Ocean City Fishing Club: 100 years and counting

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Submitted / The 1919 Ocean City Fishing Club surf casting team. Submitted / The 1919 Ocean City Fishing Club surf casting team.

OCEAN CITY — 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 to establish the Ocean City Fishing Club.

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 fishing club President Paul Keuerleber.

To commemorate the milestone, the club has planned a yearlong series of events and activities, including an exhibition at the Ocean City Historical Museum, an open house on the pier, a centennial banquet at The Flanders Hotel, and a three-day surf fishing tournament in October.

For club members, it’s a time not only to look forward to the celebrations, but also to reflect on the past: 

Included in the club’s Certificate of Incorporation on Sept. 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 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 Ocean City Fishing Club has always come back.

In 1919, 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, the fishing club had a new clubhouse and pier. Twelve years later, at 2 a.m., 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, Hurricane 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.

For more information, see the club’s website at www.oceancityfishingclub.com.

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