Monday, July 04, 2011

Strathmere man, 92, still finding flounder: 'He knows how to find fish,' friend says

From The Press of Atlantic City -

Posted: Sunday, July 3, 2011 10:00 pm
 By DAVID WEINBERG, Staff Writer

UPPER TOWNSHIP - Herb Hollinger ventured out to the back porch of his charming home on Prescott Avenue in Strathmere and breathed in the cool, salty air.
"We always seem to get a nice breeze here," the 92-year-old year-round resident said. "I think I only used my air conditioner two or three times all last summer."

Soon his attention turned to the rolls of 12-pound test fishing line on his specially marked table. In a few days, his oldest son, Herbie, would be in town at the house a block away from his father's place.
The two would team up with Hollinger's other son, Seaville resident Richie Hollinger, and spend Father's Day weekend like they spend most summer weekends - on the water fishing for flounder.
Make that catching flounder. He seldom leaves the dock without two or three keepers in the cooler.
Last month, he won third place in the senior division of his namesake tournament, the Herb Hollinger Sr. Season-Opening Flounder Tournament, sponsored by the Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club.
Hollinger Sr. is such an adroit fisherman that he can even reel them in when there's fruit in Herbie's boat, a 17-foot Boston Whaler named "Midas Well." (Herbie owns two Midas auto-repair franchises).
"There's an old superstition that you should never have bananas in your boat when you go fishing," Hollinger said with a laugh. "But that never mattered to me. The important thing is to keep the boat moving and keep a tight line so you can feel the bite."

The great-grandfather owns almost 20 rods but usually relies on a custom-made, 6-feet, 6-inch model made by "a man in Vineland." He prefers minnows for bait but also uses mackerel, squid and herring. He believes in "feeding fish what they live on."
But the biggest key to successful fishing is to be where the flounder are biting. That's a rare talent.

"Here's the thing about flounder," said Frank Jankowski, owner of Frank's Boat Rentals in Strathmere. "They won't show up on a Fish Finder because they camouflage themselves on the bottom.

"God bless him, Herb's been doing it an awful long time, so he knows how to find the fish. But besides being a good fisherman, he's just such a nice guy. Whenever he drives by, he rolls down his window and we talk. Neither one of us can hear, though, so we have to raise our voices."

Fishing since 1927
Hollinger's life on the water is reflected on his skin. His thick forearms are dark and wrinkled from the salt and the sun, like the turtles that crawl across nearby Ocean Drive.

His fishing career began in 1927, when the Mauricetown, Cumberland County, native would tag along with older brothers Meryll and Jim down to the banks of the Maurice River, climb into their homemade boat and look for something for dinner.

"I couldn't wait for school to get out, so I could get my fishing pole and go down to the river," Hollinger said. "That's where I got my love for the water."

Hollinger went to school at Mauricetown Academy - a two-room schoolhouse for grades one through eight. Herb served as the unoffical janitor as a kid. After school, he would make sure the two coal stoves were filled and also sweep the floors. In return, each of the two teachers would pay him $2 a month, which he gave to his parents, Laura and Luther, to help feed the family.

When they weren't fishing, the kids flew kites and found other ways to entertain themselves.

"Once in a while, we'd accidentally catch a sturgeon," he said. "Sturgeons have really bulbous noses. If you cut them off and wait for them to dry and get hard, they bounce like rubber balls."

When the family moved to Pitman in 1933, the Hollinger boys fished in Alcyan Lake. Hollinger eventually fished in other, more exotic locales after joining the Navy in 1943.

While aboard the USS Bosque, he traveled to the Philippines, Okinawa and was involved in the occupation of Japan. After World War II ended, he spent the rest of his enlistment in San Francisco, where he would fish off a pier at San Francisco Bay.

"You could see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz (prison) in the distance," he said. "The water was cold and there were always these huge sharks swimming around. I can see why it was so hard to escape from Alcatraz."

Hollinger primarily focuses on flounder nowadays, but that wasn't always the case. Among the decorations on his walls is the first white marlin he ever caught, on July 4, 1976. Throughout the 1970s, he fished in various marlin and tuna tournaments up and down the East Coast and won his share of trophies.

He would have won one more except for some hunger pangs that struck his team.
"One day we were deep-sea fishing and caught a small tuna," he said. "We all liked tuna fish sandwiches, so I cleaned it, cut it up into small fillets, put it in the microwave and grabbed a nice loaf of rye bread. When we pulled into the dock at Ocean City, Md., we found out that no one else caught a single fish. Our little tuna would have won us $500."

A heavy heart
Fishing is not quite as enjoyable as it used to be since the death of his wife of 67 years, Bessie, almost two years ago from a massive stroke.
They and their family used to spend summer weekends and vacations at the cottage Herb built on 11th Street in Whale Beach - between Strathmere and Sea Isle City - and later relocated to Strathmere after the 1962 storm. After he retired from DuPont in 1981, Bessie insisted they move there permanently in 1984.
"She loved to fish, too," Hollinger said while a tear snaked down his cheek. "I remember one time we were fishing in Horse's Head near Sea Isle. Bessie didn't like to bait her own hook, so I would do it for her. I handed her the pole and turned back to mine and she yelled, 'I have one.' I put another minnow on her hook, turn back around and she yelled, 'I have another one.'

"She caught 14 flounder in a row before I even had a chance to put my line in the water. Then she had the nerve to turn to me and ask, 'How come you're not fishing?' And she made the best fillets you've ever tasted. Man, that was good eating."

He's caught more than his share of fish since then, despite the ever-expanding limits on flounder. Last weekend, Hollinger and his sons caught 15 flounder, including two keepers.
"I had a nice flounder dinner (last Sunday night)," he said while looking at a photo of his wife. "I just wish Bessie was here to make it. The average man takes for granted what his wife does for him. It's a lot harder when you have to do things yourself."

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