My arrival in the land of fast walkers had an eerily familiar vibe to it. Apparently the cool wet weather that has blanketed the homeland had found its way to the city. There would be no grandiose vistas as we crept in on the Queens-Midtown Expressway. Manhattan was socked in like a cold mug of pea soup. It mattered little, as I was confident that the weather would take a turn for the better and I’d begin my blitz in the relative comfort of typical summer conditions.

The genesis of this hair-brained scheme was set forth several years ago from the casting deck of a small skiff in South Florida. Through an unexpected series of late night bar shenanigans I found myself on the flats sharing the boat with a some New York-based ESPN executives, and a particularly colorful guide. I gained my seat on this early morning trip due to a client bigwig of mine abdicating his spot. It had sort of a Leo DiCaprio/Titanic air about it. The first few hours of the morning  were not particularly remarkable from a fishing or conversation standpoint, I mostly just passed the time sobering up. We managed a few fish, but as time went on I sensed a predictable trend. The fellas I was fishing with were nice enough, but I could tell that I was simply “fly over country” on a number of levels to their New York sensibilities. We were embroiled in a hearty exchange of aquatic feats, but it wasn’t a two-way street. Any anecdote I offered up landed flat on its face. Don’t you know that the stone that the builder refused, will always be the head cornerstone? I was aware of the New York harbor fishery, but never fished it. Nor had I heard such impassioned accounts of its brilliance from a lifelong resident and bonafide angling nut. This piqued my interest further. It was at that point that I added it to my ever burgeoning list of bucket list angling locales.

Over the last few weeks the notion of fishing New York rattled around in my mind. I’d have 48 hours in New York, with only a single afternoon to kill some time. Research on “the internets” into guides and hot spots helped shed some light on the situation. Guides are getting about $600 for a half day on the water, but I wasn’t convinced I’d even have time to get out to some of the launch destinations in time. My window of opportunity just didn’t seem big enough. It boiled down to an ROI issue and the fact that if given a choice, I prefer to fish without a guide. That’s another dirty little secret of mine. I’m more interested in the discovery portion of the equation, than being told exactly when and where to wet my line. Victory is that much sweeter when you put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself. This naive stubbornness almost always means less fish, but the unpredictability will keep you coming back for more.

 

 

In standard George Mallory “because it’s there” fashion I conceived an alternative, yet less sporting plan of attack by some standards. I opted to make a tour of the mean streets of Manhattan. I wanted to fish where the real people fish. Sure anyone with half a brain would leave the city for greener pastures, but when you just need a fix where do you go? I’m an avid urban angler, but let’s not kid ourselves “Mini-apple-less” isn’t actually an apples to apples comparison to New York. I was simply curious to see how Minneapolis stacked up from a fishability standpoint. My plan was openly ridiculed via social media channels from the onset, which only served to bolster my resolve.

Given my short stay I didn’t want to deal with baggage claim and afforded myself one small backpack with virtually no gear, and no preconceived notion of where the day would take me. For being one of the largest and most visited cities in the world there is a dangerously low amount of information on the web for fishing Manhattan. Probably because few deem it worthy of investigation. I erred on the side of caution and packed an 8-weight rod spooled up with one leader, a spool of tippet and a pair of fingernail clippers. This trip would be an exercise in minimalist fishing. Gone were the overpriced accoutrements and tools that would arise TSA suspicion with my carry on. I’d be forced to scavenge the area for flies and sustenance. As luck would have it my midtown hotel was neatly tucked between the gaudiness of the actual Mall of America in Times Square and the hotbed of fly shop activity on 5th Avenue. New Yorkers have take it upon themselves, in typical Starbucks fashion, to put all their fly shops in a three block area. As if one Orivs shop wasn’t enough why not have two, and throw in Urban Angler for good measure. I’d Imagine this is more for the out of town schmucks like myself than it is meant to serve Manhattan’s 1.6 million potential flycasters. No disrespect meant to the fine folks at Orivs, but I had my sights set on Urban Angler for advice and fly purchasing. I’ll take a smaller independent fly shop any day over a larger corporate juggernaut. To my dismay Urban Angler was in the midst of a move and I’d be forced to take my game to the Sears Wish Book like confines of Orvis 1A.

