Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 6 • May 30-June 6, 2007 now in our 37th season

The Angler's Club

by Andrew Spencer

Nantucket is, by all accounts, a pretty exclusive little enclave out here in the middle of the ocean and, as with all exclusive little enclaves out in the middle of the ocean, we’ve got our fair share of private clubs.  We’ve got, just to name a few, the Nantucket Yacht Club, the Great Harbor Yacht Club, Sankaty Head Golf Club, the Nantucket Golf Club, the Westmoor Club.  All of these places are private—in some cases, painfully so—and their membership roles are guarded secrets and the waiting list to join some of them are longer than the average lifetime of those not fortunate enough to be labeled as legacies.  And with the current pace, it’s entirely possible that the whole island will be one big private club before it’s all over.

No matter what your opinion on private clubs and the “privatization” of Nantucket, there’s no denying that there’s certainly a market for such places here, as evidenced by the speed with which new club memberships fill up.  But Nantucket is nothing if not a great melting pot, where people from all walks of life do—as they always have—come to live, work, play and relax. And there are certainly more than a few old-time Nantucketers who bemoan the fact that their sleepy little island has been “discovered.”  But despite what might be labeled as their sadness for days gone by, these same people are more than able to fit in here on Nantucket, because, as I said, this island is a perfect little microcosm of Americana.  Everybody can fit in somewhere, and everybody—no matter how fringe—can find somebody that thinks the exact same way they do.  I’ve got a friend who likes to say of Nantucket that people who live in multi-million dollar mansions can often be seen sitting in the same restaurants as the men and women who built those mansions. That’s just how life on Nantucket is.

Nantucket Anglers' club Billfish Tournament c. 1980 buffet table and the women who made the food. {l to r}: two Killen girls, Bea Conner, Jackie Russell, Barbara Reed, Gerry Bachman, Maxie Howes, Edie Fields. Reprinted courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

So there’s a place for everyone here. But what about all those private clubs?  Is there a place where people who don’t fly in on private jets?  Here? On Nantucket?  Can people who pine for the simpler days—back before single-malt and titanium drivers were the norm—find their own little spot to call their own?  You know, the people who prefer Budweiser and a cane pole?

They’ve already got it.  It’s called the Nantucket Anglers’ Club, and it’s located down on the water at 1 New Whale Lane.  I, for one, love the place. You walk in and it feels like a Nantucket summer house.  This is a Goldilocks kind of place.  The facility doesn’t feel too big or too small.  It feels just right. It doesn’t seem too loud or too quiet.  It seems just right.  The people don’t seem too uptight or too lowtight (if that’s even a word).  They feel just right. As one member said, “The Anglers’ Club has the cheapest beer in town and the most down-to-Earth people you’ll ever meet.  Real people.  That’s what you get at the Anglers’ Club.  Real people.”

Founded in 1969, the Anglers’ Club is, in fact, a private club, just like Sankaty or the Westmoor.  But the Anglers’ Club was founded as more than just another private club on Nantucket.  The Anglers’ Club mission is, in part, “to promote Nantucket fresh and salt water angling from both boats and beach; to foster and conduct fishing tournaments of all kinds; to promote and encourage conservation of marine fisheries and the preservation and maintenance of beaches, marshland, etc.”  So this is more than a lounge and restaurant.  There’s work involved here, too.  Members are expected to help around the clubhouse, and there’s a slew of member volunteers who turn out every year for major club-sponsored events.  Members host clubhouse get-togethers for the membership, and members can even be found cooking every once in a while in the club’s kitchen.

The clubhouse itself isn’t behind gated walls or guarded porticos.  It’s downtown, across the street from the Grand Union, right above the Nantucket Ship Chandlery.  The only obstacle to entry is a few stuck-on signs advising you that the stairs lead to a “members only” area.  Beyond that, you feel like you’re walking into an old friend’s home.  And what amazes me every time I go in the joint is that, even as a non-member, I’m still treated like I belong and that everyone there has just been waiting for me to show up.  Again, this is “real people” land.  They’re glad to see you, they’re glad to meet you, and they’re glad to have you there.

But, to my mind, there’s nothing that sums up the spirit of the Nantucket Anglers’ Club better than Club By-Law #15, which states, “Thou shall not discuss business in the Club unless it is mutually agreeable.”

That rule is part of what makes the Anglers’ Club the Anglers’ Club.  In fact, it pretty much just is the Anglers’ Club.  This is not a place where you go to get hot stock tips or to sell your company’s software design protocol. Rather, this is a place where friends—both new and old—meet to eat, talk fishing and life, and just enjoy themselves in a low-key environment that is away from the hustle and bustle of town.  There certainly are plenty of members who are interested in and heavily involved with the corporate world, but once you walk up those stairs, you leave it all behind.  Once you’re inside the clubhouse, all that stays outside.

The club sponsors twelve tournaments a year, including the August Billfish Tournament, which is one of my favorite summer events.  It’s an amazing sight to see huge offshore fishing boats idle their way up to the weigh-in stand and hoist up their huge trophies.  And, in keeping with the club’s conservation-minded mission, any fish that is caught and kept for a club-sponsored tournament is used as food, so these folks aren’t just out there needlessly keeping fish. 

Whether an angler or just a person who enjoys being on Nantucket, we all owe the membership of the Nantucket Anglers’ Club our thanks for all they do.  Because the Anglers’ Club is about more than just fishing.  They’re about scholarships for local students, they’re about conservation and environmental responsibility, and they’re about helping the community. So next time you’re down on Old North Wharf, say a quick thank-you towards the second-story deck overlooking the harbor, because those folks up there are doing a lot more than just hanging out in their own little private enclave.  They’re helping to keep this beautiful island a better place.

Nantucket’s most complete events & arts calendar • Established 1970 • © © 2019  Yesterday's Island •