One Hudson Morning
The Hudson that you see from the skiff of a commercial shad fisherman is not the river so familiar from the window of the Metro-North train, the waterfront condominium balcony, or even the shiny deck of a sportfishing boat. The river from those places offers itself to you for passive pleasure; you can give yourself over to indolence and dreams as you wait for the vista and the light to shift, or for a fish to take the lure.
But when you are on the river at the working level, on the factory floor — as I was briefly on a perfect day in May, thanks to the generous spirit of John Mylod, an oldtime shad fisherman in Poughkeepsie — you are in a completely different, far more demanding place. There is no time to sit around. Even in the gentlest breeze, in mild temperatures and the bright light of late morning — excellent conditions for laying shad nets — you have to keep attending to the constant swirl and change around you: the push and pull of current, tide and wind, the menace of hulking ships and sport boats in the main channel, the steady flow of fish into the net.
Fish in this case being mostly striped bass, not shad, because the shad spawning run that began in early spring was winding down, giving the river over to the bigger, voracious species that is so wedded to people’s perceptions of the modern, troubled Hudson.
Mr. Mylod, who has fished the Hudson more than 30 years, is one of a now tiny number of fishermen who work the river for shad and roe to sell. He used to have a partner; they would row all day and fill their nets to bursting. Hardly anybody does it anymore, and not just because there are fewer shad to go around. Between the vigorous opposition of sportfishermen and the lingering stain of PCB’s, fishermen like Mr. Mylod are unable to catch striped bass, and the shad run is so brief that it does not provide much of a living. Mr. Mylod, who is 65 and a woodcut image of a fisherman from his full white beard to his rubber boots, supplements his income by other means, including netting the blue crabs that now flourish in the Hudson’s cleaner waters.
The disappearance of men like Mr. Mylod — and with it much of the Hudson’s working character — has been a little noted and mostly unlamented byproduct of the river’s resurgence.
After generations when the river was a great waterway doubling as a sewer and industrial canal, the Hudson now hosts all kinds of new life, not all of it desirable. Looking at the banks from midriver below Poughkeepsie, you see the unmistakable signs of suburban bloat: hulking white townhouses squatting on the bluffs on alarmingly spindly beams, like fat people on stilts. Sprawl is a constant threat on the Hudson, with communities from Yonkers on up pushing development schemes that threaten to plant skyscrapers on the riverbanks.
The homes are going up because people want to come back to the Hudson, which generally is a good thing. But as communities on the Hudson makes room for those people, there needs to be room for people like Mr. Mylod, who spent three hours talking with me about environmental matters, subjects on which his knowledge is deep and nuanced, as he laid and retrieved nets that ultimately yielded two shad.
Most of the time he was extricating unusable stripers that had been caught in his battered monofilament nets. It was a laborious process that involved forcing their fat silver bodies forward through the mesh, since their spines and scales made it impossible to free them bass-backwards. Tossed overboard, the stunned fish would lie for a while, white bellies up, before flicking their tails and plunging back into the silty depths.
Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: Get Wet.