Federico’s Surfmaster Charters Caters to Families Who Fish

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Tom Federico of Surfmaster Charters, which is based out of Sag Harbor. Stephen J. Kotz photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

Unlike most kids growing up on the East End, who got their first taste of fishing when they tied a snapper popper onto a cheap spinning reel, Captain Tom Federico had bigger targets in mind. “Bass. Under the bridge or at Otter Pond,” he said of his start. “That’s pretty much how I got hooked.”

Today, Captain Federico runs Surfmaster Charters, the only full-time charter boat operating out of Sag Harbor. His 24-foot Stamas is moored at Long Wharf on those few days when he is not running a couple of dads and their kids out on the bay in search of weakfish, porgies, fluke, bluefish, and, of course, striped bass.

“I start the first week in May and run right through November,” he said. “I typically fish the Jessup’s Neck area over to the ferry slip and sometimes Cedar Point and Mashomack.” Later in the season, he will make trips in search of sea bass and fluke to the east side of Gardiner’s Island.

“That’s about as far as I go with the charters,” he said, adding that he will make special arrangements for those who want to book a charter to fish off Montauk, which requires about an hour’s cruising time in both directions, or to fish for bass in Plum Gut.

“Most of my business is families,” he continued. “I try to provide them with good, steady action so the kids don’t get bored.”

Even though a trip may be targeting porgies, fluke, or weakfish, “the biggest kick a kid can get is catching a sand shark,” he said. “They get out the cellphone to take pictures and call their grandparents. ‘Hey grandpa! I caught a shark!’”

Tom Federico cleans a freshly-caught porgy.

Captain Federico runs a flexible schedule. Kids and families don’t like getting up too early, so he will offer an 8 to 11 a.m. trip; more serious fishermen will typically request an earlier start and longer fishing times, so he also schedules 7 a.m. to noon trips. Afternoon and early evening trips are also available.

The cost is $475 for a 3-hour charter or $600 for a five-hour, half-day trip. “That includes all the bait and tackle, and I clean all the fish when we’re done,” Captain Federico said. He urges customers to bring hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and what they want to eat and drink. Customers are also welcome to bring their own gear, he added.

In mid-May, on what turned out to be one of the few warm days of the month, Captain Federico took his younger brother, Rob, who was celebrating his birthday, his old friend and fishing partner, Mike Trunzo, and a reporter on a morning trip to the Jessup’s Neck area. The water that morning was crowded with party boats from Montauk and Greenport joining dozens of private fishing boats working for porgies.

As Rob Federico offered a steady stream of banter, joking or otherwise commenting on the state of the world, Mr. Trunzo, a bemused smile on his face, kept a close watch over the rods, while Captain Federico was busy positioning the boat where his fish finder told him he could expect to find his quarry, baiting lines, and otherwise keeping order.

This day saw bluefish around early, which Captain Federico said probably pushed out any fluke that may have been nearby. After a slow start, the day turned bountiful with porgies being reeled in abundance as well as the occasional sea robin and one blowfish.

As a young man, Captain Federico worked at his father Jim Federico’s grocery, Federico’s Superette, which is now the Harbor Market. After his father sold the store in 1983, he got his captain’s license, bought a 24-foot Stamas similar to the same boat he owns now, and put out his shingle as the Harbor Hooker Charters. A few years later, with tuna fishing going gangbusters in Montauk, Captain Federico upgraded to a 38-foot boat and fished for bluefin, yellowfin, albacore — and sharks while the good times lasted.

He eventually sold that boat, worked on other charters or running private charters on clients’ boats. About 13 years ago, he bought another Stamas, which he took out to Montauk each fall for the striper run, but did not use for regular charters. He eventually refurbished the boat — removing the inboard-outboard engine to make more room for fishing — and adding a 250-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor — and has been offering regular charters out of Sag Harbor for the past seven years.

“I try to tailor my tactics to the time of year. There’s always something to catch somewhere,” he said. “If it’s been really quiet, I’ll suggest going another day.”

“I want them to go home happy,” he said of his customers. “I don’t want them to have a bad experience.”

Captain Federico can be reached by calling 631-377-6619 or visiting his temporary website, smcharters.com.

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