Winter Blues Finally Turn to Green
I had a thought back there while I was getting my Palm Beach Dock Walk posting together. I mentioned how we here in the northeast, and in particular in New York City, have just come out of a pretty awful winter. Now I know my friends in the midwest, those same stalwart buddies who have, for years, been trying to get me to visit in the vast hinterlands of Michigan and Wisconsin, to sit around a hole in the ice in a shack out on a frozen lake with unlimited amounts of Jaggermeister and other swill at the ready, laugh most heartily at my complaining. To those wonderful folks then, I do dedicate the following memoir of the New York City Winter of 2013/14, the ones past and those to come. I hope you enjoy it and the spirit in which it was written. It goes something like this:
The Adventures Of An Urban Fisherman
Braving the wilds of Gotham’s cavernous streets, I take on the Big Apple’s angling challenge.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler
In November, when the north winds blow and the jet stream dips down from the wilds of Canada across the island I have called home all my life, it brings with it the icy chill that stays with this part of the country until well into March. All of my hearty fellows anglers have long since packed up their fishing gear, stripped and oiled down their reels, and put all things pertaining to piscatorial pursuits away until next spring. Some will patiently wait out the winter until they hear that the first flounder has poked its eyes up out of the mud while other unfortunate souls will sadly have at the family fish tank.
It’s different for me. I have long since had my seasonal fill of multi-million dollar, cushy battlewagons outfitted to the hilt with every conceivable electronic instrument, the likes of which can also be found on the space shuttle. And as well, those fishing rods with broomstick-thick tips, high-speed and yes, even electric reels with line capacities capable of girdling the globe. Instead, I have decided to even out the ichthyologic playing field some by becoming an out of the ordinary kind of angler. I am a New York City ice fisherman.
Yes folks, I live in Manhattan, one of the five boroughs that make up the Big Apple. For those of you who slept through the Enlightenment, Manhattan is an island. And while it’s joined to the hinterlands and the neighboring state of New Jersey by no less than 18 bridges and three tunnels, it is indeed surrounded by water. I know. I’ve circumnavigated my island home many times.
We islanders are as tied to the sea now as we have always been. And one of the strongest bonds we have is fishing the waters that surround us. Pshaw, you say? Well, I do admit that even though we’ve gotten a rather bad rap in recent years as to the quality of our local tributaries and the denizens that inhabit it, I haven’t seen a two-headed, six-eyed, glow-in-the-dark fish landed in quite some time now. I’ve had bass in the Bronx, bluefish at the Battery, and flounder in Flatbush. But I digress.
As far as I know, I am the only ice fisherman fishing the island. Given the population of Manhattan hovers around 1,541,150, I’d say I occupy a fairly unique position here. While my fellow metropolitan dwellers scurry hither and yon along the concrete sidewalks of our cavernous city, I, garbed in gear suitable for the purpose, set out for several of my favorite sites that have been the scene of epic battles. Ones that in the past have seen me pitted against the elements and my finny combatants in contests with but one outcome. Always, it’s all or nothing. Take no prisoners. Failure is not an option. Semper Fi marine. Hoo-Rah!
For today’s outing, I have chosen Central Park. The Park, as we islanders know it, was conceived, designed, and built by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after winning the commission to do so in 1857. They transformed the then swamps, bluffs, and rocky outcroppings into the magnificent 843-acre haven it is today. Among other features, it has equestrian paths, two ice skating rinks, one swimming pool, roadways, open fields, a reservoir, more than 40 bridges, 51 renowned sculptures, statues, and fountains, a conservatory garden, tennis courts, the Delacorte outdoor Shakespearean theater, a castle, a zoo, a model sailboat racing pond, restaurants, one of the greatest art museums in the world on its eastern boundary—that being the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and three lakes. It is the lakes that I will fish today. And my quarry? No less that the scrappy golden shiners, the aggressive largemouth bass, big-shouldered pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish, fighting carp, and the elusive chain pickerel. All worthy opponents.
My first stop is Rowboat Lake. At 22 acres, it is the largest of The Park’s waterways. Turtle Pond, the smallest, is at the foot of Belvedere Castle right next to the Delacorte bordering the East 79th Street transverse, and the Harlem Meer is uptown at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. When I arrive, much to my dismay, there is only patchy skin ice covering the placid waters. I expected more of a challenge as the daytime temps have been hovering around the freezing mark and plummeting at night. No need for the hammer and chisel. Undaunted I ready myself for work.
