Sport fishing in Manhattan, circa 1981

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east river park, delancey

Angling year round from piers and city walls is such a common sight that we often take it for granted. Fishing rod, tackle box, grandma’s cart and boombox in tow, these urban fishermen cast both lines and luck for a catch. Sometimes with surprising results, like a 27 inch plotter weighing 5 pounds.

What prompted this article on Boogie was a recent discovery while digging through a bunch of junk. An article from Outdoor magazine circa 1981, nicknamed “Sportfishing Manhattan”. We searched high and low for a digital version, but arrived empty-handed. But we are here for you!

In short, the writing is great. Forty years ago, author Toby Thompson followed the urban fishing activities of Greenwich Village fisherman Guy De Blasio (no connection to the mayor) who “risks his life and the ridicule of the world” to drop a line in the rivers of Manhattan.

What unlikely fishermen are the De Blasios: Guy and his brother Bill, sitting in this Thompson Street apartment half a block from the village’s most surprising parade of punk revelers, thugs, crossdressers, posh junkies and professional contract killers. Part-time postal worker and silo operator, the De Blasios are legendary among street fishermen. They speak like characters from a Martin Scorsese film.

Thompson tackles the subject of how all great cities were founded on water, and how a sport once considered aristocratic, was here for “people of the underclass.”

And despite warnings and consumption restrictions – one fish per week, none for pregnant women or children – poor families have been shown to have lived off river species for years. Now middle-class anglers have joined the din, drawn by reports of cleaner rivers and better fishing.

There are encouraging stories of fly fishermen in waders tripping over rocks off the east coast of the 1980s, catching bass two blocks from their apartment buildings; stories of gypsy bait traders, old black men walking the jetties in station wagons filled with bloodworms, clams, sandworms and pods. Yet it is a frontier sport, scoffed at by the general public, and fishermen share a camaraderie.

“Don’t fish on the jetties with less than three friends… it’s too dangerous. Some fishermen pack a gun.

Keep in mind that this article was published in 1981. These were some of the most popular fishing spots at the time. Do you still think they hold up to touring decades later?

De Blasio recommends these spots for sport fishing on the island: under the Brooklyn Bridge, the rocks of East 86th Street, the sea wall along FDR Drive, the lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, the 200th train bridge Street, 125th Street and the West Side Highway, the 69th and 34th Street piers in the Hudson, and various piers behind the World Trade Center.

Thompson concludes with a great story about calling a cab in Greenwich Village while carrying fishing gear (“it’s like hitchhiking”), only to be dropped under the Brooklyn Bridge by winter weather of 19 degrees.


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