Sportfishing in Manhattan, Circa 1981

Posted on: April 23rd, 2021 at 5:09 am by

east river park, delancey

Year-round angling from city piers and bulkheads is a sight so common, we often take it for granted. Fishing rod, tackle box, granny cart, and boombox in tow, these urban fisherman cast both lines and luck for a catch. Sometimes with surprising results, like a 27-inch striper weighing 5 lbs.

What prompted this Boogie post was a recent find while rummaging through a pile of old junk. An article plucked from Outside Magazine circa 1981, dubbed “Sportfishing Manhattan.” We’ve searched high and low for a digital version but have come up empty-handed. But we’ve got your back!

In short, the writeup is friggin’ awesome. Forty years ago, author Toby Thompson followed the urban fishing pursuits of Greenwich Village angler Guy De Blasio (no relation to the Mayor) who “risks his life and the world’s ridicule” to drop a line in the rivers of Manhattan.

What unlikely anglers the De Blasios are: Guy and his brother Bill, seated in this Thompson Street apartment a half-block from the Village’s most startling parade of punk roisterers, junk thespians, transvestites, chic druggeis, and professional hit-men. A postal worker and a part-time elevator operator, the De Blasios are legendary among street fishermen. They speak like characters from a Martin Scorsese film.

Thompson broaches the topic of how all great cities were founded on water, and how a sport once considered aristocratic, was here of the “underclass folk.”

And despite warnings and restrictions on consumption – one fish a week, none for pregnant women or children – there is evidence that poor families have been subsisting off river species for years. Now, middle-class anglers have joined the fracas, lured by reports of cleaner rivers and better fishing.

There are heartening tales of fly fishermen in chest waders stumbling over rocks off the East Eighties, taking bass two blocks from their apartment buildings; stories of gypsy bait mongers, old black men who crusie the piers in station wagons full to the scuppers with bloodworms, skimmer clams, sandworms, and lugs. Still this is a frontier sport, scoffed at by the general public, and anglers share a camaraderie.

“Don’t fish the piers 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 popular fishing spots back in the day. Do you still think they hold up tour decades later?

De Blasio recommends these spots for sportfishing the island: beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the rocks off East 86th Street, the seawall along the FDR Drive, the lighthouse beneath George Washington Bridge, the 200th Street train trestle, 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 hailing a cab in Greenwich Village while carrying fishing equipment (“it’s like hitchhiking”), only to be dropped beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in 19-degree winter weather.

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