There’s definitely something fishy about the Hudson River




People register to fish in the Hudson and learn about the river. Photo: India Duke.

Hudson River Park’s estuary lab hosts Big City Fishing on Sunday mornings from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Pier 25, at the end of North Moore Street, and Pier 84, at the end of West 44th Street. The program has a dual purpose beyond teaching people how to fish: to debunk preconceived notions about the Hudson’s cleanliness and to provide information about the river’s aquatic life.

“Big City Fishing is one of many opportunities for families to do hands-on education that’s free and accessible and connecting them to the Hudson River estuary,” said Tina Walsh, director of education and outreach for Hudson River Park’s estuary lab.

The program is funded through grants and donations. “We’re not a city park or a state park, so we don’t receive funding from those organizations,” said Walsh.

Everyone is welcome, whether they’ve fished before or not. “A lot of the staff has never fished before, so we kind of learn together,” said staff member Olivia Radick. She interned in summer 2016 and came on as a permanent employee this past April. “I grew up uptown and coming back home, I knew I liked this position,” she said.

The program educators are local college students or recent graduates with experience in teaching or environmental sciences. Many of them grew up with the same hesitations about the waterfront as the children who attend, according to Walsh.

Onica Cupido, 43, brought her 10-year-old son “for something to do.”

“It’s a great idea,” she said, “he got to learn about how deep it is, what type of fish are in the water and the parts of the pole” — things she believes children from the city don’t usually know.

Attendance on Sundays typically ranges between 40 and 80 people, but it’s not all children and their parents.

Karyn Marciniak, 33, is a workforce strategy and analytics consultant who runs along the west side of the highway on Sundays and decided to stop by. “I’ve been wanting to go fishing all summer and this is probably the only chance I’ll get and it’s free,” she said. She went fishing as a child with her best friend and her grandparents, but hasn’t been since.

The process starts with registration, and then a staff member explains the parts of the fishing rod and the casting process.

“We’re drop-line casting today, which means the hooks just go straight down. There’s no swinging or anything,” said Radick. This is a safety precaution because there are others fishing and people participating in water sports, like kayaking and paddle boarding.

Big City Fishing practices catch and release: the fish are placed back in the water after they are caught. “There’s a tank over there that we can put fish in when we catch them, just so we can like take pictures, look at them, learn about them but at the end of the day everything goes back in the river,” said Radick.

Barbless fishing hooks, designed to grab the side of the mouth, are used to ensure the fish won’t be harmed. “We take this into extreme consideration from an environmental perspective,” said Walsh.

The Hudson has a reputation for being unclean and not safe for activities. This program works to deflate those views.

“It’s not as dirty as people think it is, but it’s also not super-duper clean,” said Radick. Walsh explains that the mud in the river is responsible for its murky color.

“The Hudson river is a really turbid system,” she said. “Mud mixes in the water so you can’t see the life under.” But it’s there, and program participants have caught some surprising animals.

“A lot of people don’t know that there are striped bass, American eel, even sea horses living in the Hudson,” Walsh said. “There’s nothing as exciting as reeling up and finding a fish.” Walsh also said that when the water is warm, fish from Florida swim up to the Hudson.

Every Sunday, people can sign up for a fishing lesson and visit the estuary classroom. Photo: India Duke.

There is no guarantee that each participant will catch a fish. To ensure that participants see what the Hudson has to offer, the staff keeps fish from the river in the estuary lab classroom. The onsite classroom has observation tanks with fish from the Hudson that are kept for a period before being returned to the river. The room also has pictures of crustaceans and other animals that are found in the Hudson.

Sunday August 26th was the last day to experience Big City Fishing at Pier 84, but the program will continue until September 30, at the same time, at Pier 25, which gets about 300 visitors for their Sunday program.