The Ocean City Fishing Club: 100 Years and Counting
The club looks forward to a year-long celebration and looks back on a storied past.
It was the summer of 1913, and Woodrow Wilson was six months into his first term as the 28th President of the United States. The Panama Canal was nearing completion. A gallon of gasoline cost eight cents.
And a group of forward-looking surf anglers met inside a store in Ocean City, N.J., to establish the Ocean City Fishing Club (OCFC).
These men laid the foundation for an organization that is now celebrating its 100th anniversary — the oldest, continuously operating fishing club in America.
“Every one of our 215 men and women members owe a debt of gratitude to the individuals who had the foresight to launch this club so many years ago,” said OCFC President Paul Keuerleber.
To commemorate the milestone, the club has planned a year-long series of events and activities, including an exhibition at the Ocean City Historical Museum, an Open House on the 14th Street Pier, a Centennial Banquet at The Flanders Hotel, and a three-day surf fishing tournament next October.
For club members, it’s a time not only to look forward to the celebrations but also to take a sentimental look at the past.
Included in the club’s Certificate of Incorporation on September 4, 1913, were such lofty objectives as "to advance, promote, and enjoy the sport of fishing in this state and to prevent the violation of the laws thereof relative to fish and fishing...and to establish social intercourse and good fellowship …”
In 1915, the first pier and clubhouse was built at 14th Street and the Boardwalk at a total cost of $3,000. Situated on the New Jersey shore for the past century, the club and its pier have been clobbered by Mother Nature more than a few times and by at least one maritime accident. But OCFC has always come back.
In 1919, for example, a severe storm destroyed the 14th Street pier and a second club pier at the north end of the Boardwalk. The pier at 14th Street was rebuilt, only to be heavily damaged by another storm in 1923. But the most destructive one of all was the March 1962 storm that completely destroyed club property, leaving only wrecked pilings stuck in the ocean like toothpicks.
By 1968, OCFC had a new clubhouse and pier. Twelve years later, at 2 o’clock in the morning, two barges broke away from a dredging project and slammed into the middle of the pier, wrecking 125 feet of pilings and leaving wooden debris strewn across the beach. Once again, the pier was rebuilt.
It was damaged again by a storm in 1992, and as part of reconstruction, the pier’s length was extended for a total of 635 feet from the Boardwalk.
Fortunately, last year’s Sandy caused only minor damage to the pier, but there are some non-storm related repairs that will be made this year.
The club’s history includes the famous Ocean City Cup. Proposed by a club member in 1914, it was made of sterling silver and stood 43 inches high. The cup, created J.E. Caldwell & Co., was awarded from 1914 to 1986 to the top teams who competed for it in surf casting tournaments on the Jersey coast. A fire destroyed the original cup in 1920, but an exact replica, complete with the names of the winning teams and their averages, is proudly displayed today at the Ocean City Historical Museum.
Here are some additional facts gleaned from the club’s yearbooks:
- In the early years, the most sought-after fish was the channel bass, which is only rarely caught in Ocean City waters today. In 1915, 75 of these bass were caught in the surf, including 15 from the club’s first pier.
- Fishing from the pier was good in 1917, when a total of 12,817 fish were landed. (By contrast, club members caught 2,464 fish in 2012.)
- During the First World War, 22 club members served in the Armed Forces, and 18 answered the call to duty in the Second World War.
- In 1918, regular meetings of the club were cancelled because of an influenza epidemic.
- A September 1936 hurricane ruined fall fishing, but did little damage to the pier.
- The club’s first annual Boys & Girls Surf Fishing Tournament was held at the North End Beach on July 10, 1976. Co-sponsored by the Ocean City Department of Recreation, this free event for youngsters 8 to 16 will notch its 37th year this August.
- Weakfish catches in 1969, 1970 and 1971 were the largest in club history. (Only 135 were caught in 2012.)
- This June, OCFC will present its 7th annual $500 scholarship to a graduating Ocean City High School senior who plans to continue his or her education in such fields as oceanography, environmental sciences, biology, or related fields.
The past 100 years have produced a great deal of fishing, camaraderie, and community service for members of the Ocean City Fishing Club.
For more information, visit the club’s website at www.oceancityfishingclub.com