“You’re not going to get rich fishing, but I love being on the water,” says bayman Stuart Heath, who moved to Montauk—after growing up in Queens—right out of high school in 1979. “I started working at Gosman’s, cutting fish. I did that for a few years, then I went to work for myself digging clams.
In the ‘70s there were hardly any black people out here. People were like, ‘Who the hell is this kid—where’d he come from?’” Thirty-six years later, Heath—whose late father was legendary jazz musician Percy Heath—is a fixture of the fishing community.
He gets up at sunrise, grabs a coffee at the 7-11 and then tends to his “pound traps” to check out his catch of the day. “Me and my partner bring in the fish, sort everything out, weigh them, pack them. Then they generally get shipped off to the Fulton Fish Market.”
He finishes up that part of his job by 10am (“before it gets too hot”), and “then I decide on something else to do—either going to pick up oysters or fishing for striped bass.”
When does a fisherman know to finally call it a day? “When your back hurts,” he says. But aches and all, Heath wouldn’t change a thing. “I love to fish, and you only live once, so you might as well be doing something you like to do. I mean I could be stuck in traffic for 2 or 3 hours going to some stupid job, but that’s not my gig.”