New York Pier
Fishing (with a fly rod)
By Randy Kadish
Sunset On The Pier
become a lawyer or a doctor, as my mother wanted, but I did become a
surf fisherman, and soon climbed to the top of the fishing ladder, so
to speak, and became the most sophisticated of all anglers: a fly
fisher. (When I wear my fly-fishing hat and vest, people tell me I
look every bit an angler as Brad Pitt does in "A River Runs
Through it.") And so, I've read a countlessnumber of fly-fishing
books and articles. So what if I don't catch as many fish as I should.
become the great American novelist, as I wanted, but I did become an
outdoor writer. (When I give people my business cards they are
impressed.) So what if I've earned anaverage of $120 an article and
still don't have an agent.
become a lot of things, good and bad, including a pier fishermen.
Piers were magnets for anglers on the lowest fishing rung: bait
fishermen. Besides, what self-respecting flyfisher wants to fish,
standing on concrete or wood, facing a railing?
who's often too tired to travel up to the beautiful Westchester trout
streams, and who is therefore willing to accept the challenge of
saltwater, fly fishing. How could I not accept the challenge with my
hometown, Manhattan, bordered by two routes of migrating, stripped
bass: the East and Hudson Rivers?
But I had a
problem: I didn't have a nine-weight fly rod. My solution: spend over
$600 for a top-of-the-line one. Wasn't I worth it, in spite of my
shortcomings? Wouldn't a psychologist say so? Not if he suspected I
was trying to mask something. What? Grief over the loss of a fishing
friendship? Self-blame? But how often did Robert keep me waiting in
subway or train stations? Lots. How often did he read my publications?
For what ever
the reason, I put $625 down and bought a new rod.
Now where to
fish? A short subway ride away was a fishingpier in Long Island City,
Queens. The pier was shaped like a gigantic capital T. The bottom of
the T was about thirty yards long, six yards wide. Guarding its south
side like twelve-footsoldiers, was a row of wood pilings. Casting and
retrieving between them would be a chore. The top of the T, a
rectangle, was a watering hole for five bait fishermen. The fishermen
wore baseball caps, dungarees and old jackets. Angler attire? Well,
not exactly. About ten spinning rods leaned on the downstream railing.
The mile-wide East
River vaguely resembled a trout stream. Instead of a meadow on the far
bank, however, there was a long, low building, the United Nations'
Assembly. Instead of trees there were tall and short, wide and thin,
stone and glassbuildings. From my new Queens perspective, the skyline
looked as if it were cut from a giant cookie cutter, and didn't seem
intimidating - unlike the bait fishermen.
I decided not
to fish near them.
I set up my
fly rod, tied on a deceiver and put on my stripping basket. The bait
fishermen, I saw, watched me as if I were from Mars, or even Pluto. One
laughed - at my hat, I guessed. Another reeled in his line, stuck a
chunk of bait on his hook, and cast. He stopped his surf rod way too
far forward. It unloaded like a slinky, lobbing the lead sinker, at
fishermen know the basics of casting? I wondered. Why should they?
Casting and retrieving are too much work for them. But did I come to
the pier to fish, or to dwell on other people's casting defects, or on
the darn railing in front of me?
I false cast,
shooting more and more line. Abruptly, I stopped the rod. A tight loop
arrowed across the water. My fly turned over and splashed down. I
retrieved, faster and faster, but I was no match for the current. It
swept my line under the pier, and imbedded my fly in a piling. Four
more dollars gone, or so I thought. The fisherman with the blond,
hippie-long hair marched down the pier with a long gaff and freed my
fly. I retrieved all of my line and yelled, "Thanks!"
Knowing I had
to retrieve against the current, I walked past the pilings, to the top
of the T. On the downstream railing, the bait fishermen and their
spinning rods took up all the room.
The injustice! After all, I thought, I'm one angler. I take up one
space and play by fair rules. But complain? To whom? The Mayor? The
only violations he cares about are parking. Besides, the bait fishermen
are not exactly little Frankensteins, even though I heard they take
undersized fish, and even though I see they fish with
discount-store-quality rods, some with broken tips.
