And now, 50 years later…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And now, 50 years later…

...I learn from Ms. Alison Frost's Wild West­hampton blog, that what I've always called an "Ocean-going Sunfish" is a/k/a a "Mola Mola."

The Summer of 1960 a subway motorman from Ocean Parkway arrived with his wife and kids for a week's vacation at a cabin they rented each July in Hampton Bays.

In the several years the family had been doing this, their routine rarely varied.

The wife and children would make their way to a beach... usually Callucci's on Peconic Bay just east of the Canal, while the husband headed for the Inlet with his fishing gear and a Scotch cooler full of cold Schaefer.

There he'd rent a dinghy and row out into Shinnecock Bay to where no one else was moored, toss the anchor and a line over, and very happily sit and pretend to fish while steadily consuming his beer, content to be outdoors and on the water, away from the chatter of his family.

It is not recorded whether he ever caught anything, but that was not the "why" of his routine... he liked the salt air, the sun and the solitude.

Then one day, as he was just finishing the last of his beer, he saw something swim past him that was definitely out of the ordinary.

Not only was it the largest aquatic beast he'd ever seen outside of the Coney Island Aquar­ium, but it was extremely odd looking.

He immediately shipped his tackle. weighed an­chor and headed back to the cottage without a word to anyone.

"It was a huge stubby thing with one of those surfboard things attached up and down to it."

...he tried explaining to his wife later... and immediately regretted it.

She cast upon him a dour eye, and demanded to know how many beers he'd imbibed.

The next day he returned to approximately the same spot opposite the Inlet and on the edge of a shoal area, to resume his favorite vacation routine determined to not let any aquatic ap­parition or his wife's harsh rebuke of the prior evening spoil his enjoyment.

Within the first hour he again espied the mon­ster fish wafting leisurely past his dinghy.

This time he tossed the rest of his beer over the side and rowed back to the wharf, deter­mined to say nothing of the sighting to any­one, especially wife lest she have him talking to the Parish Priest about his drinking troubles as soon as they'd returned to Brooklyn.

Fortunately for the husband's peace of mind and the F.&M. Schaefer Brewing Company's bottom line, others has seen the creature, too.

The men who manned the Shinnecock fishing fleet knew what it was... an "Ocean-going Sun­fish" which had wandered in through the Inlet and been unable to find its way back to deeper water.

It was estimated to be a whopping 1500 lbs., likely the biggest fish ever seen in these parts.

And it wasn't 'til just this week that I learned it was a Mola Mola of the Molidae family.


1. Ray Overton said...

While out on a night fishing trip about 20 years ago, we came across one of those giants. The Captain of the boat called it an "Atlantic Sunfish" and estimated the one we saw at 2500-3000 pounds. All I know is the thing was absolutely monstrous and led to the thought "We need a bigger boat!!!"

Aye, "Chief Brody."

2. David Willmott, Jr. said...

Growing up we knew them as "oceanic sunfish" which I always had supposed was the technical name to differentiate them from the sunfish we use to catch on spin rods on Merrits Pond in Riverhead and elsewhere. Frequently we would see them on the ocean surface during our weekend runs offshore, from the tip of the Shinnecock Inlet out to 30 fathoms and further while on spotter duty for game fish fins. Once the sightings became commonplace, the excited shout of "fin" would quickly be replaced by the call of "just another sunfish," which was given away by the flop of its fin, almost as if it were waving at you.

It still amazes me to know that this fish that was seemingly all head could launch itself out of the water in a full breach. I remember an old sword-fisherman telling a story of trying to harpoon one only to have it bounce off its thick hard skin and cartilage like body and also hearing of damage caused to props and shafts when accidentally run over on the open water.

Many a time at Tiana or Ponquogue, you would hear the call of shark when its fin was spotted, but its telltale fin wave would reveal exactly what it was. Two or three years ago off the beach just to the East of Shinnecock Inlet, I had a similar experience to the one in the video. Mid-afternoon I had spotted the fin of one nearby a kayak being paddled a few hundred feet offshore. I grabbed my bogie board to paddle out fully expecting it to be long gone by the time I arrived, but instead was rewarded with about ten minutes of watching just mere inches below the surface what I estimated to be about a 300 pound sunfish as it gently swam along. A great experience and memory to have.

Thanks, Dave... nice to hear from you.

3. Peter said...

A nice recollection, Dean.

I had a similar encounter with an ocean sunfish while surfing in Montauk in the late '60s. We all thought it was a shark (pre-Jaws) and scurried out of the water.

Are you and the subway motorman related by any chance?

Nope, no relation... he was a professional acquaintance of my ex-brother-in-law, who fished from a 29-footer christened, of all things, "Orca," and berthed in Weesuck Creek.

Email address is not published
Remember Me

Write the characters in the image above