The Midnight Rambler…by John Papciak

The Midnight Rambler
By John Papciak

If you’ve only been following the “surfers versus surfcasters” posts on the fishing web pages, you might not realize the extent of the debates about beach rules on the east end of Long Island.

Now that we’ve officially entered the tourist season, I am certain to see some more of this first-hand, and I am sure I’ll read plenty about it in local newspapers.

It’s actually ironic.

Real estate developers and event planners might describe a place like East Hampton (which includes the hamlet of Montauk) as “the land of NO” – but not when it comes to beach use. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find another populated coastal “resort” town where the local government has bent over so far backwards to allow things on these beaches that would be unthinkable elsewhere.

Want to dig a hole in the sand, and have a bonfire at dusk on the beach? No problem.
Want to take doggie for a walk, maybe let him enjoy some freedom by letting him off the leash? No problem.
Want to drive your 4×4 on the beach? No problem, as long as you have the permits.
Want to enjoy a glass of chardonnay, or a cold one? Generally not worthy of a ticket, as long as you don’t make it look like Animal House.
Want to have a clam bake, maybe even have it catered, maybe even set up some tables and chairs…and how about a little music? No problem, within reason.
Want to take a few newbies down to the beach, to teach them surfcasting, paddle boarding or surfing, for a fee? No problem, usually.

(Try doing some of this stuff in Avalon NJ!)

But like anything else, so much “freedom” can lead to excess, and one person’s modest intentions becomes another person’s license to do whatever they darn well please.

That small paddle boarding lesson turns into multiple shops competing for space on an otherwise quiet and peaceful beach.
The dogs leave their piles here and there, a few bark and growl at sunbathers, or worse. Meanwhile owners chat away on cell phones, making believe they didn’t see it. That intimate beach fire or clam bake gives way to a corporate event, with VIPs, trucked-in generators, with taxis and even limos idling in the parking lots.

The chain reaction is also quite predictable:

Words are exchanged.
Fights break out.
People get bitten (usually it’s the dogs doing the biting, but not always).
Trash is left behind.
Police get called.
Town Boards get an earful and then debate new rules.

…And then ordinary citizens lament of how things just aint like they used to be.

While the town has resisted serious restrictions, there has already been lengthy discussion about all of the above

The latest new rule will come into effect July 1. From that day forward, dogs must be leashed within 300 feet of the beach during the high season. The response from dog owners, need you ask? Belated promises of better self-enforcement. Statements that there only needs to be greater education, not more rules. (Never understood how “education” was expected to fix just plain “stupid” or “inconsiderate” behavior, but I digress)

The real trouble is that these new rules often result in lost freedoms for more than just the offenders.

More rules mean more complaints about rules not being followed. More rules and complaints mean more enforcement. More enforcement means more police in a ticket-writing mood. And this means more tickets for anything and everything, even if the infraction is so minor, or so insignificant that it was overlooked in the past.

There was a time when a beach bonfire hardly brought the attention of local authorities. More recently? I can’t recall a beach fire over the past couple of years where an officer did not stop to check that it was all legal.

Yes, I know what some of you are thinking…”Hooray for more enforcement!” “We all need more enforcement!”

Nothing deflates a great sunset like a visit from the Police – even when you know the rules by heart, and even though you have all the equipment, and even if you have every permit imaginable. And who wants to be constantly worried…did I forget my [fill in the blank], and is there anything he could hit me with, should he be in a ticket-writing mood?
What I don’t quite have a handle yet on how this will all play out in the years ahead, as spats over beach access and beach use escalate. Is it inevitable?

And this eventually impacts fishing.

A fishing buddy recently arrived back at his truck to find police writing him a ticket, even though the lot was practically empty and enforcement normally didn’t start until high season. There was a time when I used to launch a kayak just about anywhere (State/County/Town/Private land), but now with so many more calls for enforcement (even related to issues between surfers and fisherman), I can no longer assume that my minor transgressions (no matter how quiet and careful I am) will be overlooked. Likewise, there was a time when I used to spend a few days living out of my truck and could sleep in just about any quiet lot during a fishing binge. But I am already seeing and hearing of more sleeping fishermen being told they had to vacate a lot in the middle of the night – even though the lot was empty, and even though the fisherman was not harming anyone or anything.

Sometimes more rules and more enforcement are needed, I guess. And then sometimes it might be better to just live and let live.

This much I do understand – something I realized by the age of 7 or 8 – things work out best when the kids can work it out amongst themselves. As soon as the screaming starts, and the parents have to get involved, the party is over and everyone just gets sent off to bed.


