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South Jersey Coastal Fly Anglers

By George Ingram

Club secretary, Steve Croft, working the waters of Corson’s Inlet.

If you don’t believe me, ask Captain Ray Szulczewski of Cape May or Steve Croft of Ocean City. Ray and Steve are, respectively, president and secretary of the South Jersey Coastal Fly Anglers, which recently settled into new headquarters in Ocean City.
With about 70 current members, SJCFA aims to help us better understand and enjoy the ethereal pleasure of hurling an artificial fly into the brine to gull an unsuspecting fish.

“We’re a teaching club,” Ray Szulczewski explained recently over a cup of steaming hot coffee at Steve Croft’s home in the Gardens section of Ocean City. “We’re not political and we don’t have competitive tournaments. Our members want to share knowledge—and there’s always something more to learn.”
Like many fly rodders of sod banks, surf, and blue-water, the two officers are virtually messianic in their passion for this growing sport.
A Riverton, NJ businessman for 26 years before he and his wife sold their store, Ray, 57, was for many years a part-time charter-boat captain.
“I got into fly fishing nine years ago,” he recalled, “and I discovered I was having more fun in the back bays.” These days he’s happy taking one or two passengers for fly-fishing charters aboard his 19-foot Scouts flat boat called Tide Runner.
Fifty-nine-year-old Steve, who retired last fall after 30 years with DuPont in Wilmington, DE, had been fishing for most of his life. Then came an epiphany three years ago. “One day I said, ‘Leave that spinning rod home; just take the fly rod.’ I’ve been working with it pretty much exclusively since then,” he said.
The SJCFA club began in February 2003 in Sewell, Gloucester County, hometown of its first president, Frank Mihalic.
Legendary “fleye” creator and saltwater angler Bob Popovics, founder of the Atlantic Saltwater Fly Rodders in Seaside Park, NJ, was helpful in shepherding the South Jerseyites toward formation of their own organization. Assistance also came from another world-renowned tier, Chuck Furimsky, organizer of many national and regional fly shows.
One year after getting up and running, SJCFA members decided that a saltwater club should be close to sea spray and the pungent smell of the marshes, so they settled in Cape May County, within easy reach of some of the coast’s finest fly-fishing opportunities.
The group meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month in the Bayside Center, 520 Bay Avenue, Ocean City. A monthly newsletter, The BackCast, offers tips and news about such events as a rod-building clinic or a talk by Captain Joe Hughes on catching bluefin tuna on the fly.
In the May 2005 issue, Steve Croft offer-ed a useful tip for clea-ning fly lines after an ex-cursion into saltwater: if your stripping basket doesn’t have drain-age holes-and those carried into in the back bays don’t need them, unlike ones for the surf—add a few drops of dish detergent to the basket and swish the line with fresh water.
Another club benefit is a free lending library of books and videotapes about saltwater fly fishing.
When the weather permits, members gather “on the lawn” in front of the center at 6 o’clock before each meeting to exchange information about casting and to try out different types of rods.
In the near future the club will reprise one of the most popular events of last season-a casting clinic taught by the legendary Ed Jaworoski, author of two seminal books on the subject, “The Cast,” and “Troubleshooting The Cast.”
And SJCFA has expertise for one of the principal thrills of sport-tying one’s own flies that will, hopefully, catch fish.
The club’s best fly tiers donate two flies a month, and at each meeting their careful work is raffled off to raise money for the organization.
The lucky winners, of cou-rse, reap a valuable assortment of fly-fishing weaponry for their tackle boxes.
One of the tiers, Richard “Reggie” Regen-sburg of Paler-mo, is fam-ous for crab flies so lifelike, the club boasts, that “you want to steam them.”
Another me-mber, Anthony
“Tuckahoe
Tony” Delanzo, also sells his saltwater flies on a wall of the popular Fishin’ Stuff Tackle store, located only a long flycast from the Bayside Center, at 621 Bay Avenue.
SJCFA’s website, www.south jerseyflyanglers.com, features articles by past president Frank Mihalic and others on fly-fishing opportunities at the South Jersey shore, fly tying, and “matching the hatch” by using different flies and lines as the fishing season changes.
You get the feeling that this is an avuncular club when Ray says: “There are no stupid questions. We all started out the same way.”
The club’s demographics indicate a diverse group of people-from teenagers to those in the late 60s and early 70s; men and women; and members with no experience to those who have been flailing the saltwater with fly rods for half a century.
One problem with getting started in saltwater fly fishing is that it can be intimidating to neophytes and those, like myself, who are coordination-challenged when it comes to such arcane casting techniques as the double-haul. But SJCFA is a club that understands our trepidation.
“I used to think you had to be a little more ‘intellectual’ for fly fishing,” Ray confessed. “It was a big mystery. Now, I really regret that I wasn’t tuned into it earlier. If someone had taken me fly fishing when I was younger, I wouldn’t have missed all those years.”
Steve agreed there’s no mystery. “Flounder fishing with a fly rod is a piece of cake,” he said. “It’s easy, and virtually anyone can do it. I use a sink-tip line, and you can do about as well with a fly as you can with a minnow.”

Fly tying figures prominently in club meetings.

And then his voice assumed an almost prayerful tone.
“Fly fishing is so much more intimate,” he said. “The catching experience...when you set that hook, you’re holding the line in your hand. You aren’t just yanking on a rod. You can feel the fish’s head shake. That’s the joy of the challenge.”
According to Ray, “The whole key to fly fishing is having confidence, and you have to develop that confidence. The minute you catch that first fish, you say ‘Aha, now I know what it feels like.’
You know what to expect and how to use the line. Once you get that confidence, you’re going to use a fly rod.”
Early the next morning, under an oyster-gray sky, I caught up with Steve Croft at Corson’s Inlet.
A strong north wind was giving an outgoing tide an extra push as he waded into the water with a well-worn fishing vest, a stripping basket, and a 9-weight Orvis fly rod matched with a large-arbor reel.
“The nice thing about Corson’s is that, no matter what the wind conditions are, you can usually find a place to fish,” said Croft, who had just moved over from a more inhospitable “wind farm” on the other side of the Rush Chattin Bridge.
Plucking a pink-and-white fly he’d tied the night before, Croft, a leftie, cast the lure back and forth across the choppy water. Again and again.
Nothing was biting, although on one of his retrieves he had a fish-probably a small blue—trail the lure for a look-see. ‘But did it really matter?
The secretary of the South Jersey Coastal Fly Anglers was in the water fly-fishing—and it was easy and it was fun.
Note: Membership in the South Jersey Coastal Fly Anglers costs $30 annually, plus a one-time $10 initiation fee. For information, visit the website, www.southjerseycoastalflyanglers.com, or write to the club at P.O. Box 1275, Ocean City, NJ 08226.
President Ray Szulczewski also welcomes inquiries about SJCFA at his e-mail address, Tiderun1@aol.com, or by phone, 609-884-6440.




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