Leon Checinski loves to fish, and he wants others to love it too.
In 2017, he founded the Atlantic City Saltwater Angler’s Club, which has since grown to about 100 members. The club encourages recreational fishing, but also looks for ways to give back to the community. They organize fishing competitions, trips, barbecues, food drives and beach clean-ups.
“Pretty much up and down the coast, everyone knows who we are, which is great,” said Checinski.
Checinski started fishing when he was three years old, and it has been a constant in his life ever since. He lived in both North and South Jersey, worked as a contractor, and spent 16 years with the Department of Homeland Security.
Now that he is 56, retired, and living in Somers Point, Checinski can devote more time to building the fishing community in Atlantic City and surrounding area.
But he is also worried about the future of recreational fishing in New Jersey.
Beach replenishment is one of his biggest concerns. The process of dredging sand and dumping it in front of casinos and beachfront properties destroys the plant and animal life on the ocean floor where fish feed.
“They’re destroying a whole other habitat when they do that,” he said. “And the fishing becomes bad because there’s nothing really to bring the fish to the area.”
In recent years, the striped bass tend to stay offshore once they pass Atlantic City because there’s no reason for them to come close to the beach, according to Checinski.
Commercial fishing is another issue.
“The more the commercial guys fish a species, the more you can’t find them as a recreational guy,” he said. “I understand these guys have to make money, but there’s no reason for the destruction of species, the way they do it.”
And pollution presents an on-going challenge to fish and anglers.
Lawn-care chemicals and fertilizers drain into the ocean and bays, wreaking havoc on the less hardy fish and attracting jellyfish. Last Spring, a friend caught a striped bass whose skin was gone near the tail. Checinski believes it was the result of a parasite enabled by pollution, something he says you wouldn’t have seen years ago.
Ultimately Checinski knows these are big challenges and finding solutions is tough. So he sets realistic and achievable goals for the club’s future.
During their beach clean up events, the Atlantic City Saltwater Angler’s Club collect bags and bags full of garbage. They mostly find trash, plastic and wood. Once they found an old VCR and television.
Beyond the trash cleanups, Chechinski wants to create something lasting. “I really hope it’s around long after I’m gone,” he said. “That’s my goal: to build a good club that is part of New Jersey for many years to come.”