The Moriches fishing community is mourning the recent passing of both Chet Wilcox and Ron Lamiroult of B&B Tackle & Sports shop. For well over fifty years, they were the best of friends, co-workers, and a tag team of reliable fishing reports. Daily, they served up bait and lures for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of all the local fish. B&B Tackle was where customers became friends and tales of fishing were always welcomed and exchanged.
After suffering a heart attack, Ron Lamiroult passed away at NYU Langone Hospital in Mineola on April 9th. He was 80 and is survived by his first wife Nancy and his second wife Ginny. Then, less than a month later, on May 3rd, Chet Wilcox suffered a stroke and died at Peconic Medical Center. He was 80 and is survived by his daughter Margaret “Meg” Wilcox of Colorado and two sisters, Barbara Rowker of Westhampton Beach and Rebekah Spector of Texas..
Anyone driving through the heart of Center Moriches during the last half-century will have passed by B&B Tackle & Sports. The 320 Main Street storefront, originally built in 1901 as a butcher shop, has since been a hat shop, a Browns Camera store, a radio service store, and a barber shop before Chet Wilcox turned it into a bait shop in 1968.
After a stint in the US Air Force, Chet returned to Center Moriches and decided against working on his family’s Wilcox Duck Farm (Old Neck Road). In opening a tackle shop, Chet literally chose fish over fowl.
While Chet owned B&B Tackle & Sports, his friend Ron worked at the store part-time. Like Chet, Ron had also done a tour in the armed forces and followed that with 25 years of working full-time doing engine maintenance for Pan Am. In 1988 Chet and Ron, along with others, founded the Moriches Anglers Club and the storefront became a fisherman’s mainstay in this salty hamlet along the southern bays of Long Island, just opposite the Moriches Inlet, with the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
On June 4th, as the tide was approaching the high-water mark along the shores of Moriches Bay, a procession of boats of the Moriches Anglers Club, along with friends and family, headed out to the Atlantic Ocean’s big sea buoy. It is located a little more than a mile south of the Moriches Inlet. It was there that Ron Lamirouh had requested his ashes to be scattered.
Normally, the ocean is so violent with its mountains of water speeding across the shoals that flank the inlet and then colliding into the water of the Moriches Bay, creating an unrelenting swirl of choppy chaos.
Moriches Inlet is considered one of the most dangerous waterways in the world —yet, on this day the ocean was flatter than a flounder. It was as if the ocean was in quiet reverence to the ceremony taking place.
During the gathering, the boats circled the Sea Buoy. It was from Carl Schnitter’s 28 ft. center console Mako from which Ron’s ashes would be scattered. Over Channel 65, Ron’s wife Ginny said words of remembrance and love, and red roses from all the boats joined Ron’s ashes into the ocean’s water.
Afterward, everyone met up for a farewell lunch at Center Moriches’ Sea Cove Restaurant, where fish stories flowed faster than the beer, wine, and clams-on-the-half shells.
Carl Schnitter was a close friend to both Ron and Chet —so much so that his daughter, Stacey, called them Uncle Ronny, and Grandpa Chet. Carl told me the epic tale of when his best friend, Ron, caught a 2,300 lb. great white shark. It was in the early 1970’s when a call came to Chet at B&B Tackle alerting him of a whale carcass being ravaged by sharks in the ocean off of Great Gun Beach.
“Chet called Ron, and Ron organized a boat trip with Captain Tom Cashman on his 36 ft sport fisherman called The Rogue
out of Senix Marine. They equipped the Rogue with harpoons, ropes, and barrels, and harpooned a great white shark. After five hours and two barrels going under, they finally towed it in.”
The monster fish was taken out of the water by a front-end loader at the former Shoreline Marina, which was at the end of Union Avenue in Center Moriches.
“Montauk Basin wanted Ron and the rest of them to bring it into Montauk, but they stayed the course,” Carl related. “As Chet told me later, it put Center Moriches on the front page of all the local news —instead of Montauk!”
Meg Wilcox reminisced to me about her father Chet leading their family, friends, and other fishermen to Marathon in the Florida Keys every winter. There, they rented houses, and some rented boats, while others trailered their boats down.
“You could be the worst fisherman in the world,” Meg said of her father, “but if you were on my dad’s boat, you would always catch fish. I remember catching a huge permit fish. It was so big!”
Carl added to the Marathon story: “We’d go out of Sister Creek to the Atlantic on a 25 ft. center console. One day we were catching everything: grouper, yellowtail snapper, kingfish, hogfish, Spanish mackerel, mutton snapper, and mangrove snapper.” Carl related. “Chet suddenly declares to all of us, I took a count today and we caught sixteen species of fish, and we weren’t even targeting them!”
Ginny, Ron’s wife spoke about her favorite fishing trip with Ron. They went out on Carl’s boat from the Senix Creek. “We were fishing a wreck called the Miller, about 12 miles from Moriches Inlet,” Ginny told me. “Everyone was catching sea bass and ling fish and I hooked onto a giant sea bass. It turned out to be, by far, the biggest fish caught that day. Everyone bowed to me, even when I got back to shore!”
Lou Pastore, a retired doctor of neurology and a member of the Moriches Anglers Club since 1972, told a story of when fifteen club members, including Chet Wilcox, went to the southeast shoreline of Alaska on a July six-day fishing junket. “We were at the Tanaku Lodge in Elfin Cove and motored 90 minutes to Deer Harbor. We were given whole salmon and whole cod fish as bait along with a hook the size of your arm!” Dr. Pastore exclaimed.
