Off The Hook: Fishing In New York City
New York City is known for many things, but fishing is not one of them. Yet, there is a thriving scene of anglers, casting the day away in the lakes and ponds of the New York City Parks system . Cell Vision co-founder Prince Terrence and photographer Kyle Johnson spent an afternoon with a few of them, learning about the ins and outs of fishing in an urban environment.
Photography by Kyle Johnson
I was in Central Park on an early Summer day, taking in the scenery and feeling the internal thrill of summer-mode. I found myself near the pond, the same pond where diverse, life jacket clad families and couples from all over the world blissfully cruise the waters in rented out rowboats and gondolas. While standing atop an elevated rock I noticed a young man fishing, and just as I look he’s reeling in what appeared to be a giant fish. I pull out my phone and go to snapchat for maximum zoom capability. I captured the entire moment on my phone from the tall mountain-like rock that I was perched on. The young man then gracefully released the fish back into the water holding on to it until the final flip of the fishtail against the water sparkled in the sunlight as the fish disappeared into the algae colored waters.
I shouted down from the tall rocks to the fisher. “I got a rad video of that catch!” He hesitantly shouted his phone number up to me and I texted him the video. A few days later I couldn’t stop thinking of this young guy, a young man of color who seemed to be living this lifestyle in New York City as a fisherman, inadvertently deconstructing societal stereotypes. It felt super inspiring to me, almost in a punk rock kind of way, and felt similar to the lifestyle and pastime that you see in skateboarding, playing music, or making art. There is a certain grittiness and liberation to it. Through mutual friends this caught the interest of world renown photographer Kyle Johnson, who immediately signed on to document this. Still having the fisher’s number in my phone, yet not even knowing his name, I asked if he would be into us tagging along with him and his friends to capture it for Cell Vision. We met through text at that moment and I gathered his name was Joseph Blyther. On another early summer day we joined Joseph and his friends Terell and Ricky at their favorite fishing location, Central Park in New York City. These are the images captured by Kyle Johnson. Additionally, I had the chance to catch up with Joseph about his life as a fisher in the urban jungle of New York City.
CELL VISION: This is a real lifestyle for you guys. How old are you, and how old were you when you started fishing?
JOSEPH: I’m 22 now. I started when I was maybe like 13. I’d always wanted to go fishing, and I have a friend that took me. He was always going fishing when I was kind of young. So my mom let me go with him. It became like a hobby for relaxation.
CELL VISION: With you and your fishing friends how many how many are in your crew?
JOSEPH: Usually five, but in our group chat there’s like 30 of us, of all ages. There are three girls.
CELL VISION: One of the things that got me super intrigued when I saw you and your friends fishing the first time is that it reminded me of skateboarding, or me and my friends playing music. That level of freedom and camaraderie is really what life is all about.
JOSEPH: Yes, it’s kind of my release.
CELL VISION: Many people have preconceived ideas of what young men of color do for fun, and fishing isn’t usually one of them. People also have preconceived ideas of what fishers look like. People think of fishing as a rural activity, but you’re bringing it into an urban setting. Fishing in New York City, mirroring people fishing in rural Kentucky, for example, makes us realize that people from different regions and backgrounds have a lot more in common than we may think. Do you ever befriend other fishers that you maybe wouldn’t really associate with otherwise in everyday life?
JOSEPH: Everyone is always really friendly, I haven't ever had a problem with anyone. When it comes to the fishing community, people are very friendly.
CELL VISION: One thing that I was really impressed by in the time that I spent with you guys at Central Park was how in tune you are with the actual biology and science of the ecosystem in the ponds. Did you do you study these things or is it something you picked up along the way?
Author’s note: For example, they would explain to me how shaking trees in specific times of year would release berries into the water forcing the fish to the surface, as well as explaining why the water color differs in certain areas. I was impressed.
JOSEPH: Yeah, I've been going for a long time. I started fishing there when I was 13. So ten years.
CELL VISION: What's considered fishing season?
JOSEPH: Always, it’s always fishing season. Basically, when it's snowing... I don't really like to be outside in the snow, but you can still fish if you want to.
CELL VISION: Right, so what happens when the water freezes?
JOSEPH: In Central Park the only water that’s frozen is the top layer. So we can find areas where the ice is broken and fish there.
CELL VISION: You're licensed, right?
CELL VISION: What's the process for getting a fishing license in New York State?
JOSEPH: It’s really easy you go online and you put in your ID number, basic your information like your name, and you pay $25 a year. Then they send it in the mail.
CELL VISION: I see, so do you ever need to pull it out?
JOSEPH: The park officers come up sometimes. If you don't have it you can get a ticket, but I always have it so I don't have to really worry about that.
Author’s note: Our crew was approached by the Parks Enforcement Patrol during our photo shoot with Joseph.
CELL VISION: What's the craziest thing you’ve ever reeled in?
JOSEPH: So, I went to Coney Island fishing for bluefish, both of my rods got a bite, I went to set the hook on one rod and my other one I left there. As I was fighting the fish my rod snapped in half so I grabbed my other rod to fight the other fish when I finally got the fish up I realized he ate the bait on both my rods, so I pulled both him up and the other half of my rod!
CELL VISION: But you got the fish?
JOSEPH: Yeah I did.
CELL VISION: What type of fish can you find in Central Park?
JOSEPH: In Central Park you can catch carp, grass carp, bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and bullhead catfish.
CELL VISION: I noticed that you had a scale on hand. What's the biggest fish you’ve caught in Central Park?
JOSEPH: My biggest was 23 pounds.
CELL VISION: 23 pounds?! Wow. How big in length?
JOSEPH: 32 inches.
CELL VISION: Is the ultimate goal to get a Carp?
Joseph: Yeah that's one of the biggest fish in Central Park. It's for the thrill, you have bragging rights behind catching the big fish.
CELL VISION: Did you catch one of those when we were doing the photoshoot?
CELL VISION: You're a nice guy and I couldn’t help but notice the level of respect that you guys have for the actual fish and their well being.
[Author’s note: I witnessed what seemed like a hook getting caught in the eye of a fish and the guys were visibly concerned and saddened by this turned out it wasn’t actually in the eye much to the joy of these guys.]
JOSEPH: Yeah, “Let it go, let it grow,” that's what we always say.
CELL VISION: Do you have any plans to take fishing to the next level in competition or sport?
JOSEPH: I'm going to keep it as a hobby. There's fishing contests, but I've never actually entered one. There was supposed to be one last weekend at the lake, but it got cancelled.
CELL VISION: What are your aspirations in life beyond fishing?
JOSEPH: Right now I work with children with special needs, I'm a teacher.
I'm going to do this for now until I finish school and then I'm going to enter the police academy to become a detective.
You can find Joseph Blyther and his crew of fishers at various fishing holes around New York City, or at the Instagram link below.
For more of Kyle Johnson’s photographic work visit his website at the link below.