I spent a few minutes trading pleasantries with the retired gentlemen manning the fly bins at the back of the store. I grilled them for information about possible nooks and crannies within the cityscape that may harbor fish, but only got Central Park as a result. This was an expected outcome, but I must admit I callowly longed for a destination on the Hudson or East Rivers. The quarry in Central Park is largely the same as my neighborhood waters, but the late May pinnacle of spring run of New York stripers is something altogether different. The challenge in fishing the rivers, not unlike the Milwaukee lakefront, is limited access with large piers and breakwalls. This would be a needle in the haystack affair, and there would be no break in the case that led to the secret spot of my dreams. I dismissed their notion that I run to one of the other boroughs for better fishing. I was determined to stake my claim here where angling may be on the minds of many, but rarely taken to fruition. I filled up with a small array of flies meant to dupe anything from a Sunfish to a 35″ striper, thanked the guys and went on my way.

 

 

I shuffled out of the shop and headed uptown via the number 4 train only pausing to execute my usual coffee and doughnut pregame routine. The destination was the Harlem Meer in the far northeast corner of Central Park. I decided that it was important to get some slime on my hands to convince myself that I hadn’t gone mad. This small and unassuming impoundment is generally considered the best that Manhattan has to offer. I read up on the top spots prior to my arrival and the Meer is regularly mentioned as the epicenter of panfish, bass, pickerel and carp fishing. I had the carp and pickerel in my sights, but conceded that hitting a few sunnies and bass maybe the best I could muster.

 

 

As I sat assembling my rod a pack of school children graced me with their presence. This place was little more than a glorified kid’s fishing pond, and far cry from what most hardcores would deem a viable destination. But I didn’t let that rain on my parade. It’s a simple proposition, play the card you’re dealt and take the fishery at face value. The Meer is a sophisticated ecosystem compared to the creek chub fishing of my youth, so it’s all gravy if you ask me. I pointed out a few weed loitering panfish to the eager anglers and moved along to another part of the pond. Within a few casts I had curious bluegill inspecting my offering, but not fully committing to the task at hand. I came to the realization that I hadn’t chased panfish on the fly in quite some time, but managed to tease a few into my clutches in no time. This ritual had a familiarity to it that I just couldn’t shake. I tend to encounter this sensation whenever I fish in a new location. I often find a local parallel to the conditions I encounter in completely different places. Harlem Meer as it turns out, is a carbon copy of the north arm of Lake of the Isles minus the large cruising Pike and Muskies. The Park Conservancy has even adopted the exact same milfoil harvester that is regularly used throughout the Minneapolis chain of lakes. Shallow water milfoil fishing is something I’ve spent far too many hours doing, and despite the signature “fly eating” black fences, I felt strangely at home on the outskirts of Harlem.

 

 

I continued to circumnavigate the lake plucking off panfish here or there, but failed to see anything more predatory in nature. As I continued my journey I started to notice another angler giving me the stink eye. He was a twentysomething lanky fella who slowly began closing in on my locale. He walked up to me and said, “hey you wanna buy a box of flies, I just found this along the bank and thought you might be interested? Ten bucks and it’s yours!” I politely rejected his offer, and asked him he was having any luck. He retorted, “I’m Frankie, everybody knows me here,” and proceeded to show me a cavalcade of smallish bass on his digital camera, fully beaming with pride. Clearly he was master of his domain, and I was on his turf. I feebly attempted to gain some insider information about where one might find some carp, but clearly the answer was “everywhere”, despite my lack of success. Frankie and I said our good-byes like two bothers-in-arms, as I mosied down the path to redemption.