When it comes to this kind of action, I carry two rods with me. In one hand I hold a St. Croix six-foot Legend Elite that I wrapped myself with distinctive patterns taken from Native American motifs. My reel of choice is nothing less than a Fin-Nor Steel River SR1000 with a spool of four-pound test on it. But slung on my back, in its custom carrying tube with a crush test weight of 600 pounds per square inch, is my pride and joy: An Orvis two-piece, eight-foot-four-inch T-3 with a mid 6.5 flex paired up with a Bat Large Arbor IV reel. Yes, life is good.
With rod and reel ready, I begin with one of my favorite hand tied lures; a perfect replica of a juvenile Blattaria Americanus—the American cockroach, indigenous and prolific to this area—tied with a basic non-slip knot for more natural lure and hook action. I cast. A double whip-out-and-in followed by a full arm push. It hits an open water area with a solid plop. I peel off some line. This “fly” been a good fish raiser in the past and I watch as the splash rings move out from the center. I give the rod tip a little flick, then another, in hopes of coaxing a fish up. I wait for the strike.
A rustle in the bramble to my left diverts my attention for a moment. But that’s all it takes in this kind of game. I hear a splash. Quickly turning around I think I glimpse the tip of a tail disappearing in the inky water. All I see are expanding concentric rings. Time to bring Blattaria in and swap it out for a Lepidotrichidae, one of 370 species of silverfish living in North America. Mine is a work of art.
“Hey buddy,” a raspy voice calls out to me from behind. “Got something for an old veteran?” I really don’t have time for this right now. Any break in concentration will surely mess up my rhythm. But I am a humanitarian at heart and so I turn around to face a fellow human being who has not coped well with life’s ups and downs.
“Tell you what sarge, I have no money on me but I’ll gladly give you something to eat,” I said. It is the absolute truth, as I have no legal tender on me but for my Chase ATM card. Hey, you never know. He paused for a moment and seemed to ask a question of someone standing off to his left. When the phantom did not give him the answer he was expecting, he steadied his gaze once more on me. “Yeah. Okay. Whatchagot?”
I pulled out the other half of a great big gourmet sandwich I had left over from Dean & DeLuca, that truly wondrous and fabled food store that opened up a branch east of The Park’s Fifth Avenue border on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 85th Street, and offered it over. “What’s that?” “Honey glazed turkey, avocado, sprouts, red and yellow bell peppers, and romaine lettuce,” I answered. “And this heart-of-palm salad,” I added, holding up the small plastic container, as if that would surely end this exchange. I was eager to see my fellow human being not go without a nourishing meal but just as motivated to get back to the business at hand. I was burning daylight.
“What kind of bread?” he asked. “Sourdough.” “I’ll pass,” he said and walked off. Obviously, from the look on his face, he was more than content to continue the conversation with the phantom walking along side of him. Over 1,541,150 or so stories in Gotham, and I had to run into this one.
I worked several spots near the Loeb Boathouse and around the back of the lake. Both the Cherry Hill and Strawberry Fields spots produced nary a nibble. Time to pack up at head for Turtle Pond. Again, I am on the schnide. That’s city street talk for zero. Nada. Zilch. Not even my superb Musca Domestica Linnaeus, the common housefly, or a most wonderful rendition of Hemiptera Gerridae, the wingless water skipper, could entice my quarry up from the deep. And the same fate awaited me uptown at the Harlem Meer. Time for this fisherman to head for the barn. That’s home, in fish parlance.
It’s been a trying day and why they call it fishing and not catching. The sun is very low in a graying sky, and the lights of the buildings around The Park begin to glow amber as evening begins to take over. For me, it’s a short walk home to strip off my fishing gear, put on a pair of sweatpants, sneakers, t-shirt, and polar fleece jacket, and take the dogs—I have two Tibetan Terriers—for a walk.
In the waning hours of what is left of this day, I find that we have aimlessly wandered past Rowboat Lake. For a moment I stop and notice an expanding ring in the lake’s center where no stone had been tossed or breeze swept across its surface.
“You win, old fighter,” I whisper, my breath hanging on the night air, glowing with the slight mist of a gossamer web under the blue white light on the side of the lane. “This time.”
If you have your own SALTY LIFE experience and would like to share it with us, please send it in, along with any images, drawings, illustrations, maps, or photos. If it gets posted, I will send you two dozen of my world famous, hand made, chocolate chip cookies. Promise. And don’t forget to let me know if you have any food allergies, like with nuts, so I won’t load them up with pecan, walnut, or macademias. You’re going to love ’em. Fair winds shipmates! -Capt. Ken