By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The fish weren’t biting much, but that didn’t seem to matter. There were plenty of jokes bantered around on the 85th Street beach on Saturday.
“There’s no guarantee with the fish. It’s cheaper to go to ShopRite,” Bob Balmoos quipped.
Balmoos, of East Stroudsburg, Pa., patiently watched the line on his fishing rod, just hoping to catch something. Somewhere out in the vast ocean off Sea Isle City there were fish swimming around, but they weren’t taking his bait.
Balmoos was among about 120 anglers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania participating in the 39th annual Karl J. Boehret Surf Fishing Tournament organized by the Delaware Valley Surf Anglers Association.
Many of them were out at the crack of dawn during what turned out to be a spectacularly sunny spring Saturday at the shore.
“It’s the thrill of catching a fish,” explained Angel Mancine, who was on the beach at 5:30 a.m.
Mancine, of Blackwood, N.J., was joined by her 81-year-old father, Joe Gross, and her friend, Jim Swan.
“The best part of it is the sunsets,” Swan, who also lives in Blackwood, said of the early morning fishing outings.
Underscoring his enjoyment of trying to catch the proverbial big one, Swan joked that he has “fishing on the brain.”
“Sometimes, I’ll get up at 2 o’clock in the morning in December,” he said of some of his fishing trips at the Jersey Shore.
Gross noted that he has been fishing for about 60 years. On Saturday, it was one of those days when the fish proved elusive for even the experienced Gross and many other anglers lining Sea Isle’s shoreline.
“Not a thing. Not a bite,” Gross said. “You feel like that you just need to catch one, even if it’s not a keeper. It just makes your day.”
For some anglers, just the joy of getting out on the beach and savoring the ocean and salt air was enough – especially after months of shutdowns, safety precautions and social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s such a relief now. It’s like getting set free a little bit. Now, we can enjoy life again,” said fisherman Bob Slegelmilch, who lives in Blue Bell, Pa., and has a vacation home in Sea Isle.
Slegelmilch, who was joined by his son, Paul, and 1-year-old grandson, Brooks, said the pandemic, as terrible as it has been, has given everyone new insight “on how good life is.”
“We’re looking forward to this summer. Last summer we didn’t spend much time on the beach because of the pandemic,” he said.
During the tournament, most of the anglers were part of teams. Members of the Slegelmilch family, for instance, wore bright yellow T-shirts proclaiming the name of their team, the Sledgehammer Surf Fishing Club.
During its 39-year history, the Karl J. Boehret Surf Fishing Tournament has been held in Sea Isle for 38 of those years, said Jane Jefferys, the daughter of the late Karl Boehret.
Boehret served as treasurer of the Delaware Valley Surf Anglers Association from 1957 until his death in 1991. Jefferys succeeded her father as the association’s treasurer.
Jefferys, who lives in Dennis Township, recalled how her father taught her and her sister, Susan Boehret, how to fish during summer vacations in Sea Isle when they were still children.
“I can always remember fishing on vacation,” Jefferys said.
She noted that her father’s credo was, “Take your daughter fishing.”
Jefferys said women and girls are equally encouraged to join the men and boys in the fishing tournament.
It was a woman, Irene Jameson, Sea Isle’s acclaimed former public relations director, who died in 2015, who was instrumental in attracting the fishing tournament to Sea Isle. Jefferys said Jameson realized that the tournament would draw more visitors to Sea Isle and generate extra publicity for the city.
“She did anything to promote Sea Isle. She loved Sea Isle,” Jefferys said.