I decided not
to squeeze between the fishermen and force them to make room. I faced
Manhattan and cast as far as I could.
of the fishermen shouted.
admired for a change, I watched my line swing down stream and tried to
tune out the mostly Spanish chatter. Did the bait fishermen come to the
pier to fish or to talk? I wondered. Does solitude mean anything to
them? Well, at least no one is shouting into a cell phone.
baseball players; and I assumed they argued about the Mets and Yankees.
I sided with the Mets, as always.
My line bowed
big-time. Would I be able to set the hook? My fly swung directly below
me, finally. I moved the rod tip up and down. No strike. I retrieved
line, six inches at a time.
thought, at least I'm trying to fool the stripers. What's the
challenge, the skill, of casting bait and then waiting for a strike?
Wouldn't it be easier to buy fish in a store? I don't understand bait
fishermen. They're like Einstein's theories to me.
The Long Island City
years away from them, I wondered if I should have called Robert. But
risk a long wait? No, not again. Instead, I should lose my loneliness,
my self, in the beautiful, beautiful outdoors.
Again I cast.
My line floated over seams, riffles, eddies, and over what looked like
miniature mountain ridges and desert plains. The shapes held firm, as
if they respected each other's turf, and as if the river rolled on
My line bowed
again. In my mind cursed the bait fishermen for taking all the best
fisheen'?" The accent was from the Barrio. It belonged to a
fisherman wearing a faded Met cap. He walked toward me. He was about
sixty years old and needed a shave.
He stared at
my fly rod and seemed to see gold. Somehow he knew a good fly rod when
he saw one.
"How's the fishing here?"
discouraging me from coming back?
"If you wanna to
catch fish," he said, "use bait. Wanna worm?"
"I only use
flies. Is there a bathroom around here?"
He pointed to
a small building on the near bank. "Dhere."
convenient, especially because I wasn't wearing waders.
"God made our
little fishing world so pretty," he said. "I try to come here
every day, except Sundays. Dhen I go to church."
Though I had
issues with God, the East River, I saw, seemed to turn reflected
sunlight into diamonds, and looked as beautiful as any trout stream or
luck," he said. He walked back to his friends. The one wearing the
Yankee hat opened a white cooler, took out a can of soda and held it
up. He looked at me and smiled.
"No thanks." I took out a cigar and lit it. Two of the bait
fishermen nodded. They approved. Would they if they knew I smoked a
$1.25 knock-off? Probably. Bless them.
next two hours the bait fishermen and I often exchanged glances. None
of us caught a fish. The East rivers lowed and erased the seams and
eddies as if they were chalk on a blackboard. Was slack tide the big
river's way of bowing and showing humility? Or its way of meditating
and coming to terms with itself and the rest of the world, especially
with invading anglers? If so, shouldn't real people, like me, have a
I looked at my
watch and saw go-to-work time. I reeled in my line.
wearing the Met hat walked toward me. "Sunset is dhe best time.
Sometimes I fish spoons. I work dhem at different levels"
So he knew
something about real fishing, after all.
"Next time I'll
show you," he said.
inviting me back?
I walked back
to the subway. The bait fishermen, I thought, were probably born into
poverty. Who am I to judge their rods? I never had to fish to eat. When
I go back to the pier, maybe I'll wear my Met hat. Even though I didn't
catch a striper, I had a good time after all, probably because I began
to feel connected to the bait fishermen.
however, that the next time I went fishing, instead of dealing with not
having a good fishing spot, I'd go back to being a real fly fisherman.
Mamaroneck Harbor And
A week later,
I rode the train up to Mamaroneck and walked through the town to Harbor
Park. The big harbor was shaped like a tilted, upside-down pear. The
top of the giant pear - the part of the harbor closest to me - was full
of small sail and fishing boats. Dividing the pear in half were two
rows of red buoys. The bottom of the pear, I saw, had a small opening
that spilled into Long Island Sound. The pear motif was reflected on
the far bank, in the shape of trees with short trunks and big round
tops. Ripened by autumn, these trees had long, gold-colored leaves.
Breaking the pear motif like riffles on a slow-moving stream were
taller, cone-shaped trees that had reddish-orange leaves.