9 comments on “The Midnight Rambler…by John Papciak

  1. ctangler

    That about sums it up, we wait all winter, fish to memorial day, at which point we must become a creative access secret agent that even your wife doesn’t associate with… hopping fences etc til labor day, resume normal fishing but still hopping fences due to lingering vacationers, all while worrying about your car being broken into, ticketed, or towed. I’m semi-new to the surf game, maybe every surfcaster lives with this and has grown to accept it, maybe it comes with the territory, but why? Just because I do not own a boat does not mean I don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on fishing. Money that is spent in the areas I fish on gas, food, tackle, lodging. I’m not saying money has anything to do with catching fish, I’m only alluding to this as the foot our collective sport stands on… to “buy” our chance to argue rights to fish. Then again I’d rather believe it is just our right to fish and money has nothing to do with it.
    All the headaches associated with the surfcasting scene in terms of access rights, noise, drinking, poaching, litter, non-enforcement, the health of the fishery, spot burning, being a “newbie/googan” apparently these are interchangeable terms that stick to people for years, all of these headaches make for serious considerations to give it all up. All of these things are part of the exterior battle a new to the sport surfcaster has to self manage, unless they have a mentor to steer the green surf angler straight. This is the only sport I have experienced where it is more commonly accepted and encouraged to avoid other anglers altogether than help them. Yet dim lights shine in the night here and there, and some of the old salts pass on their hard fought secrets to the young blood, of course only after proper interrogation. So if you are new to the sport, all I want to express is keep plugging, practice catch & release, pickup others trash if you can. There might be someone crazy enough to enlist you in the battles a surfcaster must endure like access, enforcement, etc that John speaks of in this article. And also that I was pulled-over tonight because I “parked on the grass.”

  2. Dennis Zambrotta

    I feel your pain – happening up and down the coast. Local fishermen need to do some creative thinking. For example – next time you’re asked to institute a fishing license in NY try and get it tied to shoreline access – another words your license gets you into all state parks, special access areas, etc. It needs to be in the law. Now your paying for what use to be a privilidge and now have the right to access these areas. Other groups don’t pay for permits or need a license. Use the license issue to your adavntage! Money talks.

  3. Irish

    I would LOVE to agree with you John, but wherever I go I encounter US as the problem, I know it’s an unpopular view , but the music, the dog shite the loud behavior in quiet communiites and the public urination and drinking are reasons to hurt access to surf fisherman. The surfcaster is usually the visiting team, so of course its easy to overlook the indiscretions of the locals with bonfires, tables, and dogs. Which leaves us as the target. We need to police ourselves vigorously. To keep a watchful eye on our own kind. I am certainly not saying i need or believe in the extra outside enfocement and restrictions but there isnt a doubt in my mind why they are happening. See you out there

    1. Rob

      @ Irish. That is exactly what John is saying. I agree (with both of you, LOL). Now the only thing I can say is People SUCK! I teach my children to always think about other people. When I am at a traffic light I don’t leave a huge gap between me and the car in front. When the light turns green I go, I don’t fidget with my phone or radio because I know if I do that, 2 or 3 cars way back are not going to make the light and YES I do think that way. Since I am so obsessive at thinking that way (in every aspect of my life) I get so frustrated when others are just so wrapped up in their own little world to give a crap about the next person. People just plain SUCK! The only time people will even have half a thought about the next person is when there is a disaster, like 9/11/2001, Boston marathon bombing, Hurricane Sandy. Why can’t we be live that all the time?

  4. Ross

    Show me a rule or law without enforcement and I will show you total diregard by too many fellow citizens or in some cases non-citizens.

    Want to create chaos…make a rule about surfing in Montauk and then don’t enforce it.
    Want to create garbage and shorts being taken in our state parks…give permits and then never check to see if people are abiding by the rules and our laws.

    The number of DEC officers on Long Island is pathetically low, and yes, I know that it is all about the lack of the almighty dollar.

    Your post caught me on a day when I saw what was a relatively pristine beach three weeks ago turned into a garbage dump with debris and carcasses from fileted fluke (all shorts) all over the beach. Freakin’ slobs.

    There has to be a better way of dealing with this…

  5. Johnp

    The guy pictured here getting the ticket pulled into a mostly empty lot, on a cold overcast day, saw a food truck and decided to pull in to get something for his family. Clearly from out of town, and judging from his accent, visiting from overseas. He had no idea how quickly the ticket-writing officer would pounce. Now enforcement is becoming as strict as it is in Manhattan. The point is that we can scream for more rules and enforcement, but we have to be careful what we wish for.


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