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Dec 1, 2015 9:59 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Johnny's Tackle Closes After 70 Years

Chita Phong Phanh show's off a nice blackfish caught off Montauk over the weekend. Matt Bobek
Dec 1, 2015 10:21 AM

Earlier this month, the oldest tackle shop in the “Surfcasting Capital of the World” closed for good after eight decades of seeing some of the largest striped bass ever caught dragged through its doors.Johnny’s Tackle went out with little fanfare. There was no closing party, no sad salutations to a beloved retiring proprietor. There wasn’t even an article about the shop’s long and storied history in the local papers—and, believe me, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“I ain’t one for publicity” is what John told me when I asked him if he’d sit for an interview and share some memories about his decades in the store for a story in our news section. There was no changing his mind.

That’s Johnny—grouchy and self-immolating to the end.

When John Kronuch opened the store, 70 years ago now, it was a fisherman’s general store in a still-emerging frontier for those discovering the already legendary fishing off Montauk. In the stories that Bobby Michelson told me, it evolved into a clubhouse and a specialty supplier for surfcasters, as Montauk became a mecca for thousands of fishermen obsessed with catching striped bass from the shore.

Johnny Kronuch, the elder, was among the first and the best to build custom-made rods set up specifically for surfcasters. Even when I was a young fisherman, Kronuch rods were still an unmistakable workhorse—heavy blanks, with heavy-duty guides, thick cork tape and no reel seat.

The photos that lined the walls of Johnny’s were testament to its role in one of the great eras of sportfishing. About a third of them remained on the last day the shop was open, with the rest collected by their subjects for posterity, I would assume.

Johnny, the younger, became something of a legend in his own right in Montauk—for his gruff irascibility more than for his role as a purveyor and bard, as his father had been. Despite his warhorse angler of a wife, Kathy, being a veritable professor of Montauk fishing, Johnny’s Tackle slipped from the ranks as a fishermen’s clubhouse in Montauk, in favor of the shop that started as Freddie’s Bait & Tackle and is now Paulie’s Tackle of Montauk. Guys like Teddy and Billy Beasley drew locals and pilgrims alike with their verve for endless discussions of striped bass feeding patterns, fishing conditions and tactics. There also was always hot coffee.

So fare thee well, Johnny’s Tackle. I hope Mr. Kronuch got a handsome price for the building. If you’ve been to Montauk in the last few years, you’ll know that the new owner is not going to be re-opening a tackle shop in the location. I imagine it will be another short-lived boutique, or another gourmet coffee dispensary, or a yoga studio. Probably a yoga studio. Sigh.

Great fishing still for blackfish, black sea bass, porgies and cod on the offshore reefs. All the local party and charter boats from Moriches, Shinnecock, Montauk and Orient are making daily trips.

Striped bass are still putting in a showing. Jersey and the New York Bight have been the epicenter of some incredible fishing lately, but there are still tons of peanut bunker in our waters, and herring have started to move in off Montauk. Ponquogue and Westhampton beaches saw some good shots of fish on Saturday, and there are definitely possibilities just about anywhere.

As Jack Yee would say: Keep it honest, you wabbits.

The Eastern Suffolk chapter of Ducks Unlimited sold out its tickets to this year’s dinner. That is great to hear. Good show, all you hunters who are supporting waterfowl conservation.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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