I set up my
fly rod, put on my waders, climbed down the bank and waded toward the
buoys. A narrow wooden pier slowly came into view. The pier, I soon
saw, was about a hundred feet long. Four bait fishermen, each with one
rod, fished from the pier, leaving plenty of room for any angler who
I didn't. I
felt as if I were comforted by a trout stream, a stream I didn't have
to read. The buoys read it for me. They mapped a narrow channel that
striped bass used like highways. I cast past the buoys and retrieved,
cast and retrieved. Often I looked at the pier, and watched the bait
fishermen and tried to decipher their distant chatter.
thought. I'm in a gem of the vast earth. I wish I were with someone to
share it with. But isn't fly fishing supposed to be about solitude and
nature? Then why has meeting anglers been more important to me than
catching fish? Should I wade back to the shore and fish off the pier?
No! Today I'll
enjoy solitude, whether I really want to or not.
An hour later
I hooked my first striped bass, a schoolie. With my nine-weight rod, I
didn't feel much of a fight, but atleast I was off the schneid, and
could give into my fatigue - notmy loneliness, I told myself - and head
myself to return to the harbor as soon as I could, but two weeks later
the forecast was possible rain. Rain, I told myself, wasn't going to
stop me, especially because I couldn't turn over the hourglass of the
striped bass run. But maybe the big stripers didn't swim all the way
into the back of the harbor. Maybe I'd be better off fishing from the
The pier was
deserted when I got there. The thick, gray blanket of clouds had scared
away the bait fishermen. Hard-core anglers they were. Across the harbor
the long, drooping, half-bare branches were now sprinkled with
sand-colored leaves,their final shade before being shed by time.
I set up my
fly rod, cast just past the channel, then retrieved. Dead leaves
floated by in a huge, birdlike formation. Did the leaves, I wondered,
fall simultaneously from the same tree? In nature was death timed, like
a football game? Or was staying in formation the leaves' way of staying
close to those they grew up with, those they lived and died with?
ripples, I noticed, flowed faster than the leaves. Were the leaves in
no rush to leave the harbor, to drift into the great, big Sound and
disintegrate into nothingness? Did they want, as I would, to look back
and see, for the last time,the sights they loved?
West 69th Street Pier, facing
the George Washington bridge
knowing they were on a death march? Then why didn't I know I was, in a
sense, on one too? Why didn't I let goof my resentments toward Robert,
the bait fishermen and the often senseless, violent world?
floated well below or behind the formation. Why? Did these leaves still
resent the others? Was I going to end uplike a resentful, lonely leaf,
even though I learned from my mother's death that reconciliation often
ran out of time?
walked by, carrying a small bucket, and what I knew was a quality,
spinning rod and reel. He wore a white, GORE-TEX jacket. He set up a
Carolina rig with what looked like a dead minnow. He cast, stopping the
rod abruptly and slinging the minnow way past the channel. He swept the
rod tip out to the side, then, reeling in line, moved the rod back to
straight ahead. He repeated his Carolina retrieve.
thought, some bait fisherman really knew how to fish.
Again I cast.
"I never saw
anyone reach the channel with a fly rod," he said. He leaned his
spinning rod against the railing and walked to me. He inspected my fly
rod, but didn't seem to see gold.
"Are you a
fly-casting instructor?" His accent was slight Castilian, I
guessed. I thought of asking if he had read DON QUIXOTE, my favorite
book, but wasn't sure if pier fishing and literature mixed.
"Just a person who spent four years mostly practicing
long-distance casting instead of fishing."
"Why'd you do
Besides, writing casting articles was my only way of getting
published." And erasing my failures, I thought of adding.
He asked if I
tied flies. I said I didn't have the time. Winter, he said, was his
time to tie, and to invent new patterns.
"So why are you fishing with bait?"
flies most of the season and giving the stripers a real chance, I
deserve some easy strikes."
Quixote, or me, he seemed at peace, at least with his angling world.
I told him
about my line bowing on East River and asked, "Will I be able to
set the hook?"
