crevices hold schools of bait and predatory game fish. Savvy anglers look for temperature breaks between warmer eddies and colder water to find fish.
Here are some of the most popular deepwater canyons:
Fishtails Canyon, also known as Block Canyon, is about 70 miles south of Montauk. Anglers can target a host of species here, from bluefin tuna to bigeye tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi, and more.
At 100 miles southeast of New York City, Hudson Canyon is the largest and deepest of the off-shore canyons. It can reach depths of more than two miles, widths of more than 7 miles, and extends 350 miles away from the coast.
Tuna, mahi and wahoo are popular targets during peak season here, with tuna hanging around well into September and October.
Anglers can take species ranging from mahi to yellowfin tuna in Hydrographer Canyon, a long haul east of Montauk and southeast from ports on Cape Cod.
Trolling baits like ballyhoo is a popular method to target sport fish chasing large schools of sand eels.
It’s important to keep your distance from whales when fishing in the canyons, as they’re often feeding near other species.
Freshwater Fishing in Montauk
Anglers looking for a change of pace or who want to make their own Montauk slam have a freshwater fishing option in Fort Pond.
The 181-acre pond is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye and panfish. It has become a popular second-option fishery because of its location right next to the iconic saltwater shorelines.
The mostly shallow lake reaches a depth of 25 feet in the center, and its steepest drop is off the eastern shore.
Throwing curly-tail grubs, jigs, and perch-patterned stickbaits are all productive choices.
Bass and walleye here eat perch, pumpkinseed sunfish or bluegill, so mimicking that forage is your best bet.
Montauk Fishing by Season
From late March through May, cod are a popular target for party-boat anglers looking to fill a cooler with delicious fish filets.
Later into May, the first stripers and bluefish begin pursuing Atlantic menhaden on the south shore of Long Island and around the tip of Montauk on their northward migrations.
By June, schools of stripers, sea bass, fluke, and porgies will set up shop off Montauk Point and out to the canyons.
As June moves into July, the stripers around Montauk will begin feeding near shore only at first and last light and during the night. Most will seek cooler water farther off-shore.
Warm-water eddies will begin forming off-shore. Boat runs to the canyons for bluefin, yellowfin, wahoo, and other species will become increasingly popular and productive.
The summer is a great time to target black sea bass and scup on near-shore wrecks, reefs, and rock piles.
The fall marks the return of striped bass inshore, as schools migrating down the coast from Maine, Massachusetts, and northern waters will round Montauk Point en route back to their winter spawning grounds.
October and November can be outstanding months to find big schools of stripers pushing baitfish like sand eels and peanut bunker right into the beaches at Montauk Point.
The fall is also a great time to catch other game fish, including false albacore, also feeding on sand eels along beaches in September and October.
When the water is especially clear, target areas with steep drop-offs, and you might also catch bonito.
Deep-sea fishing runs to the canyons for tuna will continue beyond summer into September and October. As conditions warm, these fish hang around later, with tuna caught off-shore into December in recent years.
The main targets for anglers during winter months will be cod and haddock from private boats or party boats like the Miss Montauk or the Viking Fleet, which operate regularly out of Montauk Harbor.
Black sea bass, tautog, pollock and haddock are popular species to target in the early winter. However, keep an eye on current regulations, as some seasons end for specific species in early December. Annual changes also affect fisheries.
Montauk Fishing Reports
If you’re thinking of heading out to Montauk, no matter the species you’re targeting, here are a few resources to keep an eye on so you’ll time your trip as well as possible:
Miss Montauk: These guys run regularly for everything from black sea bass to stripers to fluke. While they don’t have a regular report on their website, their Facebook page is a great option to see what’s biting.
The Viking Fleet: The Viking Fleet is a household name in Montauk, and they’ve been around in varying capacities since 1951. You can find reports and trip information at vikingfleet.com, but for the most recent reports and photos, check the out on Facebook.
From almost any perspective, Montauk is truly one of the unique fishing towns in the Northeast, with stunning beauty and diverse fishing opportunities.
Whatever you’re hoping to catch, be sure to soak in the culture of this incredible place.