3 Anglers Explain the Joys of Fishing in the Hudson; How to Bait, Catch, and Even (Yes!) Eat Them

James in his happy place.

By Joy Bergmann

Stroll the Hudson River pier at 70th Street [Pier I] most any day and you’ll spot fishermen trying their luck. What are they catching? Do they eat the fish? What’s the allure?

To find out, WSR recently spoke with three of the most devoted local anglers:

Should their fish stories inspire you to earn your own, the NYC Parks Department will offer a free Hudson River fishing clinic on June 29th in Harlem.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

***

WSR:  You guys all know each other? Rivals or friends?

Robert:  We’re all friends.

WSR:  What are you after today?

George:  Whatever bites.

WSR:  How’s it going so far?

James:  Lost a big catfish. It happens. But it’s OK. I’m enjoying the day.

WSR:  What are you using for bait?

R:  Shrimp. Attracts the striped bass.

G: Blood worms. You get more hits with blood worms than anything else. They’re about a dollar apiece. Dozen for $10. I remember when it was $1.25. Going faster than cigarettes.

J: We’re using everything. Shrimp. Sand worms. They’re $7 a dozen. They’ll get you catfish, nice stripers, flounder.

WSR:  Where do you get the worms?

J:  I go all the way to City Island, place called Island Bait. I buy four, five dozen at a time. Keep ‘em in the fridge. Some places cut their worms in half. How you gonna sell me a half a worm?!  So I’m on the 6 train at 7 in the morning, Pelham Bay, get the bus to City Island to get my worms every Friday.

WSR:  Do you go fishing every day?

J:  Absolutely every day. And I will until I can’t anymore. If I gotta crawl here, I’ll crawl here to fish!

George had to re-learn fishing to handle the Hudson’s brackish waters

WSR:  Have you fished all your life?

R:  No. I retired about a year ago and said, let me try fishing. I met James. They know all about it.  And they taught me.

The crazy thing about it is, my father had a fishing store and I never liked it. I hated fishing. I threw away all his rods when he passed away. Now if he saw me fishing, he’d kill me!

J:  I grew up fishing with my father. Started when I was five years old up in Washington Heights.

G:  I grew up in Arizona, fishing every lake they had. When I got here, it was a different game. [The Hudson] is a combination of fresh and saltwater. I learned a lot from these guys. The currents, a lot of things going on, so I had to re-learn.

WSR:  What mistakes do newbies make?

G:  They come with lures. I tell ‘em, that doesn’t work here. It’s gotta be fresh, live bait. Some people are used to fishing their little ponds with little rods. That doesn’t work here. You get a good-sized bite from a big fish and it will break it open. I tell ‘em, you need bigger tackle.

The only one who can get away with small stuff is James. And it’s more fun to see how big a fish you can get with the smallest tackle. It’s more of a challenge.

J:  With a smaller rod, you gotta know how to fight a fish. You let out more line so they don’t break it. You let ‘em run, get tired and then reel him in. You gotta wait until he’s ready.  A lot of people get panicky and tire themselves out instead of the fish.

I just stay calm and let the fish run. ‘You wanna go, go. I got all day. Where am I going?‘ You try and bring some of these big fish in before they’re tired, he’s gonna break your line.

WSR:  Is it always a “he” when you’re fighting the fish?

J:  Yeah, but some of these females we get coming through, they’re fat and they’re mean!

WSR:  What was your biggest catch?

R:  I caught two striped bass. Big ones. Thirty pounds each. I got lucky. With me, I catch a fish like I catch a woman. When I do catch ‘em, I catch ‘em good. But it’s tough.

G:  I got a 34-inch striped bass right here about three years ago. Gave it to one of my buddies. Too big for me. I eat small meals!

J:  My biggest was this striped bass [shows picture on phone].

WSR:  Holy moly!

J:  25 pounds, 36 inches.

James caught this whopper on Pier I. Photo courtesy of James

WSR:  Do you eat the fish?  

R:  Yeah. Over here they clean the water with shellfish; they got baskets right over there. It’s not a bad thing to eat them. They haven’t killed me. But if you ate ‘em every day, you might feel bad. I never had a problem.

G:  Me? Not so much anymore. If I get something, and it’s legal, I give it to James or one of the other guys to take home.

J:  I’m not afraid to eat them. Been eating ‘em all my life. I bake ‘em or fillet and fry ‘em. The tastiest are the striped bass. They’re flaky and delicious!

[NOTE: the NY State Department of Health has very specific guidelines regarding what they consider advisable levels of consumption.]

