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Besides the shenanigans and the competitions, club members hosted an annual fish fry at Legion Stadium as a fundraiser. They also partici-pated in community events like the Azalea Festival. “We had a float every year in the parade and the first thing every visiting dignitary got was an honor-ary membership in the club, including former presi-dent Ronald Reagan,” Taylor says. It wasn’t just about fun and camaraderie. The club took its role as protector and promoter of fishing very seriously. Martin says the organization helped to establish what is now the Onslow Bay Artificial Reef Project, a nonprofit organization headed by former fishing club member Rita Merritt that provides habi-tat for marine life. “The club helped people become aware of problems with the natural habitat and they established the first Wrightsville Beach King Mackerel Contest, which in turn founded the artificial reef project,” Martin says. The club was instrumental in establishing the channel bass (red drum) as the state fish of North Carolina. “A bunch of club members used to go to Rich Inlet to fish for chan-nel bass, and we caught some big ones,” Martin says. “We helped promote the channel bass as the state fish. The club did a lot of good, and we had a lot of fun, too.” The New Hanover Fishing Club claims responsibility for the preservation of Sutton Lake, one of the favorite recreational fishing spots in the area. “A bunch of us were fishing over there, and we noticed somebody was dredging Catfish Creek. We checked into it and found they didn’t have a permit to dredge, so we brought an injunction against the company that had hired the dredging — Carolina Power and Light — and they had to agree to maintain the lake and make sure there was public access to it,” Martin says. “We were able to save the area for striped bass, crappie and brim.” Things have changed in the sport of fishing over the years. Now, there are restric-tions in the number of fish one can catch and each species has its own limit. The number of fishermen has increased with the population of New Hanover County and the region. This has put pressure on the industry because more anglers mean fewer fish. “The fishing is not nearly as good as when we were kids, without a doubt,” Brice says. These days many fishermen have their own boats, so surf and pier fishing are not as popular as they used to be. Taylor says one reason pier fishing isn’t as successful is because the piers are in much shallower water than previously. 52 WBM The club entered a float in the Azalea Festival parade each year, including this huge fish in 1950. Conservation was a focus of the club. Rita Merritt was a club member in this photo from the 1971 annual. She went on to become a two-time mem-ber of the South Atlantic Fishing Management Council and is currently executive director of the Onslow Bay Artificial Reef Project, a nonprofit that has its roots in the New Hanover County Fishing Club’s conservation efforts. june 2016


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