Sunday, April 02, 2006

Remembering Fishing in Manhattan

When I lived in Chinatown, I fished every day. Usually at night, I plied the structure along the rivers. I found good spots that required good casting and presentation. These spots yielded good stripers, some bluefish and one false albacore (I think it was...might have been a bonito.)

This fishing required a enormity of silence, patience and observation. I learned to watch water carefully before casting. I had little money and wasn't a good tyer at this point, so I was forced to buy expensive flies from Orvis. Losing a few flies meant that I might not be able to catch fish that week...or that I would have to eat less.

Manhattan's waterfront is placid at night. No one is there for the reasons of commerce or of the cult of personality. The people who are there are either fishing, exercising, committing crimes, picking up potential sexual partners, or homeless. I mostly communicated with the fishermen. Most of the fishermen were asian men fishing, I assume (perhaps wrongly), for food or to sell to markets. Most nights, I was the only sport fisherman.

Some nights, there was no wind and the sound of stripers thumping and crashing baitfish was deafening off of the sea walls. The odd school of bluefish would charge through the inlet, the smell of chum and cucumbers (why?) in their wake. I could see an eel slipping quietly through the green water, the vapor lamps of the street casting a somber tone to the snake-like fish.

Once in a long while, I would keep a keeper-sized striper. Since I lived in a commericial loft without a kitchen, I developed a relationship with the Marco Polo Chinese restaurant on Baxter Street. I brought them a big striper, they cooked it. I payed $5 for this service. I always invited the entire kitchen and staff to eat the fish with me. They always did. No one spoke much english, but we smiled over the sweet flesh that was kissed with rice wine, ginger and scallion. One woman talked about fishing for carp as a child and how she always felt bad for the carp...until her mother cooked it. Then she felt bad that they had not caught more. Most of these people lived in oppressive boarding houses, their wages going to the owner of the boarding house to pay off their immigration debt and rent. Most worked 7 days a week, for little pay and no benefits. Their faces looked so tired and worn. I do not know the region in China where these folks came from, but the women were uniformly large, husky and bold. The men were smaller, more delicate. Everybody had terrible, rotting teeth- among those who had a majority of their teeth.

One man, a waiter who I befriended, said that he got 1 day a month off and he usually slept all day. It was an honor to be among these hard-working people, making the best of their meager situation in the same way that my people had a hundred years ago. They carried themselves with pride in all their doings. The food they made was delicious and they took great pride in its creation. They served their customers with empathy, patience and kindness. The oppressive enterprises of your fellow countryman in a foreign country is a technique as old as man and as evil as man. I hope to do pro bono work against these sort of white slavery operations, wherever Keiko and I end up.

There was once day, as the sun was going down, that I was near the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. I was casting to a somee schoolie stripers who were taking wooly buggers. All of a sudden, the schoolies dispersed. Slowly and deliberately, the largest fish I have ever seen moved through my view. The size of this fish was enough to bring a cold sweat to my back on that fall day. I could not make out what sort of fish it was, but it was deep-bodied and at least 5 feet long. I have always thought it was a giant tuna, but it was not moving fast so that is probably not possible. I had only a little wooly bugger on my line and I cast it in front of the giant fish. It paid no attention and swam slowly out of sight. The schoolie stripers didn't return. The image of that fish solidified my love of saltwater fishing. That kind of beast ranges the ocean and with every cast I may tie into him. The kraken lives.


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