Little Tunny, Rain Bait and the Contender:
Fishing off Montauk Point with Captain Paul Dixon and first timer Fred Stelle

My first fishing adventure with Paul Dixon happened by chance, it was a cold day in November 1989. I was entertaining the marketing director for J.P. Morgan, it was my first chance to get to know him outside of the office, my job selling ad space for a national magazine included an entertainment budget so I looked for fish photos in all of my clients offices, this guy had one bigger than the photos of his kids, front and center. He was holding a silver salmon in Alaska, in today’s terms that would be called click bait. I clicked, he took the bait. He’d accepted my invitation to fish the Norwalk Islands for striped bass with a guide named Jeff Northrop. Having fished with Jeff before, I was impressed with his marina, Northrop’s Landing on the Saugatuck river in Westport Connecticut and the Hewes Bonefisher flats boat that he guided from, I’d booked a Saturday morning trip and confirmed the day before.

Guide's hand and Albicore | Montauk
Dixons fly box | fishing in Montauk 10/17/2017

Big day, big client, what could go wrong? As I arrived at the dock, I saw the boat in the marina slip but no Capt. Northrop. On my approach to his shop I noticed the front door was open, as I walked in I saw Jeff laying face up on the floor. He’d stepped aboard his boat and slipped on a thin film of ice and fallen.

With his back blown out he was in no shape to guide. He looked up at me and said: “I’ve made a phone call, my buddy Paul Dixon will guide you today, he doesn’t have a boat but you can walk the incoming tide at Weed Beach in Darien. It’s all I’ve got, Colin.” The three of us walked and waded that day and I learned to use a striping basket. We caught no fish, the magazine folded three weeks later, but I did hook a life long friend.

Over the years Paul and I have become good friends. Shortly after I purchased Estia, Amagansett in 1991 he called me to let me know that he too was setting up shop on Long Island’s east end. He was coming to open a guide service / anglers den called “Dixon’s Sporting Life” and asked me to stop in and visit when time allowed.

It wasn’t long before Paul established a name for himself as the guide to know for those interested in fly casting for stripers on the flats around Gardiners Island.

To be honest, if Paul Dixon hadn’t come to town, I’m not sure I’d have taken to salt water with a fly rod the way I have. He’s taught me how to cast a 9 weight rod, how to listen to the guides directions from the platform, how to wait for the fish to hit the fly and when hooked, let the line run between my fingers before setting up to play in the shallow water tight to my reel.

Captain Paul Dixon and Colin Ambrose in Montauk with Albie and a Rise rod tibor reel
Crease fly with rain bait

We ran into each other in September at an art opening in Amagansett and naturally set a date to get out on the water for what we hoped would be prime time for the striped bass migration.

As it turned out October 17 was a few days early for bass. Regardless it still played out as a perfect day to meet in Montauk and chase “little tunny”, a small species of tuna that notoriously come close to shore in October and November chasing bay anchovies, also referred to as “rain bait” because on a calm day it looks like it’s raining when the bait hits the surface.

Fred Stelle's first Albie | Montauk in October 2017

The day was well suited for my guest Fred Stelle who has been a regular at Estia’s Little Kitchen for years. Fred owns a home on the bluff in Montauk and has never had a chance to fish the fall blitzes for bass, blues and albie’s (little tunny). Fred has experience with light tackle fly fishing for trout and was anxious to try his hand in the salt. The day couldn’t have been better suited with blue sky and light breezes, we even fit in an excellent Hail Kale Caesar wrap with tofu from Joni’s in Montauk for lunch.

Joni's Hail Kale Caesar wrap with tofu | in Montauk
Joni's in Montauk, 8-30am, 10-17-2017

Technology has changed since Paul’s arrival. I remember fishing the bass run in the mid ‘90’s from his red Hewes flats boat, bouncing in the rip off of Montauk point. Today he guides the fall run from a banana yellow Contender 23T which is powered with a much bigger engine than he used on his flats boat.

The Contender has a deeper V shaped hull that sliced through the waves with ease and is outfitted with a padded rail around the inside of the boat at knee height allowing the angler a chance to tighten up to the edge of the boat and gain leverage that otherwise would be less safe and a lot less comfortable. He also has a quiver of rods set up with a variety of lines and high quality Tibor reels.

I used a Rise rod set up with a Tibor reel holding Cortland intermediate line, a 10 foot tapered leader and #16 leader. The hot fly on Friday was tied by Paul, an epoxy design, developed by Bob Popovics and it worked for both Fred and me. Fred used his own 8 weight set up which, until Friday, had never been tight to a fish. He was ecstatic to hook into 5 albies and with Paul’s help bring 2 into the boat.