Fly-fishing captains scout shallow waters for the sport of it

Capt. Andrew Derr at Gull Pond in Greenport. (Credit: David Benthal)

The flat skiff hugs the Long Island shoreline, its humming engine breaking the quiet of the early morning before going silent as the boat reaches shallow water. It’s so shallow, you’re tempted to reach out a hand and see if you can touch the bottom, except you’d likely scare away the fish.

Standing on the platform of the skiff, Captain Andrew Derr guides the boat stealthily through the currents with a pole while searching for striped bass.

Set aside what you think you know about fly-fishing. This is not the country gentleman gracefully casting a line in some beautiful stream while searching for trout. This is Long Island fly-fishing.

“It’s so visual. You’re watching everything happen, even the things you don’t catch. You see the fish, present the fly and see what happens. It’s a neat little tête-à-tête,” says Derr, who earned his captain’s license in Florida in the 1990s and has been running fly-fishing charters out of Greenport from late spring through November for about 12 years.

In fly-fishing, anglers use an almost weightless lure, often made from materials like feathers and thread, called a “fly,” named for its insectlike appearance. Saltwater fly-fishing is a growing sport on Long Island, with a handful of captains like Derr running exclusive charters.

“It’s a great sport and it’s gained some popularity,” says Captain Vinny Catalano, who has been running fly-fishing charters for 15 years. “A lot of guys start just regular fishing, but then as they want to challenge themselves, they get into fly-fishing. It’s the hardest way to catch them, you’re playing the tough game.”

During the late spring Catalano takes clients out around the entire North Shore of Long Island, the North Fork and Montauk looking for striped bass in small flat boats that can go close to shore. Like Derr, as the waters warm up he switches to a bigger boat, fishing for striped bass, bluefish and albacore tuna farther offshore.

There’s not much you need to get started fly-fishing, except for some patience and perhaps the ability to not be embarrassed when you make a mistake. Both Derr and Catalano provide the gear: fly rods, spinning rods, flies, lures, etc., and offer half-day and full-day charters. Prices start at around $450 for a half day. The fall tends to be the more popular time for serious anglers and boat charters are booked quickly. In the flat skiffs, Derr and Catalano will take out a maximum of two anglers at a time and suggest that no more than three is best in the 23-foot boats used offshore.

Most Long Island fly-fishing charters practice catch and release, the captains said.

For Derr and Catalano fly-fishing is more about the sport, the camaraderie that comes from chasing the fish, sharing in someone’s catch and the pure joy of being on the water. Each man has probably seen more sunrises than most, not to mention more sunfish, humpback whales and dolphins.

“It’s an office you can’t beat,” Catalano said.