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Sports Center

Nov 15, 2011 9:23 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Remembering the Madhatter

Nov 15, 2011 9:23 AM

Like a lot of newcomers to the Montauk surf fishing scene, Greg Klein was one of my first friends on the beach. In a social circle famous for its gruff characters and locals-only exclusivity, Greg was unusually welcoming and friendly for a Montauk local once he had encountered you on the beach at least a few times.

When I was a teenage newbie from the netherland of Southampton, working in Freddie’s Bait and Tackle, trying to catch a few fish, learn a few tricks and maybe earn at least a nod of recognition from a passing local, Greg was one of the folks I was always happy to see arrive at the beach in the mornings.

He was hard to miss. Greg was big and he was loud (maybe not Gary the Toad loud, but pretty loud). He’d bound out of his truck with a wry comment and his deep-in-the-belly chuckle. He wore those goofy bright colored knit hats that earned him the nickname Madhatter. And he was always fishing with that girl.

His laid back fishing style was what stood out to me. Rarely was Greg on the scene at first light, beating the dawn into submission with relentless lashing of his surf rod like so many of us. He’d wander down to the beach in his old Dodge just before sunup, scan the lineup of casters and pick a spot somewhere well off to the side of the scrum. He stumbled to the water’s edge and almost always at least smiled at whoever the goog standing next to him was—a veritable high-five in Montauk locals greetings.

He always arrived in his waders, I remember noticing that, but rarely set more than an ankle into the water. For all the books worth of lessons on surf fishing in Montauk I learned from Bobby Michelson over the years, Greg was the only person that ever showed me a new fishing spot: the Rat Hole on Kings Point. When I was just out of college I spent countless late mornings pulling rat after rat from the Hole with Greg, rather than going into town to eat breakfast after the morning bite had quieted.

In recent years, as both of our days at the beach had been cut back significantly by other obligations, I’d bump into Greg on the sand once or twice a year. He’d always roll up laughing, with some wisecrack about how I must’ve gotten a real job or a boat or taken up golf. We’d have a few laughs and go our separate ways. After 20 years, I still counted him as one of the few real friends I ever made on that beach and the model for the attitude I tried to present to others at the water’s edge.

I hadn’t seen Greg since last fall when I heard of his tragic death in an accident in Florida this week. He had just finally married that girl—fittingly the best fisherwoman I’ve ever known, Cathy Callen—this past summer and I exchanged brief messages of congratulations with him.

Montauk has lost three of its sharpies in the last couple weeks and perhaps it is fitting that these dark clouds come amid one of the worst surf fishing seasons in years. There’s a pall over Montauk. It will hopefully blow through with winter and the spirits of Kathy Kronuch and Greg will bring us a bountiful spring.

Catch ‘em up, Greg. We’ll miss you.

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