The Midnight Rambler
Ritual de lo habitual
(To surfcasters, at this time of year, that means permits)
I don’t need to look at the calendar. I simply know that about 60 days after the winter solstice, I’m feeling the urge to get my fishing permits. The sun stays up a little longer, and by then Mother Nature usually delivers that first tease with a spring-like day. That’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago in Montauk. The afternoon temps nudged up to almost 60, and a little voice in my head told me, ‘it’s time.’
My native Long Island offers some of the best 4×4 access south of Cape Cod. Miles and miles of beautiful soft sand to fry your transmission on. I’m not being sarcastic here at all. Years ago the sand of Long Island, especially Smith Point and East Hampton, proved a little too tough for the transmission of my old Ford Explorer.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I aired down and all of that. But just be be sure, I decided to run a scientific experiment – I put in another transmission (actually my mechanic did), and sure enough, I did it all over again… about two years later.
Ok, I’m lying about the experiment part.
So if the fun part is driving miles of beaches looking for structure and birds, the not so fun part is running all over creation, and digging deep into your wallet to get the required permits before the issuing authorities cut you off.
In my case, those authorities would be the State of New York, the County of Suffolk and the Town of East Hampton. I’ve been known to get a number of other permits over the years, but I’d rather not get into it here and mention any smaller places. No sense in getting accused of spot burning and all of that.
The State permits are the ones you need to listen up on here. The main state 4×4 permit allows you to drive on the beach in a limited number of locations, but it doubles as a night fishing permit. In years past they, they used to sell it until April 31, but now I’m told they promise to stop selling them at the end of March. Remember.. these are FISHING permits, and you can get a fine or have your permit taken away if you are not “fishing.”
That typically means you can’t let your soccer mom wife take your rig to the beach with the kids, armed only with beach chairs. You’ll need fishing equipment, …ahem… but Snoopy rods will do. I can’t tell you how many soccer moms I’ve dug out over the years. So please fellas, if she is gonna fish, teach her about airing down!
But this year, when I went for my permits at Montauk Downs, dear Ms. Carol (who also works at the lighthouse lot) the thought she had me stumped.
“Ok , now I also need to see your Marine Registry Fishing Permit,” she announced.
I did get a little nervous there for a second, but luckily I had a copy in my Jeep! Not so fast, not this time, Carol.
So I got the NY State Permit… and the Empire Passport… and the Camp Hero Permit.
I will admit, it’s a bit silly that I actually need three separate permits to fish/drive/park in the same one square mile of state land at Montauk Point 24/7/365. Luckily I visit enough that I actually think it’s almost worth it. Almost.
The Camp Hero Permit brings back some memories. Used to be that they only issued a limited number of permits, and you had to show up in person at the lighthouse parking lot on April 1 to be assured a Permit… and a key to the locked gate.
How many readers remember sleeping in your truck in the parking lot on the last Saturday of March, and then lining up for permits at 8am?
I remember the BBQs in the lighthouse lot the night before… and fishing stories that usually went on way past midnight. To be honest, it was usually a bit rough for me getting up for that Permit, but I remember pounding on the windows of a couple of Surfcasters, telling them they were going to miss their chance if they didn’t get up pronto.
Once we had permits in hand, we usually went to John’s Pancake in town to tell more stories before scattered to the west.
Anyway, I got my permits now, except for the Suffolk Permit. I will get that when they open that office – April 1 I’m told.
And now begins the ‘way too early but what the hell’ false-hope fishing excursions.
These begin as a stroll the tidal creeks in the waders, and always end up making at least a hundred casts. I usually surprise myself and hook, perhaps a herring, or a shad, or maybe even a short bass. Thus continues the ritual.