The northernmost point on this rugged, hilly island of scrub trees and dune grass is Sandy Point. It begins as a wide stretch of beach and drifts off, narrower and narrower, until the battling forces of Block Island Sound to the east and Mother Atlantic to the west sweep over it.

"You know about the tide here," asked a native wearing a long-billed fishing hat. "It's always out. When the tide is flooding, it hits the point and washes out. When it ebbs out of the Sound it hits the point and washed out, whoosh," and he made great sweeping motions out to sea.

Sadny Point has claimed an even dozen seagoing ships since 1880. The rip tide that runs straight out conceals a long shallow stretch of sand and rocks that is deadly when the pounding surf drives a ship's fragile bones onto it.

No one knows how many lives have been snuffed out when seamen were tossed into the raging rip and carried out to sea.

But what is peril to human invaders is heaven to the natives of Sandy Point's waters - the bluefish, fluke and striped bass that lurk in the rushing currents and wait for bait fish to be swept along.

Where there are fish there are anglers, here a very special breed that cling to a prescribed way of doing business.

The surfcasters that rush to Sandy Point each evening as the sun prepares to set are armed for battle. They wear full suits of four-weather gear, mostly unmatched browns and yellows held together with twine and canvas belts. They wear boots and hats and rubber hoods. They carry whip-like surf rods up to 12 feet long."Their ammunition is minimal - they may bring two or three lures, and almost everyone ends up favoring one, the big popper.

These poppers are weighed topwater lures up to three or four inches in length. With the proper tackle, they can be flung 100 yards out into the surf, then worked back with quick jerks along the surface.

They are supposed to simulate midsized bait fish, and they do the job: as you draw them into shore you can see tiny minnows leaping out of the water to escape the oncoming plug.

They terrify the minnows and tantalize the stripers and blues, which makes for knockout sport fishing.

Jerry Scheyer of Morris Plains, N.J., is one of the wet-suited anglers who has hooked himself on this demanding style of fishing. He has been here for two weeks, and so far he's landed seven bluefish and two stripers, which is probably all the protein he's need if he didn't waste so much energy fishing.

Scheyer hits the beach just before sundown. He rolls across the mile of sand road in his red Land Rover, rod tips poking out the back. He parks in among a convoy of jeeps and four-wheel-drives and is in the water instantly, thigh deep.

He will be there several times a week, in among a line of perhaps 12 or 15 others, plugging deep into the ocean and working his lure back, splashing and chugging it in the busy surf. These men and women cast into the setting sun and keep firing long after the last pink rays give way to stars and phosphorescene in the sea.

Once or twice a night - maybe more - one of the anglers will get a strike and a blue of striper will turn tail and run the length of the rip, fighting the drag of a big spinning outfit. The strike may come close in or out in the deep water; either way, the hardest part is bringing the defeated fish in through the braking surf, where it is tossed and turned bottom side up and where a losely set hook and break free from the sheer force of the sea.

And then there are days like last Wednesday, when everthing happens at once.

With a northeast wind whipping the seas and rain spitting, the fish hit the point by the hundreds. It seemed that everyone had a fish on the hook at once. Lines tangled, like on an overcrowded head boat.

Popper fishing is no soft sport. In years past, the surf fishermen here abouts were content to heave gobs of skimmer clams out to sea, let them settle to the bottom behind-three-ounce pyramid sinkers, then wait for a big fish to come along and gobble it all up.

With the sporty popper, the angler works himself into a sweat, even in the cold, damp night breezes after sunset. He casts out and jigs the lure back, casts and retrieves, over and over for two, three hours and more, often without a hit. Why?

Wednell Corey, whose ancestors battled the Indians for this harsh land some 300 years ago, puts it this way: "You can catch fish with clams, may be more fish, but when a big blue comes out of the water and nails that plug right in front of you it makes up for all the fish you didn't catch."

And so these men and women return to Sandy Point and to points and coves around the little island that sits between Monauk on Long Island and Newport, R.I. You can see them trailing through town at the supper hour, rods and slickers piled into their jeeps and cars.

The follow their instincts to the places where the fish are and they follow their ethics to a sporting approach.

Their lives are ruled by clocks, sure, but they are ruled by tides and winds and weather, as well. And a crowning success is the swirl of blue water as a fish slahes, then the top-water leap and strike as it hits the lure for the moment, time stands still.