Capt. John DeMaio, a Montauk charter boat captain who seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to finding fish, died on Oct. 1 at home in Palm Beach, Fla. He had been diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer two years ago.
James Sessa, a friend, said the charter captain had many secret fishing spots and an intuitive approach. He had a vast amount of experience in local waters, starting as a pinhooker (a commercial rod-and-reel fisherman) in the early ‘70s. He compiled his knowledge in a book called “Fishing with a Bucktail.” He also contributed articles to fishing magazines and was a popular speaker at seminars.
This reporter was on a full-moon striped bass outing with Capt. DeMaio a number of years ago. He tried the usual tidal rips and stopped at outer Shagwong Point, but the bass were not taking the bucktail lures. It was time to return to the harbor skunked, or so it seemed.
En route, the Vivienne’s engines slowed. The boat idled and rocked to a stop. Capt. DeMaio said, “Well, we might as well bring at least one fish back.” He grabbed his rod and cast a bucktail into the dark. On the third cast he hooked a hefty bass and handed the rod to this reporter to land. The next day he was asked how he knew the bass was there. He just smiled.
Capt. DeMaio had a few other business interests. At about 1975, he opened an eatery called Fish and Chips on Napeague, where Cyril’s bar and restaurant is today. More recently, he opened a Quick Lube shop in Southampton. Mr. Sessa said his friend was creative and had invented a sand eel lure that worked better than most.
Capt. DeMaio was a handsome man. He was in Mexico in the late 1960s when he got a job modeling. During the filming of a commercial, he met an English woman named Vivienne Cawthorn. Not long afterward, he moved back to Montauk. Hearing that she was in New York on her way back to England, he met her at the airport and convinced her to come out east. They were married on Dec. 2, 1971. Every boat Capt. DeMaio owned was named for his wife.
He was born in New York City on Nov. 14, 1937, a son of Gerald DeMaio and the former Mary Michaels. He grew up in Queens and attended Queens College. He began his fishing career in Sheepshead and Jamaica Bays. After switching from pinhooking to charter fishing in the late 1970s, he quickly attracted a following. Ms. DeMaio described her husband as “a very talented man, a wonderful artist with pen-and-ink drawings. He was very modest with that stuff.”
Capt. DeMaio was a member of the Montauk Boatmen and Captains Association. He also was a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton.
Capt. Joe McBride called him a self-made man. “He came from Sheepshead Bay and came out here to become one of the more successful in the charter business and highly respected by his colleagues and customers,” Capt. McBride said. In addition to his wife, Capt. DeMaio is survived by a daughter, Dianne Cascio of Palm Beach and two grandchildren. Three siblings died before him.
A memorial gathering will take place at the Snug Harbor Marina and Motel in Montauk on Nov. 11 from 4 to 8 p.m.