WSR:  What about crabbing?

R:  That starts in June when the water warms up. They’ll be here in droves. Guys stick a chicken leg in the trap and an hour later, pull it up and it’s full of crabs.

G:  I take blue crabs once in a while. Throw ‘em in a pot with herbs, cook ‘em nice.

WSR:  What’s the best part of fishing?

R:  I like the solitude. I’ve always been low key. It’s relaxing. You get the sun.

G:  The enjoyment of the sport.

J:  I don’t stress or worry about nothing! It’s wonderful out here.

WSR:  What’s the worst part?

R:  Not catching a fish.

Robert rides his bike from the East Village for the UWS’s finer fishing 

WSR:  What do you need most to succeed here?

R:  Patience.

J:  You have to have it. A lotta people want to chase fish. They don’t get a bite here, they go over there, then over there. Nah! I sit in one spot. When they come, they come. You just gotta wait it out. Patience.

WSR:  I have none. You’ve gotta teach me.

R:  Any time.

G:  I bring a small radio if I get bored. I read self-help books on my Kindle – nutrition, how to manage my money, acupuncture. At this point in my life, my main concern is my health.

WSR:  Do you have to have a license?

R:  You have to have a fishing license. A lot of guys don’t have one, but when you get a ticket you’ll know it.

J:  Everybody, virtually everybody, down here renews every year.

WSR:  Does anybody ever check?

R:  Sure. They don’t bother us too often, but they do stop and do their job.

J:  Game wardens from New York State come down periodically. Park rangers, too.

WSR:  What unites all fishermen? What do you all have in common?

J:  Our stories!  The stories we tell.

WSR:  Fish stories? The one that got away…

J:  Yeah, but I’ve got witnesses!  That 50-pound sturgeon? I had him on the line for 2 hours and 45 minutes. That was in 2005. People kept telling me, ‘Take it, take it!’ But nah. The American sturgeon is very rare. They’re protected. You get caught with one of them and it’s $1,000 fine.

WSR:  Some fish take the whole rod with them into the water, right?

J:  Oh yeah. That’s why I’ve got these little bungees attached to mine. One of my buddies one day said, ‘Hey, somebody took my rod.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, a fish stole your rod!’ Last year a bluefish almost took mine; got it just in time.

WSR:  Last thing:  Is your wife OK with you being down here every day?

J:  She knows where I’m at!  

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. carol says:

      didn’t know you need a license to fish in the big city,whats next having a license to ride a bike…..hey! that’s not a bad idea

    2. Bronx Boy says:

      This is one of the best things I’ve read on WSR. Tells you a story about something that’s happening right under your nose.

      • Bugg R. E. says:

        Fishing is one thing I sure wouldn’t want to take place “right under my nose”…

    3. dannyboy says:

      My son took the rod out a couple of days this weekend. Nothing.

      When he was little, he’d be given fish by the other anglers, so he’d feel good.

      He’s older now, there’s a lesson in there.

    4. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      an outstanding story, thank you Joy.

      these are real (and reel) New Yorkers.

    5. Sarah says:

      “How are you going to sell me half a worm?” Love it! Good fishing, gentlemen.

    6. Elaine says:

      I used to take my daughter and son down near the World Trade Center,where there was catch and release fishing. The fish were identified, measured,(maybe weighed) and released. Over several years it was great to see the varied life returning in them Hudson River.
      I love the pictures of what’s being caught now. How exciting! Makes me want to fish Now!

    7. jules says:

      What a great story!! Reminds my I’m a New Yorker! All the other moans and groans are trivial when compared to the beauty of living in this formeraly, now gentrified fabulous town!! Real people still live here fellas! SO encouraging! Going on and on about tall buildings, cars parked on the streets, slow buses, closing restaurants.. who cares about that? all the good ones with real food closed years ago.. Boring boring.. We have to get over it and move on.. It ain’t gonna change!

    8. Sue Ebeling says:

      Wonderful, as long as they stop smoking cigarettes (some of them) !!!

    9. Steve S says:

      Great article please do more like this!

    10. Shela Xoregos says:

      wonderful interviews

    11. Kate McLeod says:

      Don’t eat the fish.

    12. Jan Castro says:

      GE dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson years ago, and the cleanup has stopped, I believe. PCBs in fish bond to fat tissue in the human body and lead to cancer. I guess it’s less toxic than the WTC toxins.

    13. Wendy Moonan says:

      What is the guideline on eating striped bass?
      Where do you get a fishing license?