In Brooklyn, a Quest to Catch the Biggest Fish
Urban anglers of all skill levels are being challenged this month to grab their rods and reel in Brooklyn’s biggest fish.
Competition for the inaugural Brooklyn Fishing Derby, promoted by its organizers as “the first-ever New York City common man’s fishing competition,” began on Thursday night and will run until the end of October. The derby will award its grand prize to the angler who catches the biggest bluefish or striped bass from a stretch of the East River that runs from Red Hook to Greenpoint.
The contest is the brainchild of two friends, Ben Sargent of Greenpoint and Jamie Potter of Williamsburg, who bonded years ago through a shared love of surfing at Rockaway Beach, in Queens, and their constant pursuit of outdoor recreation in New York City.
On Thursday evening, both men were at Dream Fishing Tackle, a narrow fishing gear shop in Greenpoint, for a small party to celebrate the start of competition.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s bowling or fencing or fishing — you need some sort of activity to keep you sane in the city,” said Mr. Sargent, 31, as he tended to a pair of large fish smoking on a barbecue grill. “I feel like my job is to teach people they don’t have to live in New York City feeling detached from nature.”
(Mr. Sargent achieved moderate fame cooking New England clam chowder at a restaurant in Williamsburg with which he is no longer affiliated. He has cooked chowder on television with Martha Stewart and the chef Bobby Flay. His day job now, he said, is “surfing and fishing in New York City.”)
Mr. Potter, 36, said he and Mr. Sargent came up with the idea for the derby over the summer, borrowing ideas from the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, which has been held on the island every fall for more than six decades.
Mr. Potter conceded that the event was still a work in progress — the actual prizes, for instance, are yet undetermined, and the organizaers are relying on the honor system as people send in their submissions by digital photograph or video. “Who knows what people will do?” Mr. Potter said, with a laugh, about the potential for digital manipulation of those images. “We live in a large community of graphic artists.”
But regardless of who wins, he said, he hoped the event could be in a unifying force in a community where the population has become increasingly fractured by a series of rapid socioeconomic changes. Mr. Potter and Mr. Sargent both marveled at the diversity of people they had encountered while fishing in the city and the activity’s capacity to bring people together.
“This is our first time doing this, so we’re pacing ourselves and kind of just seeing what happens,” Mr. Potter said. “But the excitement for it has been surprisingly contagious.”
Mr. Potter and Mr. Sargent spent Thursday evening shuffling busily between guests who peppered them with questions about the event. The men will receive assistance over the course of the contest from Mike Bruno, 26, and Maria Haddad, 22, who on Thursday helped people register, collected fees, and handed out T-shirts from behind the shop’s counter.
“People never do anything outside,” Ms. Haddad said. She said she planned to participate in the contest herself, though she does not have much experience fishing: “I just get sick of being inside all this concrete.”
At just past 7 p.m. Thursday, Mr. Bruno and Ms. Haddad said that about 75 people had registered, either online or in person. Registration is $45 and will remain open for the duration of the competition. All registrants automatically become members of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association, which Mr. Sargent and Mr. Potter also created this summer.
Among those who stopped by to sign up was Luis Baez, 53, of the Bronx, and his 26-year-old son, also named Luis Baez, who lives in Williamsburg. The younger Mr. Baez said he had run into Mr. Sargent in Williamsburg a few days earlier, when the latter was handing out fliers to promote the contest. “My father’s birthday is coming up,” he said, “and I thought this would be the perfect gift for him.”
The older Mr. Baez said that he and his son often fished together in the past, when they both lived in Brooklyn, and that they enjoyed watching the sun set on the water. The competition, he said, would be a good way for them to spend more time together.
Jason Lam, 32, a television producer from Williamsburg, seemed resigned to the fact that he would probably not win the competition. “I’m just going to go out there and try to enjoy myself,” he said.
Mr. Lam registered on Thursday night with two friends who he said were slightly more serious about fishing than he. All three purchased a package of basic fishing items — a rod, hooks, fish finders, sinkers — which the store’s owner, Robert Piskorski, 43, offered to registrants at a discounted price.
Dan Forbes of Park Slope, who had come with Mr. Lam, said he fished about once a month, usually in Sunset Park or Red Hook. He seemed pleased that the contest would give him reason to go out to the Brooklyn waterfront more often.
“The whole thing is pretty surreal,” Mr. Forbes, 35, said of the urban fishing experience. “It’s just weird. You pull a fish out of the water, and right out in front of you is the Statue of Liberty.”
Mr. Forbes and his friends then headed to the bar across the street to discuss, over a round of beer, where they might be able to cast their lines later that night.
By Andrew Keh
City Room, New York Times
Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Get Wet, Natural Waterfront. Tags: bluefish, Brooklyn Fishing Derby, Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association, Dream Fishing Tackle, East River, Greenpoint, outdoor recreation, striped bass.