I don’t fish, but I enjoy being around those who do. They’re easy to find in New York, leaning against the railing of a Brooklyn pier or resting on the rocky banks of the city’s rivers. In Sheepshead Bay, the fishermen are often jolly and sun-beaten, as if they’ve just returned from a long voyage. By early afternoon, they fill the local bars, swearing off red meat and bragging about not taking their medications. The Battery Park esplanade is more relaxed. Sometimes the only sign of a fisherman is an unmanned rod cast out to sea; a passerby might assume that fish in the Hudson catch themselves.
One August morning a few years ago, I went out to Coney Island to clear my head on Steeplechase Pier, where fishermen gather in the summer months to fill their buckets with flukes, stripers, and porgies, much as they did a century ago. Coney Island is slow to change. Its busier blocks still have working pay phones on both sides of the street, and until recently, broken signs dangled off the facades of abandoned buildings, unmoored from their bracings by Hurricane Sandy. On hot days, the main stretch of Coney Island’s two-and-a-half mile boardwalk is crowded with visitors from the nearby amusement park. They eat mango on a stick as they navigate the performers dancing with snakes and rainbow-colored poodles. Down by the fishermen’s pier, the boardwalk quiets down. Elderly residents of the nearby towers read paperback novels and check the time on their digital wristwatches, and kids gather in the shade beneath the arches of an old terra-cotta building with a flaking portrait of Poseidon on the front. In the painting, the sea king is sitting alone in a rowboat, paddling toward the Atlantic. Read More