Outdoors in Maine: Veazie Salmon Club arises from near extinction

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In the 1980s and early 1990s, in May and June, you could catch a fresh run of Atlantic salmon on the Penobscot River. And you could play your king of game fish within eyeshot of downtown Bangor. As a result, salmon clubs popped up along the river banks like ostrich ferns.

Those were heady times. Then the salmon runs fizzled, for a lot of different reasons. Soon the popular game fish was declared an endangered species by the Feds, and fishing stopped. Interest in the salmon clubs faded almost in lockstep with the inaccessible fishery. Club members aged or passed away. What was left was mostly cribbage clubs.

Not surprisingly, this spring, Gayland Hachey, one of the founders and mother hens of the Veazie Salmon Club, announced by email that, as far as he was concerned, the club, which had lost so many members and had not had an organizational meeting in years, was in its death throes. Hachey said that they would continue to pay the bills until the money ran out and eventually give the club building, located on the river bank, to the town of Veazie.

This death notice got some attention. Longstanding members, Bob Wengrzynek and Jim Matarazzo, and some others, said, “No way! This club needs to be saved — resuscitated and reformulated.”

According to Wengrzynek, his group has created (in line with the club bylaws) an ad hoc slate of leaders who are determined to breathe new life into the club.

“We will reapply for the non-profit status, which was lost,” he said, “and we will get organized again and develop an active membership.”

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The slate of new officers is as follows: Jimmy Matarazzo, president; Melanie Collins, treasurer; Stacy Dimou, secretary and four directors; Bob Wengrzynek; Dave Lorenz; John Punola; and Jeff Seney.

The group plans to launch a new-members drive, as well as a fundraising campaign and a solicitation of corporate sponsorships. The membership fee is $50 per year, and applications are available from officers and board members. Jimmy Matarazzo can be reached at 852-6099.

This is a good thing. The Veazie Salmon Club, like all of the salmon clubs, on the river, has a rich history and a legacy worth preserving and cultivating, salmon or no salmon.

As Matarazzo points out there is still fishing to be enjoyed on a river that has been restored in so many ways. Striped bass, smallmouth bass and shad can provide wonderful angling opportunities, all within view of the fabled porch of the Veazie Salmon Club. There is a loud bell on the porch still today that was always sounded in the good old days when an angler had a salmon hookup.

Will salmon ever be fished again in front of the Veazie club? That’s the $64,000 question. Matarazzo, a man of unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, says, “Yes sir. One day that bell will ring again!”

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3), and a former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has three books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook,” “Backtrack,” and his latest, “The Maine Angler’s Logbook.” Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com..

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