Three weeks ago, the Veazie Salmon Club — one of three salmon clubs on the Bangor-to-Orono stretch of the Penobscot River — seemed on the brink of collapse. Frustrated members Gayland Hachey and Claude Westfall cited a membership base that was literally dying off, along with years of disinterest, as they explained that they’d keep paying bills as long as the money in the bank account held up, then turn the club building over to the town of Veazie when it ran out.
Membership renewal notices weren’t being sent out, Hachey explained. Meetings hadn’t been held in three or four years. And a board of directors didn’t even exist.
When the story about the club’s demise appeared in the BDN in early April, Bob Wengrzynek of Old Town, a member since the 1980s, said a few dozen other members reached out to him via phone and email, asking for an explanation he couldn’t provide. None, he said, even knew that the club’s future was in doubt. He didn’t know, either.
That spurred Wengrzynek and others into action, as they began formulating a plan to save the venerable club.
On Wednesday afternoon Wengrzynek — a member of the newly formed ad hoc board of directors — and Jimmy Matarazzo of Corinth — the ad hoc president of the reformulated club — sat down to talk about a future they say will be a bright one for the club.
“[We have learned] there’s plenty of money in the checking account. We saw the newspaper article and said, ‘What’s going on?’” Wengrzynek said. “And a bunch of us who’d been members for a long time got together and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’”
The clubhouse sits atop a steep bank, overlooking the river and the formerly productive salmon pools below. Across the river are pools that were frequented by members of the Eddington Salmon Club.
The last short, experimental Atlantic Salmon fishing season on the Penobscot was staged in 2008. Since then, the salmon in the river have been listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and no angling for the species has been allowed.
That reality has forced members to think about a crucial question: Why have a salmon club on a river where salmon fishing no longer takes place.
Matarazzo has an answer for that one.
“Because we now have a very, very viable fishery,” he said. “We have shad, we have stripers. We have landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, and this piece of water is the most productive place to fish. Everything migratory has to come here to get where it’s going.”
Wengrzynek said changing the focus away from salmon fishing is important, but admitted the nostalgia of the club also inspires him, and makes him want to find a way for the club to resume regular operations.
“When the club started, [people] primarily came here to fish for Atlantic salmon,” Wengrzynek said. “Here’s the thing that people didn’t really realize: If there was one person fighting an Atlantic salmon out there, that porch would be loaded with 20 people watching. They’d ring the bell. Maybe of those 20 people, none of them could fish for salmon because they were too old. But the club was about [being a] social club.”
With an aging membership and a fishery that no longer exists, how does the Veazie Salmon Club become viable again?
By adapting and overcoming, Matarazzo said.
And that means modernizing, according to Wengrzynek.
The club hasn’t corresponded with members by email very often, he said, and that will change immediately. Anyone looking to reach out to the club or inquire about becoming a member can send correspondence to email@example.com. In addition, membership applications are in a box outside the clubhouse on Old County Road in Veazie.
Wengrzynek envisions a club with a membership that wants to utilize the clubhouse for a variety of purposes.
Want to fish? Stop on by. Want to hold your child’s birthday party at the clubhouse? That’ll work, too. Want to try fishing for shad, which have returned to the river in the past few years? Wengrzynek will leave a few rods in the clubhouse for members to use.
Failure, Wengrzynek said, is not an option.
“We’ve got our blood and soul in this,” he explained.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke