Bill Akin’s “The Golden Age of Montauk Sportfishing”

by Sue Giustino

“The Golden Age of Montauk Sportfishing” is a compilation of memories from eight legendary fishing captains about the evolution of fishing in Montauk.  With a forward by Joe Gaviola, Bill Akin narrates while sharing the stories that were shared with them in 1994 over a casual gathering with the Captains at the Tipperary. Bob and Frank Tuma, Carl Darenberg, Harry Clemenz, Ralph Pitts, George Potts, Gus Pitts, and Paul Forsberg; to many the names are familiar from hearing legendary stories, as well as the fact that many of these men have children and grandchildren who are still involved in the fishing business here in Montauk.  As Joe Gaviola says in his preface, “These men were the pioneers of a fledgling industry that turned Montauk into the Fishing Capital of the World.”

From their conversation and storytelling, along with some personal experiences, Bill provides a look back at Montauk Sportfishing through the eyes of these eight men- from the 30’s through the 70’s; ending with current fishing concerns and regulations.

Among other events, Bill weaves the fishermen’s stories detailing the evolution of inshore and offshore sports fishing, charters, and Swordfish and Tuna fishing. Also included is how it affected the development of harbor motels and restaurants like the old Viking Grill, Salivars and Gosman’s. Along with some classic ‘fishing stories’, their experiences and memories also include the hurricane of ‘38, moving Montauk village, ‘The Fisherman’s Special’ on the LIRR, sinking of the Pelican, and eventual loss of Fort Pond Bay as the harbor to the growth of the current Montauk harbor.

Although their stories overlap, the detail that each man brings to these shared experiences is both intriguing and exciting. Only someone who lived through this “Golden Age” could capture the heart and soul of life in Montauk when Sportfishing was the lifeline of the local fisherman.

“I wish I could put time back to when we were at the Yacht Club and the times we had fishing and the fun and enjoyment we got out of it.” Frank Tuma Jr.

Being someone who enjoys a nice day fishing, another interesting part was about how not just men, but many women were accomplished at sports fishing. My favorite story is the one about Kay Topping landing the first Giant Tuna brought into Montauk; caught on Capt. Don Gross’ boat. The location of the catch was soon named Rosie’s Ledge after local Harry Alfandre’s boat and wife; apparently, he was the first to hook a tuna there, but he didn’t land it.

The last What Happened section of the book addresses foreign factory ships, the everchanging regulations and restrictions, shark fishing controversies and ‘catch and release’ tournaments, as well as new technology, methods and gear.

Written as if Bill were having a conversation with you, detailed yet not too technical, so even someone like me without much background knowledge of the topic found it both interesting and informative. Be sure to pick up a copy and don’t forget to read the Afterword, it’s a lovely tribute to Bill Akins fathers’ ‘Old Man’ legacy.