If it were up to Michael Wood, every New Yorker would be fishing the East River. Three days a week, Wood can be found on one of Greenpoint’s new piers casting for striped bass, bluefish and other riches of the sea, as he tries to lure more and more people into North Brooklyn’s fishing community.
“I want to get the fishing bigger here in Greenpoint,” Wood said. “I think it deserves it. People who know water, are aware that it’s cleaner out here.”
Wood, a barber by day at his family’s Paul Molé, one of New York’s oldest shops, has been fishing his whole life, picking it up as a kid in Englewood, New Jersey. He’s fished all over the world, in places like Bermuda, Montauk, the Jersey Shore, Cabo and Nantucket. When he moved to Greenpoint four years ago, he quickly discovered the neighborhood’s fishing community, mostly Polish, and a surprising abundance of targets for his rod and reel, including monkfish, fluke, black sea bass, eel, weakfish, porgies, blue fish and striped bass. “In the middle of summer, there’s striped bass here,” he said, . “That’s unheard of anywhere else. The estuary keeps all the fish here.” Last summer, Wood said, he pulled in a 55 inch striped bass.
Since making his way to the neighborhood, Wood has noticed a visible increase in the number of fisherman on the piers at India Street, Transmitter Park and the end of Manhattan Avenue. When the weather’s good, he said as many as 50 people can be out on the piers, cheering on the fisherman as they reel in their catches. The addition of the East River Ferry has helped bring increased attention as well. This past Memorial Day, a ferry captain came off the boat to congratulate Wood for catching a 40 plus inch fish, as his nearly 300 passengers looked on.
“A lot of these kids who came here from places like the Midwest don’t know that there are fish in here,” Wood said. “They get so surprised when I pull out a fish and put it down on the ground. Usually they say ‘we should get a fishing rod and start doing this.’ Now the hipsters are coming down and learning how to fish.” Wood also brings some of his younger barbershop clients from Manhattan to fish and to explore his adopted borough at places like Paulie Gee’s.
In addition to growing Greenpoint’s fishing community, Wood is trying to spread the word that the water is safer than its reputation leads one to believe. “An educated fisherman will tell you that this is healthy water,” he explained. “It’s a tidal stream that gets flushed in with fresh clean water every day. Parts of it are absolutely filthy, the Gowanus for instance, but that’s stagnant water. There’s more boat traffic in the Long Island Sound that have pollutants than here.”
So, does he eat his catch? “Once in a while,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I don’t eat a lot of it.” What he does do a lot of is barter for everything from free cab rides to meals at restaurants.
Wood also hopes to build on the success of Manhattan Avenue’s Dream Fishing Tackle shop owner Robert Piskorski’s annual fishing contest, which draws around 60 contestants each year, by involving enthusiasts like Kent Avenue’s Rod and Gun Club. When he sees neighborhood kids at the pier he lets them hold his fishing pole and hopes to one day teach them about fishing and the river. On other occasions, he lets the adults reel in what he’s hooked.
“It’s all about fun,” Wood said as a big smile broke across his face. “And bartering. And everything else that comes along with it.”