SI Vault
Evan McLeod Wylie
December 03, 1956
There's nothing fancy about the party-boat fleet off Brooklyn's shore, but the straphangers love it, and the fishing is superb
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December 03, 1956

Down To The Sea In Subways

There's nothing fancy about the party-boat fleet off Brooklyn's shore, but the straphangers love it, and the fishing is superb

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"We almost there?" he asked.

Wrege nodded. "The buoy's coming up now."

A huge whistling buoy suddenly appeared in the empty, heaving ocean ahead of the boat. As its mournful sighs grew louder, the Effort's crew and fishermen went swiftly into action. Wrege studied some penciled notations on a chart, and, taking a bearing from the buoy, came around on a new course, watching his speed carefully. Vandervoort switched on the fathometer and sat down at the electronic scanner. The Effort's mate went forward with a bamboo flag buoy and stood, drenched with spray, at the bow, his eyes riveted on the pilothouse.

"Two," called Vandervoort, one eye on the minute hand of the pilothouse clock as it ticked off the time over the course and the other on the fathometer. Its moving pen had begun to trace a smudgy trail across the roll of blue-lined graph paper that reflected a continuous profile of the ocean bottom nearly 100 feet beneath the Effort's keel. "Ninety-eight," he chanted, watching the pen closely, "ninety-eight...95...96...92...86."

"That's it," barked Wrege. His arm shot out of the pilothouse window. Instantly the waiting mate flung the flag buoy overboard. Wrege cut the engines and came around on a new bearing. Again he crept forward slowly, with Vandervoort calling the depths. Another marker went overboard and then the anchor. Wrege studied the waves of jiggly green lines dancing across the face of the scanner tube. "There it is," he said. "We're right over it." He motioned to the deck hands to snub the anchor line, then yanked a short blast on the Effort's whistle.

There was an abrupt splatter all around as the sinkers of the 75-odd fishermen aboard struck the water almost simultaneously. Silence settled over the Effort as the crowd, standing elbow to elbow, jigged poles and stared tensely at the water. About a minute passed and then a voice cried out sharply, "Cod!"

Heads spun around as a bulky Negro in overalls and a blue ski cap hauled in, with a businesslike air, a big-mouthed, bulging codfish and dropped it in his burlap sack. Everyone fished with tremendous concentration, and in a moment flapping ling, blackfish, silvery whitings and more cod were being horsed out of the water all around the boat. There was a stir at the bow as Wrege's white-whiskered old party triumphantly hauled in a codfish as big as a small boy. An excited woman in green slacks, high heels and red woolen ankle socks got two whiting on one line. A youngster, fishing with his father, wrestled happily with a big eel.

Captain Wrege stood with his hands in his pockets and cigaret drooping from his lips, watching his customers with a satisfied air. "There's an old lumber steamer down there," he said. "The fish love it. They congregate around it and feed on all the little crabs and lobsters and sea worms that live in it. The little fish take shelter in it, and the bigger ones hang around and wait for them to come out and feed. The best wrecks are the ones the Government has dynamited. That opens them up and spreads them around. Wooden ones are good because they rot slowly and the marine growth gathers on them and offers the fish protection. We don't get many good wooden wrecks any more. Once in a while a coal barge or an old schooner.

"We used to think we knew all about fishing. Hell, we didn't know anything. In the old days you had a pride in you, so if you went bottom-fishing, you picked out a wreck or a ledge you knew about and you stayed there. Some days you caught fish and some days you didn't. Nowadays, with all this sound gear and these fast boats, we're all over the place. With that radio-telephone everybody yackety-yacks back and forth like a bunch of old women.

"That monofilament line that a lot of people down there are using has revolutionized fishing. The fish can't seem to see it. It makes a linen line look like a telephone cable and it goes down straight and comes up dry. The fish have lost the odds in this game."

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