A young me poling the boat in Belize

Mari & Rene with a South Water Caye grouper

A client releases a bonefish from the flat in front of South Water Caye

A client with a Belizen grouper

My son with a tuna bigger than he is

Me with a 70 lb Costa Rican amberjack

Me with a big Panamanian roosterfish

Capt Gene Kelly

I’ve been fishing all my life, and one of the first memories I have of Montauk, was when my father took me out on a head boat out of Montauk’s old Fishangrila dock. The family, minus my old man who had to work, would spend the summers in a small cottage on the lake at Watermill, and this Saturday the two of us drove out for the days fishing. We got there early and it was a good thing we did, because we beat the Long Island Railroad’s famed Fisherman Express that brought out hoards of anglers from the city. We already had our spot on the boat when the train pulled in and the stampede started. Guys were literally jumping out of the train windows in an effort to get to their favorite boat before it was filled up and on it’s way.

We spent the day fishing off the south side for seabass and catching plenty (I still wonder why we never caught any fluke, but I know that we didn’t), until the time came that the boats were notified that Camp Hero would be having shooting exercises and we would have to move out of the area. Later, on the way home, we made a drift off the Lighthouse, and had the fastest fishing of the day, with a steady supply of double header porgies.

The next memory was the following weekend, when back at the lake, we heard a seemingly never ending steam of amblance sirens. We later learned that the Pelican, the boat that we fished on the week before had sunk off the Point, with the loss of  forty some people including the captain.   

I continued to fish at Montauk on occasion with my father, but it got more serious after high school when I started to surfcast along with a buddy, usually sleeping in the car in back of North Bar, or up on the cliffs overlooking Caswells on the south side. But we weren’t very good at it, rarely catching fish. All that changed when I bought a twelve foot aluminum skiff and he bought a buggy we would use to transport it. Then we could catch stripers, launching it into the surf at Clark’s Cove, and spending nights trolling big plugs between North Bar and the Lighthouse. Come dawn we’d head back to town and the back door of the Shagwong Bar & Restaurant, where we’d peddle our fish and grab a quick manhattan before heading across the street for breakfast.

The next step up was a twenty-five foot Bertram that I bought. This allowed us to get offshore, where we did OK with sharks, school tuna and even an occasional white marlin, but then the Russian draggers showed up along with the giant bluefin that would mass in back of them when they pulled their nets. Hooking up with a fish was usually automatic and quick. We tried, but were woefully ill equipped, and would usually hook up on our 6/0 tackle and just watch the line disappear. Determined to catch one we bought a couple of 9/0 outfits and a small fishing chair. We finally gave up after spending six hours on a fish, breaking the gimbal on the chair and cutting the fish off under the boat.

Until the early 70’s I worked in highway construction, mainly  building bridges, and because work slowed down during the winter months I started traveling, along with a couple of buddies, to what was then called British Honduras for a couple of months, with occasional side trips to Costa Rica for tarpon fishing.

These trips led to my quitting real work in favor of fishing, which was easy to do since I had no wife and kids that I needed to provide for. I started my fishing career by opening a small fishing lodge in Belize on South Water Caye, an island of about fifteen acres twelve miles off what was then called Stann Creek, now called Dangriga, sitting on the barrier reef.  I aimed for one group for a week, followed by a week off, but I became somewhat successful and wound up having a second boat built to be run by a local and more often having to work on my planned for week off.

I would head south just after Thanksgiving and return to Montauk in May, when I would fish, mainly commercial rod and reel fishing, aminly for striped bass and porgies, with occasional charter trips working with Capt Frank Mundus on his CRICKET II. At that time Frank would have occasional promotional deals and I would run the boat when he wasn’t available, and for a couple of years would run the boat on night trips while Frank ran it days. Frank didn’t like inshore fishing, so when the shark fishing ended, around the beginning of October or so, I would take over the boat for the fall bass season. That lead to a full time gig running the charterboat SEA DOLL and then the HUSTLER.

By 1980 a decision had to be made based on two little kids who had to go to school, and I closed up my little Belizean business and returned to Montauk full time, buying the KELLYBOAT, which I operated as a single-handed charter boat. It was a pretty good deal. I charged the same amount for a charter as all the standard two man boats and didn’t have to pay a mate. Plus, I’d even get occasional tips. I wasn’t used to the winter weather, but learned to deal with it. In those days, longlining tile fish was a big deal in Montauk with a dozen or so boats doing it. I wasn’t dumb enough to want to spend the winter seventy miles off shore for a week at a time, but there was another side to the operation - baiting the hooks. It was dirty, stinky work, but we did it in a heated trailer and actually made a pretty decent amount of money - $10/tub. Eight to ten tubs a day was pretty good pay in those days, and it was also pretty steady. While the boats were out fishing we’d ready the tubs for the next trip. The boats would get in and we’d start over again with a new batch of tubs. Of course, I missed the tropics, but once the kids got old enough, we’d be able to at least get in a warm vacation, and naturally that would include some fishing. Since my wife was from Guatemala, that was the most common stop, but Costa Rica and Panama figured in as well.

The eighties was tough time for charterboats in Montauk, at least for the inshore fishing. Striped bass were in decline along with the clients who wanted to fish for them. Luckily, tuna fishing was hot. For the most part, we’d fish up to about twenty-five miles off the Point, and for a number of years would anchor up closer to ten miles out and pound the yellowfins and bluefins, often heading home loaded after only a couple of hours of fishing, with the exhausted clients. However, throughout the 90’s, the tuna, started a slow move further offshore, and the striped bass while recovering were not there yet. A boat like mine was a little short in the speed department, so rather than invest in a complete remaking of my boat or the purchase of a more modern one, I decided to sell the boat and leave chartering.

After selling the KELLYBOAT, I reordered my life, getting a steady job running a private boat, while operating a charter service in Montauk, published a promotional type magazine (MONTAUK SPORTFISHING) and operated a fishing travel agency dealing with fishing trips in Central America, including Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and Belize. The magazine got to be more of a boring job than it was an interesting endeavor and after publishing it for ten years I packed that in. But, I’m still running a private boat during the summer months (the second one after the first owner died), booking charters in Montauk and setting up clients on great fishing trips throughout Central America.

The third largest tuna caught in Montauk that day. The largest was a world record.

Montauk sword


58 lb striper caught on the KELLYBOAT

Me with a Montauk Striper

Me with a Guatemalan sail on the flyrod

My wife and me in Guatemala

My family on a busman’s holiday in Montauk

A client with a South Water Caye wahoo

Check out the fishing in these locations



Me with a Guatemalan  roosterfish

Mike Kayel with our day’s commercial catch of stripers

South Water Caye

South Water Caye sunset

South Water Caye