When a City Fishing Derby is Won, We All Win

The view that could inspire hordes of urban anglers, and the fishing derbys and seafood festivals that go with them.

We were pleased to see Lila Byock’s recent Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker on the finally-settled results of the second annual Brooklyn Fishing Derby. Not just because we dig Byock’s occasional “Tables for Two” reviews, but because at the end of Edible Brooklyn’Fall cover story by Keith Wagstaff on Ben Sargent, the man behind the derby and other efforts to invigorate Gotham’s surfcasting scene, we offered to send the Derby winner a subscription to Edible Brooklyn.

Well, it turns out there were lots of winners, not just Greenpoint’s Yan Groz, who hauled in the 44 inch cow that won the striped bass category. According the official Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association results, prizes were also awarded for MOST DEDICATED FISHERWOMAN/ STRANDED FISHERWOMAN (stuck in fence) AWARD (Jane Borock), THE GOOD LOOKIN’ OUT/F– THE POLICE AWARD (Thomas Chabrowski), THE UNLUCKIEST FISHERMAN AWARD (Rafael Moran), THE I’M TOO COOL FOR THE DERBY / COP EVADER AWARD (Greg Lebedowicz), and first place in the bluefish category to Mike Louie’s 32 incher. Winners took home a filet knife and shirt from Brooklyn Kitchen, a gift certificate to Sea to Table, a gift certificate to Roberta’s, a Heritage Foods USA ham, and other cred-building booty–natch–including the Edible subscription, which is in the mail as soon as we track down Groz’s mailing address. (Anyone?)

Sargent’s efforts to encourage fishing in the East River, Hudson River, and beyond isn’t just a boon to anglers. Like so much outdoorsmanship, it’s a back door way to protect and improve the environment. (Who wants to pollute a river that’s feeding us?) Or, as Wagstaff wrote of Sargent, “For  him, it’s less about convincing you to pan-sear a fresh striped bass than it is about getting more people out on the water, to reconnect with the natural world hidden within the city.” (Sargent’s day jobs include hosting a Heritage Radio Network Internet radio show on fishing, managing the Brooklyn Urban Angler association (lifetime membership: $48), and, before it was shut down by the city, his lobster roll delivery service. Cityslicker amateurs looking for a lesson should visit brooklynchowdersurfer.com to learn about Sargent’s occasional angling how-tos at Williamsburg’s East River State Park.)

But we appreciate Sargent for another reason: because Derbys are also a dying form of seasonal food festivals in dire need of revival. Where are the shad festivals and oysters shucking contests and flounder fries of old? The biggest clam contest that various East End towns hold from August to October aren’t just encouragement to get yourself a rake and a shellfishing license. They are natural complements to the clam chowder and clam shucking contests that happen at the same time. And while global overfishing of sharks has made shark derbys declasse in recent years, there’s no question that they generated tons of interest in fishing, not to mention Jaws-like lore, like that sparked by Pat Mundus’s monster catch in Montauk.

In the past two years, Sargent has gotten advice from the organizers of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, which has run for more than 50 years and boasts 2,000 anglers. If the Vineyard can pull that many fishers, the opportunity to cast at the Manhattan skyline should generate at least that much attention.

Brian Halweil

Brian is the editor at large of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.

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