David Penn Krusa, a well-known Montauk commercial fisherman who wrote stories and poems and helped pioneer a method and market for tile fishing, died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 75.
Friends and family remembered Krusa as a powerhouse of ideas, craftsmanship, humor and physical strength. They recalled his passion for boats, fishing and the sea, and his love of travel and stories and the people he grew close to along the way.
Krusa was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but grew up in Greenlawn after his father, Paul Krusa, a Harvard-educated engineer, died when Krusa was 3 years old, leaving his mother, Mary, to move the family of two boys to her family’s Long Island home.
It wasn’t long before Krusa took to the waters, starting as a clammer in Centerport while still in Harbor Fields High School, where he was co-captain of the football team, and mastered gymnastics and track.
He was introduced to his wife, Stephanie, on the dock at Northport Harbor by fellow fisherman Greg King, her brother. The couple lived above a Northport antique store, often eating fresh lobster he caught in Long Island Sound.
The couple then settled for a year in Petersburg, Alaska. There, Krusa learned long-line fishing for halibut from a Norwegian boat captain, and also did stints as a logger and had his own salmon boat.
“He was just always an adventuresome spirit,” Stephanie Krusa said. Dave Krusa also studied writing at Columbia University, mining at the Colorado School of Mines and fisheries at the University of Washington, though he didn’t earn a degree, she said.
The couple moved to Montauk in the 1970s, where they raised two sons and a daughter and Krusa worked his way from lobstering to deep-sea long-line fishing off the New England coast. He and a fishing partner, John Nolan, developed methods for harvesting tile fish that quadrupled the commercial market for what had previously been a bycatch fishery. It’s now thriving from New England to North Carolina, said his son Lee Krusa, of Pomona, California.
He remembered his father as a master storyteller whose writing talents led him to compose poetry and short stories centered on the sea and fishing. He read his poems at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor and other occasions; his story, “Winter Trip,” was featured in a popular “On Montauk” anthology.
“He loved to tell stories, to share the things that excited him in his life,” Lee Krusa said. He also liked to “push limits and go right to the edge,” often literally. There’s a picture of his father doing a hand stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon. “He was an incredible gymnast,” his son said, with his own parallel bars and rings in the backyard.
Once, while Krusa was working on a new method for long-line fishing, he lost the tips of the fingers of his left hand, recalled Joel Casserly, an artist and fishing boat captain who worked with Krusa for more than two decades. When Casserly returned from a week’s fishing, Krusa was waiting on the dock, ready to take the next seven-day fishing shift, with a special Fiberglas glove he’d developed to protect his crushed fingertips. “He went fishing and hauled gear,” Casserly said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
When his health failed in later years, Krusa took up woodworking, his wife said. “He carved absolutely beautiful fish and whales, beautiful stuff. He adapted to his disabilities and never lost spirit. I was so inspired by him,” she said.
In addition to his son, Krusa is survived by his wife, Stephanie of Montauk, another son, Kipp, of Bon Aqua, Tennessee., a daughter Margaret McKinnon of Willis, Texas, and a brother, Christopher Krusa, Glen Carbon, Illinois.
Viewing is Sunday at from 12-4 p.m. at the Yardley & Pino Funeral Home, 94 Pantigo Rd., East Hampton. A celebration of his life is planned for a later date. His ashes will be scattered at sea.