‘The End’ is just the beginning when you’re wearing boat shoes

Christopher Walsh  |  The East Hampton Press  |  June 27, 2024

Once upon a time, Montauk was relatively undiscovered country, its unmatched beauty a best-kept secret, an un-Hampton where the famous and infamous found respite from the incessant glare amid lesser-known lovers of boating, fishing, camping, and the freshest seafood landed in New York State’s largest commercial fishing port.

We know what happened next. Montauk has exploded in popularity, and in some areas the snarled traffic and all-night parties of the hamlets and towns to the west have become the norm.

But on a recent drive down East Lake Drive — softly rolling hills to the right, the majestic blue of Lake Montauk to the left, and everywhere flora in full bloom — one gets a sense of reliving that earlier, undiscovered place and time.

A few miles down the gently winding road, just beyond Montauk’s tiny, privately-owned airport, you may pull into a parking lot on the left, where you would find the Montauk Anglers Club. Here is Montauk at its essence, a seven-acre oasis where members and staff alike are dedicated to the twin passions of boating and fishing.

It’s a conspicuous difference from the more densely developed west side of the Lake, particularly toward the harbor. Here, one is enveloped by that unmatched beauty, the very thing that has long enticed visitors to Montauk.

“There’s a lot more privacy,” observed Will Cornacchia, an owner of the Montauk Anglers Club. “There’s definitely customers that are here because they like that aspect.” In addition to comprehensive service and amenities for the dedicated angler, the 55-seat Gin Beach Café, which is open to the public, offers relaxed dockside dining and spectacular sunsets over Montauk Harbor. “We offer something which a lot of people love: You hook ’em, we cook ’em,” he said of the restaurant. “You bring your fish in, they’ll cook it a bunch of different ways.”

Also onsite is an outdoor picnic area, complete with a newly constructed stage for live music. Members, transient boaters and visitors “don’t have to run into a million people when they’re going down to the docks,” Cornacchia said, “which is why we try to bring more things and events here.”

“Our customers really appreciate the separation from the hustle and bustle of town and other parts of Montauk,” agreed Julia Pacifico, the Club’s marketing manager and assistant dockmaster. “They really enjoy the quiet over here, and the smaller community we’ve built.”

But the emphasis, of course, is on fishing, and the site has a long history of catering to the serious angler. Cornacchia’s family, longtime summer residents of Montauk, acquired the former Gone Fishing Marina, which had operated here for four decades, in 2018. Situated at the northeast corner of the Lake, the marina offers fast and easy access to the waters around Napeague and Gardiner’s Bays, the iconic Montauk Point and Block Island Sound, and the teeming canyons beyond. The marina’s 157 seasonal and transient slips are situated on two main docks, some capable of hosting vessels up to 150 feet. Amenities include dockside water and electricity, bathrooms with showers, gas and high-speed diesel pumps, and Wi-Fi throughout the property.

Last winter, the Club installed the AquaVue security camera system at each slip. With a smartphone app, “you get a visual display of your slip anytime you want” and from anywhere in the world, said Pacifico, “which is really great and convenient. Customers have been liking it a lot.”

The Montauk Anglers Club also features two in-house charter boats, the 50-foot Munson Sportfisher known as Thermocline and a 42-foot Pursuit Center Console called Montauk Anglers Club. “We do a lot of inshore and offshore charters,” said Cornacchia. “There’s also six to eight independently operated charter boats.”

Dockside, hauling equipment has been upgraded and includes a 50-ton Marine Travelift; a Marine Travelift forklift handling boats up to 40 feet; two Caterpillar skid steers for moving boats around the yard, and a Hostar hydraulic trailer for transporting boats up to 39 feet. All are new. The onsite marine service center is staffed with certified technicians and a parts department offers full maintenance, winterization, spring commissioning, power washing, painting, sanding and detailing services. “We’re busy throughout the year,” Cornacchia said. “Last winter, we had 80 different jobs we were doing on boats, work orders from changing a filter all the way to redoing an entire dash panel. We have an electronics guy onsite for in-house marine electronics work, too. That keeps us busy.” The marina’s heated indoor facility can fit four large boats at one time, where vessels are shrink-wrapped for winter storage. The Montauk Anglers Club is the hamlet’s only Yamaha dealership and service center, Cornacchia said. It is also a Mercury dealership and offers gear brands including Shimano, Penn and Grundens.

Notwithstanding the recent closing of Paulie’s Tackle, downtown Montauk’s last dedicated bait and tackle shop, the Club’s members are covered. Its year-round tackle shop offers everything from reels, rods, baits and lures to apparel and footwear. Reel spooling, wireline marking and custom tackle rigging, ice, bait, snacks and refreshments, and beer — it’s all here. “We’re giving people who stay at this marina amenities and services that you can’t get elsewhere,” Cornacchia said. “We bring it all onsite, so they don’t have to look for it.”

The Montauk Anglers Club features International Game Fish Association-approved weigh stations, and both sponsors the Montauk Canyon Challenge and hosts its own summerlong, members-only fishing tournament complete with post-tourney barbecue. The Club also partners with the Canyon Runner guide service, an offshore fishing consultancy that offers coaching and seminars as well as charters.

“We have everything you could possibly need as a boater,” Cornacchia said, “from engine service, yard service, fishing amenities, a restaurant, fuel, dockside electric, all of it. You can leave your boat here year-round — we’ll pull it out for you in the winter, we’ll take care of what needs to get done, put it back in. Got any problems? We’ll take care of it. Need gear? We’ve got it.”

It’s about creating an individual experience, he continued. “It’s almost like white-glove service.” For example, “We offer customers the ability to just show up and their boat is full of fuel. We’ll bring it to the fuel dock and fill it. We’ll put ice on the boat. If they want bait, a coil of line and pack of hooks, we’ll load it on. So, you show up at three in the morning and your boat’s ready to go. That’s something we push really hard to do.” “And it’s not just for service, it’s with the gear and the food, too,” he said. “The restaurant will cater orders, and people can pick it up the night before and bring it out on the water. If they need anything, we’re there to take care of it. That’s one of the benefits of a smaller organization: We run ourselves kind of like a small corporation, but there’s still a very personal touch to it.”