Fish in New York City? Most people only see them on a menu. But as Paul Smith discovers, Gotham’s waters are a fine place to meet a blue up close
Fly fishing. The phrase conjures an image of free-flowing rivers and virgin forests. Snow-capped mountains framing anglers in western hats as they rhythmically present dry flies to wild trout. It’s known as the “quiet sport.”
Now, imagine fishing with the Manhattan skyline as the backdrop, in salty ocean spray and big-city air.
Fly angling in salt water has exploded on the mainstream sports fishing scene, with fishermen travelling from Christmas Island to Australia in search of exotic species. And, yes, to New York too. In these waters, you might expect to find only unfortunate fellows in concrete shoes – but at the right time of year, there is great striped-bass fishing in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty.
Since first reading about it, I’ve been imagining long days fighting bonito and skipjack followed by dinner and a Broadway show. I’ve fished around the globe, but New York City was also on my list of dream destinations. And then an opportunity came up: I was heading to Belize, and I would be stuck in Newark, N.J., overnight. Here was my chance, a day to see New York and sample the local fishing. I ended up staying for two.
As I left Newport Marina in Jersey City on the Sweet Pea, the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan came into view. The sun was just peeking above the horizon, reflecting off the skyline. The city that never sleeps sure looked sleepy from a distance. I could hear none of the honking of horns or rush-hour bustle unfolding across the Hudson River. An intoxicating fishy smell hung in the morning air; I was in a twilight zone between wilderness and urbanity, with my angling senses on full alert amid the densest concentration of humans in North America.
“Looks like a great morning for fishing,” Captain Chris Hessert shouted over the thumping diesel.
I snapped photos as we cruised down the Hudson, past the tip of Manhattan and on toward Governors and Liberty islands. The iconic lady held her torch high against the brightening sky. For a century, this was the first glimpse of America for millions of immigrants. My New York experience was feeling surreal.
Capt. Chris interrupted my introspection: “We’ll try here for a bass on the way back.” For him, it was all in a day’s work.
We continued on in the wake of huge cargo ships. Past Brooklyn’s waterfront and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the bay opened up and an expanse of open ocean lay before us. Other small boats bobbed on the water with fishing rods pointed skyward: We were not alone. My fishing sixth sense awoke, having been suppressed by the endless brick, mortar and steel of the modern world. Now, we would fish.
Past Coney Island, in the mouth of Rockaway Inlet, Capt. Chris spotted diving seabirds. We steamed toward them and, sure enough, flashes of silver-sided baitfish lit up the water’s surface. Big patches of them; there would probably be bluefish feeding beneath. I cast a long line from the bow, just managing to drop my baitfish imitation of fur into the chaos of gorging and death. I stripped back line in short quick strokes, hoping to mimic an injured and vulnerable fish. Nothing. It’s hardly ever that easy. But after 20 or 30 tries, my line went taut. Adrenalin coursed though my body, my first ever blue, and on a fly rod in the shadow of New York!
The fish fought gallantly, and by the time it succumbed my arms were aching. Capt. Chris held my prize, taking care to avoid the blue’s razor teeth as he removed my fly. This bluish-green torpedo of a fish is all predator, built for bursts of speed, from its broad forked tail to its lissome head. My blue was average in size, about five or six pounds. I admired my catch glistening in the morning sun before Capt. Chris released it, none the worse for its short encounter with humankind.
Over the course of the morning, I hooked several more fish and soaked up all I could of the unfamiliar surroundings. Close to noon, we tried for a bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, but there were no takers. As tourists wandered around the Lady’s feet, I smugly felt I
was getting a real New York
And in a sense I was. New Yorkers always move about with purpose; absorbing the ambience is for outsiders.
Later that evening, I dined on blackened salmon at Live Bait, a cozy theme restaurant right by the Flatiron Building. The guy at a nearby tackle shop, Urban Angler, had recommended it (after setting me up for some killer flies for my next destination).
I asked the waiter about the fish mounts that lined the walls. Were any caught locally? The young waiter wasn’t sure, but the man at the next table overheard and interjected: “That bluefin was taken two seasons ago, about half a mile off Coney Island.”
He was an angler, and anglers everywhere jump at the chance to chat fishing. He described an epic battle with a New York tuna. I told him about my passion for Atlantic salmon and my favourite river back home in Newfoundland. I sensed his wife was not impressed with the diversion to their dinner, so we exchanged e-mail addresses and left it at that.
I finished my salmon while watching a never-ending stream of people and traffic on Fifth Avenue, and I chuckled to myself. My wife tells me I would find fish talk on the moon; New York City was a cinch.
Pack your bags
Continental Airlines flies to Newark from several Canadian cities. Air Canada operates seven daily flights to Newark.
WHERE TO STAY
Courtyard Marriott Jersey City Newport 540 Washington Blvd.; (201) 626-6600. If you are going just for the fishing, this is a fine choice. It’s just a five-minute walk from the Newport Marina.
WHERE TO EAT
Live Bait 14 East 23rd St., New York; 212-353-9100.
WHERE TO FISH
Manhattan Fly Newport Marina, Jersey City, N.J.; (917) 531-4783; http://www.manhattanfly.com. Charters from $576.
WHEN TO GO
There are bluefish around all year long. Striped bass show in May and June and from August to December. Bonito, false albacore and skipjack tuna are in season August through October; bluefin tuna run from September to December.
By PAUL SMITH
Entry filed under: Manhattan.