"Use the tension
between the line and water to help. If the bow, let's say, is moving to
the left, move your right foot back.Then if you feel a strike, rotate
your hips, sweep the rod all the way around to the right and pull down
hard on the line."
myself. His name was Carlos. For the next hour or so we talked about
the waters we fished. We shared a love for the Beaverkill and Croton
Rivers. My loneliness burned away, then sunlight warmed my face. The
blanket of clouds were splitting in half and, surprisingly, reminded me
of Moses parting the Red Sea; and suddenly Carlos coming out of nowhere
and answering my biggest fishing question seemed like a small miracle.
Was he an angling angel? After all, he wore white. But since when did
I believe in angels?
A few hours
later, as I sat in the train, I wondered if Carlos and I should have
exchanged phone numbers. But would friendship, like the rising sun,
reveal his defects? Were weanglers, therefore, better off meeting and
going our own ways?
wondered if that were true when I fished piers in Brooklyn and on
Roosevelt Island, still wondered whenThanksgiving passed and New York
was blessed with a mild weekday. Robert called and insisted he wanted
to go fishing. I told him to meet me on the 69th Street Pier. He said
football-field-long pier wasn't crowded, thankfully. At midfield two
bait fishermen leaned four rods on the railing.
smiled. "Fly Fisheeng? Good luck."
I walked to the end of the pier, and remembered the church-going, bait
fisherman saying he fished spoons on different levels. I tied on a
weighted clouser, cast straight across, toward New Jersey, and let my
clouser sink. My line bowed downstream. Something told me Carlos also
fished on this mild day.
An hour later,
high tide became slack tide. Robert still hadn't showed, but it didn't
matter. The strangers I talked to kept me company.
The West 69th Street Pier
I walked to
the north side of the pier, tied on a popper, and cast upstream. My new
strategy didn't pay off. Were two schoolies all I had to show for my
$625 fly rod?
The sun looked
like the eye of a giant Cyclops peeking over New Jersey. Like the mouth
of a fire-spewing dragon, the eye beamed down a burning path across the
Hudson River. When the eyeset, I knew, it would also set on my fishing
year. Slowly the Hudson darkened into gray, but instead of letting go
of it slight, the river seemed to divide the light and reshape it into
flickering columns: reflections of the Riverside Park lights. To me, the reflections looked like the linear-shaped galaxies of
a contracted, upside-down world, but soon the reflections looked more
like giant, vibrating, subatomic strings - particles supposedly holding
the key to understanding the universe and the possibility of even a
twelfth dimension. Was I in it?
No. Just in a
place where a person's disappointments, like losing a friend, take up
an speck of space: in the three dimensions of a pier.
upstream the lights of the George Washington Bridge formed the shape of
a huge, hanging smile. The smile, surrounded by the shapeless,
dark-blue sky, didn't have a face. Was the smile the mouth of the
Cyclops? If so, it was certainly a happy monster, maybe even a bait
fisherman who, I assumed, wouldn't eat the Manhattan skyline. Were the
monster's nose, chin and ears also disguised and hidden in the beauty
all around me, or perhaps around the Queens and Mamaroneck piers?
Beauty,thankfully, didn't have boundaries like rivers and harbors, and
could spread, even to monsters.
A voice inside
me said it was time to let go of fishing, to make peace with winter,
and to come back to the piers when the stripers began their spring run.
I retrieved my popper in a straight line, frequently pausing and
creating rings on the water. The movement, I realized, reflected my
fishing adventures. They too moved in a line of time, frequently
creating fishing rings filled with anglers, including bait fishermen I
could speak with to feel less alone. Yes, I told myself, it's time to
forgive lower-rung anglers for not being sophisticated fly fishermen,
the way I learned to forgive myself for not being all I once wanted to
be. Isn't this awareness what I really have to show for my $625 fly
rod? So even though Robert won't be the friend I want, I will remember
that I too could have boundaries, and that I could, therefore, wait
for Robert on my terms: not in a train station, but in a stream or on
pier. And I'll still be grateful because even if I travel alone, I'll
feel entitled to angling adventures which, like a beautiful river,
will flow on and on.
photos By Randy Kadish © 2006
"The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World"
is available at www.keokeebooks.com