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Subway Lifer: A Fisherman on the Subway

PUBLISHED: November 12, 2013

Photo by Bill Hayes

Editor’s note: The following post is the third in a series on living in New York. Read the first post, Subway Lifer.

I met a fisherman on the 1 train not too long ago. It would have been hard to miss him even in a packed subway car. His two large fishing rods, like a pair of periscopes, towered a good head above anyone else. He had gotten on one stop after me. Gripping his poles with one hand, a train pole with the other, he studied the subway map over my shoulder. He was tall, maybe six-two, in his mid-twenties and, from his skin and features, appeared to be a mix of Dominican and Vietnamese—island countries. I watched his face as his scrunched-up eyes traced his route on the map and he got his bearings. Satisfied, he looked around then settled into the empty seat next to me. He corralled his poles between his knees.

You can’t be sitting next to a fisherman on a subway and not say something.

“Catch any?”

“Not today.” This did not appear to trouble him.

I was coming from my job. I work in a cubicle in a large office. The idea of coming from fishing instead of working seemed pretty sweet. “Where would one go—where would I go if I wanted to fish?”

“Staten Island. Great fishing there—striped bass. But today I went to Battery Park—off the pier. Didn’t have much time. Just an hour.”

“Not even a nibble?”

“Oh yeah, lots, but no catches. They take a bite, feel something, feel the hook, spit it out. They’re smart, those fish. You’re sadly mistaken if you think you’re in control when you go fishing.”

He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. I said I’d take his word for it.

“You gotta be patient,” he elaborated. “You can’t go out there for just an hour and expect to catch. They feel you out. I went today just to be out there—”

“—with the fish?”

He nodded. “And on the water.”

You can get so caught up in your life in New York that you forget you live on an island, I thought to myself—an island. “That’s cool,” I murmured.

“Night’s the best time—if it’s clear, the stars are out, fish are running—”

I could almost picture it. I saw the Empire State Building in the background.

“Once I got a shark,” he said, more animated. “A basking shark—ugly thing. This was during the day. Took hundred-pound line and over an hour to pull him in.”

“Sharks in New York—now somehow that does not surprise me.”

He laughed.

The fisherman looked at his wristwatch and said he was just going to make it in time—just barely. He had to be at work in the Bronx at six.

I noticed that his watch already said six and mentioned this.

“Yeah, I keep it fifteen minutes fast—I’m always running late. I can’t stand to stop fishing.”

“Man, that’s love.” I stood up. “I wish you no subway delays—and no more sharks.” I said so long and got off at my stop.

He kept riding. He was going to make it just in time.

Read the next installment: The Kindness of Strangers



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