The departing words of wisdom from my BFFs at Orvis 1A were to keep an eye out for any northern snakeheads. If I recall correctly I chuckled as I was walking out the door, but didn’t really think much of it at the time. A few casts after my close encounter, I spied an unusual specimen loafing in the shade on the inside edge. It took a moment for the shape to register in my dial-up caliber memory banks. No shit, a decent, but not giant snakehead was there for the taking. The beast had a bowfin-like profile to it, but was more striped on it’s sides. I must confess to never getting a shot at one of these villians, but recall the early days of their infiltration being akin to the classic TV sci-fi thriller V.  I quickly switched flies from the poorly performing bass popper to an epoxy minnow. I pulled out a decent swath of line, took a deep breath and made my shot. It wasn’t the best cast I’ve ever made in my life, but it seemed serviceable. What happened next transpired so quickly I barely knew what hit me. In a disappointing reversal of fortunes the snakehead darted away while a dink bass rushed out from the unknown to smash my offering. From what I’ve heard about snakeheads I expected the mutant to crush my offering upon impact, but that just wasn’t the case. The loser bracket was in full effect.

 

 

After missing the mark on the snakehead and getting my fill of small fish I opted to switch to plan B. I had salt on the mind, and the only fix I could find was the East River on the upper east side, compliments of the nycfishing.com site. I packed my goods, grabbed a dog, and hoofed it over to the river. Things were really beginning to heat up. This week would bring the first temps in the 90’s that I’ve seen this year, and the city amplifies the heat even more. New Yorkers never cease to amaze me. One guy was wearing the same Patagonia Down Sweater that I use for ice fishing, while I sat soaking through my shirt in the sultry air.

 

 

Let’s just cut to the chase. This was a needle in a haystack endeavor. I just couldn’t leave it undone. If I didn’t at least cast for some bigger fish I’d be selling myself short. I arrived at Carl Schultz Park and headed north until I found a more fishable section of water dangerously close to FDR Drive. I was pleased to find a spin fisherman camped out on my intended spot. He was deadsticking one rod while actively casting a second. This overt display of angling intent served reassure me of my mission. I gave him the standard, “catchin’ any” greeting to which he quietly responded, “no.” Clearly he wasn’t a conversationalist, so I moved further down the walk to a short pier section. The urban jungle presents its own set of challenges. It took me awhile time to strategize how to tackle this monster. My backcasts were hovering over angry cabbies on the expressway, while my fly on the other end needed to be counted down to insure proper depths. After a half hour of practicing I managed to devise a system that at least gave me a puncher’s chance. I’d cast my offering upstream and let it drift along a parked boat and under dock pilings. I had stripers in mind but I’d be perfectly content with schoolies, or anything that would provide a tug. How I’d land a bigger fish without a long handled net is anyone’s guess, but I was hoping to find out. After a decent round of investigation, I had to concede the fallibility of this pursuit. I snapped a few pics packed up the goods and continued to run and gun.

 

 

I hopped on a downtown train with the assistance of my HopStop app. Did the world actually exist before smart phones? This is the anthesis to what most are looking for in a fly fishing experience, but I found the contrast to be quite refreshing. I ran back the middle portion of the park to take a look at one of the bigger lakes. Frankie had mentioned that this lake was the best, but you couldn’t fly fish it due to heavy cover. It’s at that point that I knew I’d hit it, and I’m not alone. For better or worse media pundit Tucker Carlson and I are stricken with the same affliction. He was caught on video fly fishing for carp in the pond. All I could muster were a few dinks, and a bevy of comments, stares and disbelief from the hoards of tourists in the park. Angling in urban areas seems to garner universal wonderment from folks far and wide.

 

I finally spotted a sizable carp at the bottom of an inaccessible gulch. This is one of those slices of Central Park that clue you into what this place is supposed to be. I wanted to hop the infamous black fence and boulder my way down to take a shot, but deemed it a no-no. In all reality I wasn’t really geared up for carp anyway. The only reports I found of carp success centered around groundbaiting, and I wisely chose to not carry any on the plane. The heat began to take its toll and my time was up. I stumbled my way back to midtown in a malaise of sensory overload, guzzling a rare old school energy drink to “replenish my electrolytes” before moving on to tastier beverages. 

 

 

A beer or two into the evening and a sense of satisfaction took over. In all honesty this is the most fun I’ve had fishing in awhile, even though the day was spent simply chasing common fish in an uncommon environment. The sportfishing piece of the New York puzzle will have to remain on my bucket list for future investigation. The cruel irony of this latest escapade is that following in the footsteps of the millions that came before is actually the road less traveled.