Club hooks its members

May 14, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When George Bentz was a little boy, he would get his bamboo pole and spend the day sitting on the riverbank in Pasadena, fishing with his grandfather.

By the time he was a teenager, he found fishing so exciting that he rode his bicycle from Baltimore to Pasadena just so he could fish.

Over the years, Bentz has belonged to several fishing associations but didn't like the politics and eventually canceled all his memberships.

Then, in 1991, Bentz was asked by a group of local fishermen to start a fishing club. He declined, saying he didn't want any part of it.

After several more requests, he finally conceded and founded Pasadena Sportfishing Group Inc., a nonprofit organization of sport fishermen, with a starting enrollment of 35.

"What started as a couple of die-hard anglers wanting to discuss fishing in a nonpolitical environment evolved into the largest cast-free fishing group in the state of Maryland," said Bentz, 70.

Now in its 15th year, the group includes more than 700 members who sponsor an annual flea market and fishing derbies for children. The organization also fights to get more fishing piers in the county.

Bentz, the group's leader, attributes the growth and success of the group in part to the informal format.

"Pasadena Sportfishing is a one-of-a-kind group," he said. "We have no dues, no membership fees, nonpolitical and no-smoking meetings, and speakers that only talk about fishing."

The group's informality was so pronounced that Bentz had people asking how much they needed to pay for a "real" membership.

"People thought they weren't really members if they didn't pay to be in the group," said Bentz. "We have the committee members pay $12 per year because the law requires it, but we give it back with free food and things at the meetings."

When Milton Price heard about the group from some friends about 12 years ago, he decided to give it a try. He was pleasantly surprised, he said.

"It was totally unlike the other groups," said the 43-year-old Price. "At the meetings we learned the where-to's and how-to's of fishing from some of the most knowledgeable fishermen in the area. I fell in love with the group."

Price said the monthly meetings offer reliable sources who share valuable fishing information.

"If someone at one of our meetings tells you where the fish are biting, you can bet your bottom dollar that the fish are," said Price, who serves as treasurer for the group.

But Price said educating adults is only part of their mission. The group is working to implement more programs to teach kids about fishing.

"The difference we make came to me when I was at Down's Park a few years ago and saw a mother with her child," said Price. "The mom didn't know anything about fishing, so we showed her son what to do. That's what we're all about."

The group's focus recently has been on getting a fishing pier at Down's Park.

Members started a petition in 2000 that had more than 7,000 signatures of people who supported a pier at the park.

"Anne Arundel County has the most waterfront property in the state and the least number of piers," said Price. "People around here that live by the water don't want to be bothered with a pier or a boat dock. But kids need a place to fish that's safe."

And a new fishing pier is one more step toward instilling a love for fishing in children.

"Some dads like baseball, and they get their kids into Little League," said Bentz. "I like fishing so I want to see kids involved with fishing. I want them to learn there's a lot more to fishing than just picking up a pole."

Price concurred with Bentz and added that fishing creates memories that last a lifetime.

"I remember coming to Down's Park to go fishing and crabbing with my dad," said Price.

"Fishing is a great activity. It keeps kids off the street and it's a good hobby. There's something for everyone in the family to do."

The group is ideal for families like the Stricklers of Crofton. In 2001, John Strickler took his three children - Ashley, 13, Jonathan, 11, and Joey, 9 - fishing but he didn't know how to tie the knots or where to fish or even how to do it. He heard about a meeting and decided to check it out.

"I definitely needed some help learning how to fish," said Strickler. "Mr. Bentz just took me under his wing - taught me everything from tying knots to choosing lures. He also taught me where to fish and what was biting when."

It made all the difference for the Stricklers, who go fishing at least twice a month.

"He taught me to catch fish, and fishing is a lot more fun when you actually catch some," said Strickler.

Bentz said that, besides educating people about fishing, getting them out on boats also stirs up excitement. At least it worked for him. His boat, the Drizzle Bar, is named after one of his early childhood experiences.

As a child, Bentz went on a fishing excursion with his uncle and grandfather. He wanted to go back out fishing at night, and his uncle told him he not to because there were "drizzle bars" and "yellow-bellied sapsuckers."

"I was wondering what kind of horrible creatures they were, but didn't really want to find out," said Bentz. "Then one day I was listening to the radio and heard someone mention a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and I was certain they would talk about the drizzle bars next. They didn't, of course, because they don't exist, but it kept me away from the water at night."

Bentz said his wife of 45 years, Ellie, 68, is the backbone of the group. She edits the newsletter, cooks at events and serves as secretary for the group.

"Even when she had breast cancer, she never missed a meeting," Bentz said.

Ellie Bentz said her interest is in helping is twofold.

"I don't like to fish, but I want to help keep the group growing," she said. "And it keeps George out of my hair."

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