From “Central Park Fishing” by Frank Snider



Alfredo Barbini, Scavo black glass fish, ca. 1940s

Central Park is seriously shoehorned into the middle of a gigantic city. What’s it doing here?

Alfredo Barbini, an Italian glassblower, made these things in the Forties– vases, sculpture, whatnot– and instead of making them all pretty and colorful and translucent—all the characteristics for which glass has been valued for hundreds of years—he applied certain ashes and salts to his glass, giving it a blackened and blasted surface. There was no play of light, no smooth texture. His glass was burnt; it was unrecognizable as glass. It was a contradiction. Central Park is like that– a contradiction.

I fished this morning from 7:30 to 10. The temp was 50 (cloudy then clearing by 10 a.m., water 64º) at the beginning and rose about 10 degrees by the time I left. I landed one very small large mouth bass on a rat-l-trap lure from Hernshead Rock and I fought an extremely large carp from the rock by the reed island.

I was fishing from the rock at one point during the early morning when a woman came up behind me. I smiled and said good morning and she pointedly ignored me. A tiny hint of scowl even crossed her face. I looked for her dog, thinking that she must have been resentful of my fishing in her doggie pool. That happens regularly; dogs and their owners are the CP fisherman’s bane. But this time there was no dog. I shrugged inwardly.

The woman shuffled around for a few moments before finding a spot on the far side of a shrub a few yards to my right. I looked over and she was peering out into the lake expectantly, her eyes wide. It started at a lower volume but she was hollering full strength in seconds– “Come here! Come here! C’mon, C’mon!” It had that high pitched super-loving falsetto that pet lovers and parents put on. It took me a moment to realize that she was calling one of the swans from the other side of the lake. I’m not absolutely sure if she had food but I think she must have had some little snack. It took nearly twenty minutes of constant calling for the swan, along with a large cadre of ducks, to inch its way to the rock.

I guess I was silently smug about the whole thing. So a grown woman (early forties, I’d have guessed) was treating this bird as if it were her pet. So what? I’m sure she had given the bird a name in her head and given it all sorts of special qualities that most birds don’t have and she may have considered it a friend of sorts, but still, does that make me better, more sophisticated? I could say all sorts of things about wild animals and the influence man has on their behavior or the strange anthropomorphizing that so many people tend to do but I think my concern here is one of usage.

When I go to fish in the park, particularly early morning and late at night, I have a fantasy that is probably as strong or stronger than that woman’s fantasy about her swan’s cognitive abilities. When I arrive, I am in the woods, actively repressing and denying the thumping municipality. Central Park is about wilderness, tactics, exploring, fish, fish, fish. Intellectually I know that it is in the middle of New York City, but emotionally I am somewhere else. The Park’s border is truly a border to me.

The problem is, most people don’t give the park such hard edges. They traipse in with all of the city dirt still on their shoes– feeding the birds, yelling, littering, letting their dogs swim in the water– so the park rug gets filthy. It’s impossible to change the nature of things in this regard– the masses are victorious. It’s not as if you can shush every person, as if you are in the movies, and I know it is not within my rights to do that, anyway. In fact, there was a Revlon Mini-Marathon this morning that attracted 30 thousand runners, not 10 yards from my favorite spot.

I was both saddened and excited by my carp. For 10 minutes he pulled and I pulled. I didn’t actually land it or get the best of looks at it but I would venture to say that the carp was as long as my arm. I was seriously in danger of having my reel completely spooled. The fish was out in the lake farther than I could ever cast. I hooked or snagged him on a rat-l-trap and I initially thought I was hung up on the bottom. I even started to put my rod down so as to pull the line directly to get unsnagged. Then the beast did a sort of half jump and I was fumbling for the reel.

If I had been in another place I think I might have brought him in. He took a long run directly out, then north and then south, to my left, and to my dismay, to a spot of his liking far behind the reed island. I couldn’t let him get there or I’d have been lost. He might have taken all of my line. My only hope was to tighten the drag to its limit and pull like blazes. Well, I felt like Hemingway fighting a billfish off the Cuban coast. I needed a fully rigged fighting chair and some sap to pour water on the screaming reel to keep it cool.

Of course I had visions of actually landing Leviathan on my 2# test line and at one point I really thought I might do it. But he headed south and I couldn’t stop him. He took my rat-l-trap.


Frank Snider is a film and video editor who writes about fishing.