For more than sixty years, the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club has lived up to its name. Every summer its members head offshore to troll the endless waves for the thrill of a strike. They know that no one stays calm when a tuna hits and the reel sings! The line streaks out - someone yells FISH. And the chase is on. Carrying on a sportfishing tradition more than a century and a half old, the Club honors that special relationship that great fish have with those who seek them.
The Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club began with a group of dedicated big-game fishermen the year after Captain Watson Pharo brought his party into the Beach Haven Yacht Club with a blue marlin - the first ever taken by a Beach Haven captain in New Jersey. This catch capped a season of tuna and marlin fishing that was extraordinary by anyone's standards. The papers up and down the mid-Atlantic seaboard loved it! Beach Haven's claim to be "The Deep Sea Fishing Capital of the East" seemed safe once again, even as hundred-pound plus tuna were being caught regularly off the new port of Brielle.
Beach Haven's sportfishing reputation had begun in the mid-19th century. Capt. Sam Shourds earned fame in The American Angler's Book (1864), when he impressed Philadelphian Thad. Norris with his ability to find weakfish and striped bass by the hundreds. He was one of many mainland captains who had fished the bay from boyhood, and were ready to take visitors out on their boats. A steady trickle of fishermen arrived on Long Beach Island in the decades that followed the Civil War, all looking for knowledgeable local guides.
By the 1870's, the first vacation hotels appeared in the new town of Beach Haven. Captains from the mainland moored their locally built catboats at a public dock where Morrison's Restaurant now stands. They met parties of vacationers there to take them fishing in the bay. When the railroad was put through in the 1880's, it brought hundreds of visitors to the Island. That meant full summer employment for the captains.
The captains and the cottagers organized the Beach Haven Yacht Club in 1882. From its beginning the Club was both a sailing and a fishing organization. Ten years later, in 1892, there were 36 boats available for charter at the Yacht Club dock. Sailboat races were held every week.
A split occurred in the early 1900's however, as the sailing captains had to make a decision whether or not to install new internal combustion engines in their boats. Those who wanted to fish in the ocean were thrilled to have the power to get out the inlet and safely home. Those who loved racing their sailboats wanted to keep their boats as they were.
In 1912, Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club was formed as a sailing club. The Beach Haven Yacht Club became a purely fishing club, with a fleet of more than thirty boats, nearly all motorized. Masts were cut off, and ocean fishing became a Beach Haven trademark. While bluefish, weakfish, stripers and sharks were standard catches, the captains were very much aware that huge, powerful game fish were also in their waters, but they called them "horse mackerel."
Using the new motor boats, west-coat anglers caught tuna off Catalina Island in the late 19th century. In 1910, when Beach Haven cottager Dr. Edward Williams, who also had a winter home in Santa Barbara, realized that the "horse mackerel" that regularly tore up the fishing pound's nets were tuna, he started tuna-fever in Beach Haven. The same year, a 680 pound tuna was landed in Nova Scotia.
In August 1913, Capt. Charles Edward Gerhard (who played French horn and trombone in the Philadelphia Orchestra in the winter) and four other people formed the short-lived Beach Haven Tuna Fishing Club. For the tuna remained elusive and rarely caught on the primitive tackle of the time. Young Captain Tom Jones made them his target, and actually brought in a tuna to the dock sometime around 1915.
In 1920, two important things happened. The ocean broke through just below Holgate and formed a new inlet during a winter storm, and the Beach Haven charter captains began fishing northwards as a result. In 1922, Capt. Tom found dependable schools of tuna on the Barnegat Ridge. Soon other captains joined him, and word reached the New York and Philadelphia papers that Beach Haven captains could produce tuna for their parties. A golden era had dawned! It lasted for 16 glorious years, with tuna and white marlin hung regularly on the Yacht Club dock.
Ironically, it ended just as the blue marlin was caught in 1938. From 1939 to 1944, German submarines patrolled Long Beach Island's waters. Then gasoline was rationed and blackout regulations made vacations less attractive. Finally, the men began to return home, and boats headed out the inlet again. Just as the tuna fleet was recovering in the summer of 1944, a tremendously powerful hurricane hit the island, destroying boats and houses.
Many older captains thought about retirement. The Beach Haven Yacht Club, struggling for financial solvency, was taking social members; things had changed.
But marlin and tuna fever does not die! In 1939, fired by dreams of blue and white marlin and tackle-busting tuna, a group of fishermen had gathered in Ernie Tueckmantel's Acme Hotel to form the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club. Piney Parker, Gus Natelli and Bob Gaskill helped the club get started. After World War II, they joined the captains of the Yacht Club in their widening search for giant tuna and marlin. Throughout the fifties, Beach Haven captains continued to distinguish themselves with their catches. Marlin and Tuna Club members shared their stories at the Acme's friendly bar.
In 1959, the Tueckmantels sold the Acme Hotel, and Marlin and Tuna Club members decided to build a clubhouse of their own, where it stands today. When the new building was completed in early 1962, it was a grand day. During the sixties, Marlin and Tuna Club captains helped to introduce the modern sportfishing boats that changed the world of big game fishing. As engines grew more powerful and hull designs improved, the offshore canyons replaced the Barnegat Ridge as hunting grounds. They tried new tackle, improved reels, and added radar and electronics to their boats.
The Club has expanded its facilities several times since then, adding much-needed storage space and an outside bar. Aware of the need for conservation of both marlin and tuna, it is a member of the International Game Fish Association, supporting their catch and release policy.
Today, Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club members can proudly add their names to a long list of great captains who are part of the remarkable century and a half of recreational sport fishing on Long Beach Island.
by Carroll Anne Shephard, Ph.D