By Donald Wittkowski
Alexandra Trimble is proof that you donâ€™t have to be an adult â€“ or a guy â€“ to be a serious angler.
An eighthâ€“grader at the Ocean City Intermediate School, the 13-year-old Alexandra had already bought one lure and some hooks Saturday before she stopped by at vendor Douglas Ruppelâ€™s custom fishing supplies table looking for even more stuff.
Like an old pro, she carefully studied a lime green fishing lure and then asked Ruppel, â€śHow much is this one?â€ť
â€śI try to bargain,â€ť she said later of her savvy buying techniques.
Joining with hundreds of other fishing enthusiasts, Alexandra spent the morning and afternoon at the 16th annual Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club Flea Market. The event featured an entire gymnasium filled with rods, reels and other fishing gear sold by vendors.
The flea market attracts fishermen â€“ and women â€“ from all over the Northeast and has become a must-see winter event for anglers who are getting ready for the spring and summer fishing season. Normally, it attracts between 800 and 1,200 people.
â€śWe have people from Virginia, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania, in addition to New Jersey. We have people who come from quite a distance,â€ť said Nick Verducci, an eighth grade social studies teacher who serves as advisor to the Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club.
Money raised from the flea market benefits the fishing club, which includes 20 of the schoolâ€™s seventh and eighth graders. Alexandra Trimble is one of the club members.
Verducci noted that the club is about evenly divided between boys and girls. However, the girls seem to have an advantage when it comes to catching fish, he said.
â€śI would say the girls out-fish the boys. They have more patience,â€ť he explained, laughing.
Although everyone wants to land a big one, the main reason for the fishing club is to make the children more aware of marine life and the environment at the Jersey Shore, Verducci pointed out.
â€śThe whole idea is to get kids away from the video games and to have them enjoy the natural resources around here,â€ť he said.
The flea market was expected to raise about $1,000 for the fishing club on Saturday. The money will pay for fishing trips for club members, including excursions out on the bay provided by local charter operators Duke Oâ€™ Fluke in Somers Point and Avalon Lady in Avalon, Verducci said.
The club members also travel to the Pequest Trout Hatchery, which is operated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protectionâ€™s Division of Fish & Wildlife in Newton, N.J. After seeing how the trout are farm-raised, the children go fishing at a local pond.
Alexandra Trimble, who has been fishing for three years, said she enjoys saltwater fishing out on the bay the most.
â€śItâ€™s the enjoyment that you get from catching a fish and the beauty of it all,â€ť she said.
She also made it clear that fishing isnâ€™t just for boys or men.
â€śI want to be different,â€ť she said. â€śI think fishing should be a gender-neutral thing, because it should be enjoyed by us all.â€ť
Douglas Ruppel, owner of D.R. Lures & Supplies, has been a vendor at the flea market for all 16 years. Clearly enjoying his interaction with a young fishing enthusiast, the 72-year-old Ruppel smiled when Alexandra asked him the price of one of his lures.
â€śI like helping the kids. I like teaching the kids. I like inspiring them to do better,â€ť said Ruppel, of Whiting, N.J. â€śIf we donâ€™t teach and train young people on the art of fishing and building stuff, all of those things will disappear.â€ť
Ruppel recalled that he started fishing when he was only 3 years old. Nearly 70 years later, he still remembers that day â€“ although vaguely â€“ when his father first took him out to catch carp.
Fishing continues to be a life-long passion of his. For a while, Ruppel served as a mate on a charter fishing boat. He sells custom fishing tackle through his company, D.R. Lures & Supplies.
Both Ruppel and Verducci said the timing of the flea market over the winter is perfect because it gives anglers a chance to buy new gear while they are waiting for prime fishing weather in spring, summer and fall.
â€śIf weâ€™re not fishing, weâ€™re buying,â€ť Ruppel said.