“Chet, me, and a couple of others were bottom fishing in 300 feet of water with no chum. We all caught fish, but I hooked the biggest one —a 320 lb. halibut and it took me twenty minutes to bring it to the surface. Once the monster fish was near the boat the crew roped the tail, and the captain shot the fish with a 410 shotgun to avoid the damage a thrashing halibut can do to a boat,” Dr. Lou said, adding, “The captain told us that in the past when trying to board live halibut, they had broken many a fisherman’s tibia bone.”
Carl spoke of another Tanuka Lodge trip where Captain Joe “Glasses” took him, Ron, and Chet out on a 26 ft Osprey. At first, they were trying for Halibut, but, with no bites, Captain Joe suggested they try for yelloweye rockfish.
“We used salmon strips and squid and we all caught many yelloweye rockfish, but Chet caught the biggest one.” Carl said, adding, “Yelloweye is a very good eating fish. It’s got white meat.”
Ed Groppe, who sails out of Areskonk Creek in Center Moriches on a 38 ft. Henriques, who is twice a winner of the Star Island Shark tournament and once of the Montauk Marine Basin Shark Tournament, shared with the gathering one of his favorite catch stories.
“I was circling a scallop dragger about fifty miles south of the inlet,” Ed began. “The tuna usually feast on the scallop guts that those large draggers process and then dump. We weren’t getting bites, but one of the dragger crew members yelled over to us, asking if we had any beer or cigarettes,” Ed continued. “We didn’t have cigarettes but we did have beer and traded the trawler a case of Budweiser for a 25 lb. sack of the largest and freshest of scallops —probably $500 worth of scallops! What a catch,” Ed laughed while brightening up the somber event.
Carl told me his own story of catching a trophy fish. “I was on Dr. Lou’s 44 ft. Henriques sailing out of Forge River. We were going out to fish for tuna at the Hudson Canyon, about 85 miles southwest of Moriches Inlet,” Carl said. “We were trolling with lures and spreader bars and it was my turn on the reel. I hooked into a giant blue marlin. It took over an hour to pull him in. The fish was shy of 1,000 lbs. and stretched far past the 15 ft beam of the boat’s transom.”
“I asked Lou, ‘How are we going to get this fish in the boat’ and he said, ‘We’re not. We’re going to let it go.’ And I said ‘Why? That’s a prize fish.’ and he said, ‘Exactly, that’s a prize fish. It’s a beautiful fish. We’ll tag it, document everything, take pictures, and have an awesome memory —and know that we revived the fish and let it go.'”
There were many plaques for tagging and releasing fish at B&B tackle awarded to Chet by the Moriches Anglers Club. One such plaque was for one hundred and fifty fish tagged and released in one single year.
With the regulations that seem to be strangling the sport tighter than a fishing line’s bird nest, many fishermen are at loss. The Moriches Anglers Club has even canceled its biggest fundraiser, the Moriches Anglers Shark Tournament, traditionally held on Father’s Day. They complained of too many catch bans. They will still hold their Fluke Tournament later in the summer, but no longer can they catch great whites, makos, and so many other sharks.
“I will agree that fish were wasted and people caught too many more than they ate,” Carl said. “Now we have all the regulations, but no stock. And then the commercial fishing keeps netting and netting and they are allowed x-amount of excessive catch but all the fish they throw back end up dying anyhow. There must be a better way. Maybe keep the excessive fish and give them to the poor.”
Some felt that it was approaching the end of the fishing era. Dennis Petersen, a long-time member of the Moriches Anglers Club and past charter captain out of Freeport, L.I., spoke of his days working on his grandfather’s, Lady Jess, out of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. “Every trip, we came back with boatloads of porgies, bluefish, striped bass, fluke, and tuna. It’s not like that anymore!”
Dr. Pastore added, “Back then, Long Island was the capital of flounder, but now there are no flounders. During the 70’s we had a ton of weakfish and they disappeared too. I think conservation is good, but I think there are cycles too. Things go and then come back. Also, with global warming, we’re getting more fish from the south and even seals lining the jetties of Moriches and Shinnecock Inlets during the winters.”
“What I don’t like are the bull sharks that have learned to follow fishing boats and steal catches from your lines before you can get them on board,” Dr. Pastore exclaimed. “I hate bull sharks!”
While there were many complaints, Ed, whose father, Charlie Groppe was a founding member of the Moriches Anglers Club, told the group that there are plenty of fish to catch.
“You just need to know where they are. Last year I went fishing with ‘Big Tom’ Oestreiker on his 28 ft. Grady White out of the Quintuck Creek near East Islip. We went inside the Fire Island Inlet and filled the boat with not only blowfish but also kingfish,” Eddy told the gathering, exclaiming, “I haven’t caught kingfish here since I was ten years old.”
“This past winter the King Cod, out of Senix Marine, caught their limits of cod fish and this spring they caught a lot of blackfish,” Ed reported, speaking about Captain Joe Tangle, who charters a 45 ft. Hatteras. “Now King Cod is catching their limits on fluke,” He added.
Meanwhile, reports that I have personally heard from fishermen at Center Moriches’ Brooklyn Dock, on its bay, and at the inlet, all include catches of large bluefish and stripers, as both species have finished spawning in all the creeks. And the creeks are beginning to bubble and splash.
Both Chet Wilcox and Ron Lamiroult are probably smiling down from their center consoles in the sky. They must be happy that fishing today is still alive and well. You just need a lengthy ruler, the right knowledge and info, the right bait and equipment, and a halibut-heck of a lot of patience!
For more information about the Moriches Anglers Club visit their website at morichesanglers.com. Chet Wilcox requested any donations to be made to Camp Pa Qua Tuck, a summer getaway for children with special needs. It is located at 2 Chet Swezey Road on Kaler’s Pond Lake in Center Moriches.