Rod and Gun Club a catch for the community

An 83-year-old South Whidbey institution dedicated to social activities and outdoor sports is looking for a way to involve a fresh crop of members.

The Holmes Harbor Rod and Gun Club is planning to host its annual membership drive from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 18.

Clint Hatton, a volunteer organizer and member of the club, said some of the festivities this year will include on-site camping, specials for food and a trivia contest.

For one day out of the year, the private nonprofit organization will be open to the public to tour the grounds. There will be fishing discussions and shooting and archery demonstrations.

Despite all that’s happened this year with the coronavirus, the club isn’t exactly suffering from a lack of membership but is looking to engage with younger people and their families.

Ed Noble, the organization’s president, said the South Whidbey club’s membership fluctuates every year and at one time there were as many as 1,000 memberships.

He estimates that there are currently 657 memberships, which means there could be over 1,000 members since spouses can share a membership.

The club, founded on the ideals of conservationism, provides a gathering spot for fishers to talk about their craft and gun enthusiasts to practice it, with shooting ranges available. Hunter education and firearm safety classes are staples taught at the Rod and Gun Club.

There’s also a bar and restaurant on the club grounds. During not-so-long-ago times when large gatherings weren’t prohibited, members looked forward to swaying to live music on the dance floor in the Pine Tree Room.

“Before the silliness this year, I think we had 58 planned events,” Noble said.

Like many organizations, the club had to adapt to the pandemic and as a result, started offering take-out meals to the public.

“It’s been a great way for us to be a part of the community during this time because so many places were closed,” said Manager Pamela Kratzke.

“The club’s not for everybody, I get that, but everybody needs to eat.”

Entering the club through its solid, windowless front door may seem like stumbling upon a secret society, but members are more than approachable. On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, many of them can be found enjoying a drink on Liar’s Porch, which they explain is called that because the members often fib about how well they shot or the size of the fish they caught.

Longtime member Ron Brown expressed that the club is a good place to socialize, more than anything.

“If you’re new to Whidbey Island, it’s a great place to come,” he said. “People are friendly. You come here, you can have your prime rib, you can dance and you meet some people.”

“Otherwise, you can sit in these woods and never meet anybody.”

Member Ed Grabo said getting younger families involved has always been a challenge for the organization because of their busy schedules, but there are some.

“It’s not just a bunch of stodgy old men with shotguns running around,” Grabo said about the club. “There’s also families. Kids are welcome.”

Hatton, the volunteer organizer, said things have reached a point where younger families may not have the extra income to spend on a membership, which costs $240 per year.

There is also a $200 one-time initiation fee, but currently the child of an existing family member of the club can get that fee waived. Members must be 21 years old to join.

For the day of the membership drive, dues are free for the rest of the year if the initiation fee of $200 is paid.

Noble attributes the longevity of the club to families, tradition and a group of “super volunteers” who have been dedicated to keeping its doors open year after year.

“My goal is to have this place here when I’m gone,” he said.

Kratzke has been a member for the past 18 years and can sum up the club in one sentence.

“There’s nothing like it.”