BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Pointing to a large bass swarming near the shore, Dwight Jenkins chuckled.
“That one’s called Supper,” said Jenkins, as he walked around the Progressive Fishing Association’s 7-acre stocked pond, tossing in fish food.
Jenkins is one of 150 members of the PFA, a private, nonprofit organization located on Schadel Road in Waterville Township.
While many in the community know the PFA for its kids’ fishing derby or the Friday night fish fries, the PFA has a long history of conservation and outdoor sports.
“We want to make every sportsman’s and sportswoman’s dreams come true,” said PFA president Chris Ferrara, repeating the PFA motto.
Driving around the 22-acre property one Saturday, Ferrara pointed out the amenities that appeal to members: outdoor pistol and rifle ranges, an archery range, plenty of open space for camping and a pond that’s perfect for swimming, boating, fishing and – during season – hunting ducks from a blind on an island.
“I come fish or walk around here every day,” said Jenkins, as he used pieces of hot dog to bait large-mouth bass. Bluegill and catfish are also in the pond, which has a catch-and-release policy in order to preserve the fish. “This is a good place to bring your kids to swim or fish, kayak or paddleboard.”
Along one side of the pond, Chris and Diane Weimer and Adrienne and Carley Winslow were relaxing in chairs outside the Weimers’ motor home, watching their dogs play and enjoying the solitude on Labor Day weekend.
“We like the privacy out here,” Diane said. “We live just 3 miles away, so we can go home to shower and feed the chickens.”
With the pandemic, the popularity of campgrounds has skyrocketed, so many PFA members are grateful for an opportunity to camp without feeling crowded, Chris Weimer said. His favorite activity while camping is cooking.
The Weimers joined the club in 2001 after attending fish fries.
“I joined because they needed someone to cook the fish the right way,” Chris Weimer joked. “I love cooking.”
The PFA is a working club, so members lend their time and skills to keeping the buildings and grounds in good shape, Ferrara said. Some are plumbers, electricians, carpenters and farmers who have heavy equipment to help clear the brush and keep the grounds cleared.
Giving back to the community is a priority. During pandemic shutdowns, the Boy Scouts came to the PFA to do winter campouts and earn badges, such as learning how to tie flies with help from members.
On August 20, more than 150 youths participated in a fishing derby, learning how to fish and earning prizes. The PFA is also working on plans for a youth day, giving kids an opportunity to try archery, rifles, trap shooting, outdoor living and dog training.
“We encourage kids to come learn how to fish and hunt and love the outdoors,” Ferrara said.
While other clubs require a background check for new members, the PFA instead asks that each potential member be sponsored by an existing member.
“If you don’t know anyone, come to a Thursday night trap shoot – it’s open to the public – and get to know people. Eventually, someone will take you under their wing,” Ferrara said.
While most members say it’s the love of outdoors that drew them to the PFA, it’s the people and camaraderie that keep them there.
Chris Weimer concurs. “We’re a close group of guys. We look out for one another and check on each other,” he said.
The PFA was formed in 1949 by Doc Talbert, Robert Sprink, Burton Bender, Aaron Rice, Lester Winslow, Speed Potter, Lyle Phillips and Mike Aldrich meeting on Bender’s porch. The goal: to provide a venue for outdoor sports and the appreciation of wildlife and natural resources. The PFA continues to work with the state to ensure sound conservation practices.
The club first leased land across from its current location; then, in 1964, it leased 10 acres from Verna Ritenour. A 22-by-26 log building was moved from the airport to the site, and in 1966, the PFA purchased the land for $800 an acre. In 1971, Ritenour sold the PFA an additional 12.41 acres of land and another building was opened.
The Army Corps of Engineers began digging the 7-acre lake in 1965. It took seven years to dig and blast through the bedrock to create a pond that was 12- to 18-feet deep at the time.
For more information about the PFA, visit the group’s Facebook page or stop by the drive-thru fish fries that begin on Friday, September 24 and run through November 19 from 5:00 p.m. until the fish runs out. Adult meals are $10.00 and include Alaskan pollock, potato, coleslaw, roll and cookie. Kids’ chicken nugget meals are available for $5.00. The PFA is located at 7675 Schadel Rd.