Recreational fishing often is portrayed as a sport of solitude, a chance to push the reset button and escape the pressures of everyday life. But there's another side to fishing also worth exploring, one that angles more toward camaraderie, slices learning curves and offers friendly competition for bragging rights.
"Joining a fishing club makes fishing a social pastime that's even more fun than going alone," says Pete Ranaudo, a 53-year-old insurance salesman from Bohemia.
FISHING EN MASSE
The vast majority of local anglers have no club affiliations -- after all, membership means attending monthly meetings, getting on the volunteer roster and, of course, paying dues. Yet, Long Island sports more than two dozen recreational fishing clubs. Some are family-friendly groups, while others favor serious anglers. A few specialize in fly, surf, offshore, kayak or freshwater fishing. All share an eclectic mix of members who find the company of associated anglers enjoyable.
"Whether you are a novice or expert, fishing clubs have plenty to offer," says Harry Weinblatt, 51, a chief financial officer from North Merrick and member of the Freeport Tuna Club since 1995. "Our club has a lot of serious offshore anglers, and I originally joined for the learning potential, but this group is also very family oriented, and that's been a great benefit."
Weinblatt says his kids grew up around club events and were exposed to good fishing from an early age. "We've attended club barbecues, fished in contests and learned from talented skippers," he says. "It's been a great experience."
SHARE WITH THE SHARPIES
Ranaudo also signed up with the hope of becoming a better fisherman, but he found additional benefits -- namely the friendships made and the knowledge gained -- so much so that he now belongs to two clubs: the Atlantic Beach Rod and Gun Club and the Oakdale Anglers.
"I love the camaraderie," he explains. "And the opportunity to compete with real fishing 'sharpies.' I also enjoy targeting a variety of different species and trying for club awards. Last year, I won club prizes for biggest blackfish and biggest fluke."
Both groups Ranaudo joined offer seminars featuring expert anglers, and members are knowledgeable anglers who serve as fishing mentors. The groups also participate in club and charity tournaments.
"I had a guy with 50 years of experience recently teach me how to troll bunker spoons to catch big stripers," he says. "Building friendships while gaining that kind of knowledge is priceless."
Paul McCain has taken his club participation to an even higher level. The 60-year-old proprietor of River Bay Outfitters in Oceanside specializes in fly-rod fishing and belongs to local clubs Trout Unlimited, Salty Flyrodders and the Long Island Flyrodders.
"For beginners, there's no better way to learn," says McCain. "Joining a fishing club forces you to get out on the water more often while bringing you into a community that gives back to the environment and each other through a variety of projects and programs. It's really quite rewarding."
McCain makes one other great point for joining a club: "Catch a whopper all alone, and it's a private moment," he says. "Catch one on a club outing, however, and there'll be plenty of backslapping and photos as everyone shares your accomplishment."
HOW TO JOIN
A great way to find out which fishing club might be best for you is to ask your local tackle dealer, then attend a meeting as a guest.
Among the options:
LONG ISLAND FLYRODDERS
MEETS 6 p.m. first Tuesday of the month at the VFW Hall, 55 Hickory Lane, Levittown
Summer meetings begin with a barbecue, then members and guests set about practicing casting on the lawn. Winter meetings are indoors and begin at 7:30 p.m.
LONG ISLAND CHAPTER OF TROUT UNLIMITED
MEETS 7:30 p.m. May 20 at Hicksville VFW, 320 S. Broadway, Hicksville
Raffles, refreshments and fishing gear for sale -- arrive early for fly-tying demonstrations.
LONG ISLAND BASSMASTERS
MEETS 8 p.m. second Thursday of every month at the Ronkonkoma VFW Hall, 55 Lake Shore Dr., Ronkonkoma
Open to ages 17 and older -- newcomers are welcome to attend a meeting and meet members.