By Tom Schlichter
Freedom Boat Club is no stranger to readers of Coastal Angler Magazine. We often tout the advantages of being a member, including access to a variety of boat styles ranging from 24-foot center consoles to bow riding sundecks, pontoons and dual consoles. We appreciate that there are a dozen locations to call home in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and that members can sail from any Freedom Boat Club locally or across the nation. With over 175 locations from here to the Florida Keys and beyond, the boating and fishing opportunities are endless.
While we’ve also highlighted how close each club within our geographic area is to good fishing, a recent conversation with Gaige Simon, membership executive and director of training, turned me on to another great aspect of club membership: free training. That’s always been listed in the Freedom Boats literature, but I had figured it was just a basic “once around the block” in terms of seamanship. Turns out it’s much more.
“We really want members to have the best experience possible,” explains Simon, “so we try to cover as much as we can over a reasonable amount of time. What we offer, actually, is free, unlimited training on the water so you can keep learning and practicing until you feel safe and comfortable operating any vessel in our fleet. There is no cost for these training sessions, except that the trainee pays for gas.”
Gaige actually does most of the training sessions himself for the Long Island club locations, traveling from club to club as needed to accommodate members. He offers both basic training for beginners and intermediate training for those who already have sea legs and a little bit of experience at the helm.
“We cover pretty much everything you need to know to stay safe, have fun and truly experience the boating lifestyle,” says Simon. “All new members are required to take a basic training course before they can book a boat. The courses are taught by Coast Guard licensed instructors and begin with a classroom session going over rules, boating protocols and club protocols before advancing to one-on-one sessions on the water involving basic boat handling strategies and skills.”
According to Simon, instructors spend as much time with club members as needed while covering navigation, docking, anchoring, chart reading, electronics, tides and currents, weather issues, emergency procedures, breakdowns, towing, etc. As you continue to learn and enjoy your days afloat, you can continue to schedule practice sessions and time with the instructors to tackle additional optional boating topics.
“The boating instruction is great, of course,” says Simon, “but we offer fishing instruction as well. Don’t know how to rig your line, which bait or lure to throw, or where to try for that trophy of a lifetime? There’s always staff around that can show you the ropes. In fact, members of any of our Long Island clubs can sign-up to have me come aboard and help show them how it’s done. All you need to do is ask. Since I’m on the water every week, I also usually have a good feel about where the fishing is likely to be best at any given time. I can even arrange to get you out for the magic ours around dawn and dusk. On their own, the earliest club members can depart the dock is 8 a.m.”
Timing, of course, is vital to success for any angler, as is heading for the right spot for the species sought. Learning to read your electronics is also important, and you’ll be glad to know that all Freedom Boats come with a full electronics package on board.
“One of the best things about being a club member from an angler’s perspective,” says Simon, “is that you can follow the fish wherever the action may be. In May, stripers flood into the western end of Long Island Sound where they are easy to reach from our Port Washington and new Glen Cove locations, or our Stamford club on the Connecticut side. At the same time, you might have bass chasing bunker along Long Island’s south shore. You can reach those fish from our Freeport and Lindenhurst locations with ease.”
Indeed, while the fishing tends to be good throughout the season for most Freedom Boat Club locations in our area, each one has a slot or two when it really shines. From Northport and Branford, members can cash in on stripers through late spring in the harbors and back bay areas which are also accessible from both club locations. Fluke fans can work the famed Eaton’s Neck Triangle from the Northport, Port Washington and Glen Cove locations and, later in the summer access the Eastern Long Island Sound from our Port Jefferson location. They can also hit the famous Middle Grounds from both New York and Connecticut locations. As for everyday action, you’ll find fluke, scup, sea bass, bluefish, school stripers and false albacore available at various points throughout the season in the waters surrounding most club locations.