Outdoor Paradise

New York's Montauk Harbor offers world-class fishing and much more.

To me, Montauk is more than the eastern terminus of New York's Long Island; it is one my favorite places on Earth. Each summer, this outdoor paradise is transformed into a 24-hour hot spot-as some wind down for the evening, others are warming their engines for the dawn bite. Still others do both.

For three seasons each year, Montauk's quaint harbor and town bustle with excitement. Even when winter chokes the harbor, I like to bundle up in fleece for a run on the beach, hole up in one of the area's many year-round resorts, do a bit of shopping and sip some fine cabernet.

Montauk offers the heartiness of Nantucket, Massachusetts, the flavor of Newport, Rhode Island, and the fishing opportunities of North Carolina's Outer Banks. It is accessible by land, sea and air; my choice is by sea. Yachts-some en route to or from Cape Cod and points north, some running up Long Island Sound from the west-target the sea buoy from every direction. Sportfishermen, in particular, come from all over.

Those approaching by land drive along Montauk Highway, the last few miles of which wind through Hither Hills State Park. The ride culminates with a spectacular view of the Atlantic just short of town. If you prefer, bear right at the fork for a more scenic trip along Old Montauk Highway. Homes, restaurants and seaside resorts dot the road; all have ocean views.

I have passed through Montauk's jetties hundreds of times, and the experience is always a thrill. Birds peck away at top-swimming baitfish as surf fisherman cast plugs, looking for marauding predators. Tourists line the rails at Gosman's Dock to watch the stream of sportfishing yachts slide past. On the prevailing southwesterly breezes, the essence of freshly steamed seafood wafts from Gosman's many restaurants.

Just past Gosman's and to the west is a commercial dock where longliners and draggers empty their holds of fish destined for New York's Fulton Fish Market. This section of the waterfront is also home to the Viking Fleet, which includes several bottom-fishing party boats, the Block Island Ferry and a vessel used for whale-watching excursions.

As you idle farther into the harbor, Star Island is due south. The "island" is actually a peninsula, and home to a busy U.S. Coast Guard station-mariners will notice the 80-foot cutter straight ahead. Star Island Yacht Club is on the western side of the spit, while Montauk Yacht Club is to the east.

I docked at Star Island YC for years, and for fishermen and their families it makes a fine destination. The club is home to a large fleet of charter boats, a full-service marina with large, floating docks and a quality ship's store that will meet most fishermen's needs. Diesel fuel is available at your slip, and the dock staff is excellent. The yacht club's annual Shark Tournament is one of largest of its kind on the East Coast; this year's event is scheduled for June 16 through 19.

Across the street, Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina offers a sprawling hotel, docks, two swimming pools, tennis courts, a spa and multiple opportunities for top-notch dining. During peak season, it is not unusual to find a few megayachts tied off the long eastern pier. This facility garners accolades for its skill with special events and parties. Based on my experience with the resort, that praise is well deserved.

The tranquil and more expansive waters of Lake Montauk are just past Montauk YC. The lake's sheer size allows kayakers and water-skiers to coexist peacefully. Though it is a bit shallow in spots, Lake Montauk is a preferred anchorage for those wanting to remain on the hook.

At the far southern end, on East Lake Drive, is the Montauk Lake Club. The eastern shore is home to the Gone Fishing Marina, a good choice if you need outboard repairs. Both welcome transients and are popular with the cruising crowd. Also on East Lake Drive is Montauk's small airport.

Regardless of where you are around the harbor, a call to the Pink Tuna Cab Company will get you to town in no time. At the center of town is The Plaza, a large circular lawn where the Hampton Jitney deposits and collects those escaping the Big Apple. The Plaza offers many craft fairs and concerts during the summer months. Also in town are beaches, arrayed along the south-facing shore. The area's many resorts and motels attract guests who want to be close to the action and have easy access to beaches.

The town is ringed with fine restaurants, gift and apparel shops and stores catering to every outdoor passion. The proprietors are usually good sources of local knowledge, so don't hesitate to chat them up.

For their part, surfers hang at Ditch Plains, or simply "Ditch," on the south side, while windsurfers congregate in the Napeague and Fort Pond Bay areas west of town. Deep Hollow Ranch, the oldest cattle ranch in the country (established in 1658), and Rita's Stables are where the equine-enamored ride. Montauk Downs, a public golf course, offers not only a challenge, but breathtaking views for duffers.

Montauk is quite hilly, and bike trails surround the region. Local roads too are filled with cyclists and joggers. Many head to the lighthouse on Montauk Point, where the view from the bluff is always spectacular. On the rocks below, surfcasters, locally known as "rock rats," stand and wade, sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder, casting for striped bass and bluefish. During the warmest of summers, an errant tarpon and cobia can fall prey here.

Montauk is all about the water, so fishing is king. Even novice fishermen can find glory in the rich waters of Shagwong Reef, Endeavor Shoals and those out to Great Eastern, all marked on area charts. Spring brings winter flounder, followed by the first wave of bluefish, striped bass and a run of large fluke. Summer months begin the offshore shark and tuna fishing; sometimes the fishing is as near as 20 miles. The bluewater canyon season runs through July, August and September.

My perfect stay in Montauk includes a sunrise breakfast at the lighthouse, some morning fishing, lunch along the harbor, an afternoon paddle, and sunset drinks at The Montauket followed by steamed lobsters at Duryea's. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for summer.

RESTAURANTS

After Fishing Bar and Grill, 668-6535. Good food, great view (seasonal). Dave's Grill, 668-9190. Small, top-notch. The Dock, 668-9778. Great food year-round. Duryea's Lobster Deck, 668-2410. Open deck, BYOB. Gosman's, 668-5330. Seafood, popular. Harvest on Fort Pond, 668-5574. Fancy family style. The Montauket Hotel, 668-5992. Sunset cocktails. Oyster Pond, 668-4200. Always good, in town. Shagwong, 668-3050. Local favorite, in town. Surfside Inn, 668-5958. Tasty, B&B setting.

RESORTS & MARINAS

Gone Fishing Marina, 668-3232. Gurney's Inn Resort & Spa, 668-2345. Montauk Marine Basin, 668-5900. , (888) MYC-8668. The Panoramic View, 668-3000. Star Island Yacht Club, 668-5052. Surfside Country Inn, 668-5958.

CHECK OUT

Deep Hollow Ranch, 668-2744. Montauk Downs, 668-5000. Rita's Stables, 668-5453. Viking Fleet, 668-5700.

MISCELLANEOUS

Pink Tuna Cab Company, 668-3838. Hampton Jitney, 283-4600. Montauk Airport, 668-3738. Montauk Chamber of Commerce, 668-2428.

Area code 631 unless otherwise stated