If Montauk ever produced a Renaissance man, it was Richard T. Gilmartin. An insurance businessman who entered politics and fought for people with disabilities, he loved history and surfcasting and shared his passion for both. Richard Gilmartin had started writing a history of Montauk when he died suddenly in 1964. The loss of Gilmartin’s knowledge base was like a mega-computer crashing. That’s why it was a joy to discover that the 30 pages titled “Montauk through the Ages” in the 1959 Chamber of Commerce Montauk Guide and Cook Book were authored by the surfcaster and historian himself.
Under “Sportfishing — New Horizons,” Gilmartin described the evolution of the fishing stand in the 1920s. “Surfcasting had its rugged aspects in those days. Such items as chest-high rubber waders were unknown in that era; boots were of no help if you were going to attempt to march out in water up to your armpits. The old-timers solved their particular problems by building what they called fishing stands, which extended out over the surf. These stands were usually erected in the spring, and with a modicum of luck might last the entire fishing season before the breakers stole them.
They were precarious things at best. Standing 10 or 15 feet above the waves, they consisted of slender oak spiles, wedged tightly in among the rocks by way of foundation, which were held together by wire and good fortune. Between these spiles extended a catwalk about two feet wide; the length of this catwalk was such that the angler would be 75 feet or more out over the surf, giving him a certain advantage in that [it] was just so much distance he didn’t have to bridge with a cast.”
However, Gilmartin cautioned, “as you can imagine, these fishing stands were not without a certain amount of peril. At best they were rickety, and their rather uncertain foundation gave them a bit of temperament. Walking out on a narrow, swaying — or at least shaking — catwalk, encumbered with fishing gear, was not unlike feeling one’s way along a tightrope. Then, too, with a particularly rough surf, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that the fishing stand could depart before the fisherman did — a very embarrassing state of affairs to say the least.”
Fishing stands caught on, though, and “several of them stretched skinny fingers over the breakers in the vicinity of the lighthouse and along the southern beach,” just like the one that appears in this image from the collection donated to the Montauk Library by Carleton Kelsey. Carleton Kelsey, another Renaissance Man — this time, from Amagansett.