As he’s done for more than 35 years, Don Tapp cast his line into the Atlantic from the Ventnor fishing pier, knowing he already had a good-sized flounder to his credit that day.
“I think this is the best place there is, anywhere around,” said Tapp, of Ventnor. “You’re not going to find too many places like this.”
The pier is one of a select few ocean fishing piers in South Jersey, and one of the very few in the state to be publicly owned and allow daily visitors.
It and private piers such as the ones in Margate, Ocean City and Avalon provide a quiet refuge for the saltwater angler, far out from the beach and its distractions.
The piers have gone through many shapes and forms in their history, however, and maintaining them isn’t easy.
In Ocean City, the private Ocean City Fishing Club keeps a detailed list of the work done each year, compiled in a yearbook. This past year, said editor George Ingram, of Ocean City, the club put up new fencing and signs, new benches, new carpeting for the clubhouse, 100 new planks, new lighting and a power washer, all paid for with membership dues.
“We have a committee in charge to take care of these things,” Ingram said. “Obviously, with salt air and seawater, a lot of maintenance is required.”
The 216-member club will celebrate its 100th birthday next year, though the current 635-foot pier was built in the mid-’60s after the original pier was destroyed in the March 1962 storm.
The club will celebrate with a number of events, including youth and adult fishing tournaments, but if someone wants to join, there is a wait.
“It took me a year and a half,” said Ingram. “You have to wait until someone moves away, leaves the club or shuffles off this mortal coil.”
The 89-year-old Anglers Club of Absecon Island, which operates the Margate fishing pier, limits membership to 160. Daily visitors are allowed, said member Bob Heegan, of Margate, but only with members.
And if you do join, expect to put some work in to keep up the 22-year-old pier, which was built to replace one lost in a fire in 1988.
“It’s all volunteers,” Heegan said of the 485-foot pier’s maintenance. “It’s all done by members on a volunteer basis, except for some construction work when we have to bring in professionals. We just had a lot of work done last year.”
The Avalon Fishing Club is looking to make its 700-foot pier even longer, said club secretary and borough Councilman Dave Ellenberg.
“We’re looking to go out further,” Ellenberg said. “We’re looking to set up a meeting with the DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) and Army Corps of Engineers. Members pay a premium as far as membership fees, but when we have a low tide, we’re a dry dock. You can really only do fishing when the tide is in — and most of the fishing is exciting when the tide is in. But hopefully, we’ll be able to have a meeting in the next three weeks or so.”
Ventnor completely reconstructed its pier in 2007-08, at a cost of $3.2 million, but a dispute over whether the original DEP permit allowed for the clubhouse to be rebuilt kept that part of the project in limbo for years. Now, with all the permits in hand, the question of whether anything new will be built is a matter of money.
A full clubhouse may be too much, said Public Works Commissioner Theresa Kelly — estimates in 2008 were at $400,000 — but a sheltered pavilion may be doable.
“The fishermen truly need that,” Kelly said. “But the money’s tight. ... It would be nice if we can get a grant, but as far as I know, there isn’t a grant out there. Maybe we could buy the materials, and volunteers and city residents could help put it up.”
As for the experienced members, most still pushed for a full clubhouse.
“I’d like to see a clubhouse here,” Tapp said. “We always fished in the winter up here, even in January and February. Now, I’d just like something to cover us up during the heat of summertime or in the wintertime to keep the wind off of you.”
“It better,” added Henry Baranski, of Linwood and formerly of Ventnor, also a member for more than 35 years, when asked about a clubhouse. “It makes things inconvenient for senior citizens like me. ... We used to bring veterans from the Vineland hospital out here to fish and all that, but no more. And that’s a shame.”
Many members of each club are familiar with the others’ piers, with “rivalries” popping up between them. This year, Margate and Ocean City members fished off each other’s piers, Ingram said. Ventnor pier member John MacLean, of Sicklerville, Camden County, however, has done most of his surf fishing in Ventnor — and the only thing he has to compare the pier with are the jetties. And the pier wins that battle.
“It beats being on the rocks,” he said. “I’m 74 years old, and the rocks get slippery.”
As for his take, he gave an answer any angler could give, on any day.
“Sometimes you get ’em,” MacLean said, “and sometimes you don’t.”
Ventnor Fishing Pier
Yearly membership: $225 for adults, $200 for seniors, $40 for children (after May 31)
Daily membership: $20 for adults, $10 for seniors and children
Margate Pier, Anglers Club of Absecon Island
Initial fee of $400, annual dues of $225. Limited to 160 members, ages 21 and older, no residential restrictions
Ocean City Fishing Club
Initial fee of $775, annual dues of $225. An additional $50 for the “Bait Club,” which provides bait every time a member fishes
Avalon Fishing Club
Initial fee of $200, annual dues of $250, limited to 175 members
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