When Jack Gartside thinks of fishing in Boston Harbor as a child, two memories stand out. In 1956 he was walking along the beach when he came upon a floating body. "It had been in the water for a very long time, if you know what I mean," he says. It turned out that the person had been a passenger on the ill-fated Andrea Doria, which had sunk earlier that year off Nantucket. Then there were the hours he spent fishing near what locals called the Bubble, which was the business end of a pipe that discharged Boston's raw sewage. With a good tide, the Bubble would produce a 200-yard-long slick of brown sludge. "I didn't care that I had to pick turds or bits of toilet paper off my line. There was actually quite a bit of life there, you know."
But things have changed, for the better. The harbor that the first President Bush once called "the dirtiest in the country" has become perhaps the best urban fishery in America, a baitfish-rich stopover on the east coast migration route for thousands of ravenous striped bass and bluefish. And Boston Harbor is not alone. All around the country, the once polluted waters that surround our nation's great cities have undergone remarkable recoveries spurred by the far-sighted Clean Water Act of 1972. It's not a stretch to say that, in modern times, urban fishing in the United States has never been better. But here's a little secret: Despite being accessible to literally millions of people, most of these waters remain relatively underfished.
It's a situation that perplexes men like Gartside, the undisputed "Dean of the Boston Harbor," who is a notable flytier and raconteur, among other things. "In my high school yearbook, other people listed doctor or lawyer in the space provided for their future job," Gartside says. "I put fishing."
For him, that's meant spending every May through November working the almost 200 miles of coastline in the harbor, which hosts healthy populations of stripers and blues. There's good fishing downtown near the Fleet Center, home of the Celtics and Bruins. You can cast a line in Charlestown with the Bunker Hill Monument peering over your shoulder. Or you can walk down to State Street near the New England Aquarium and fish off the walls where stripers lurk by the hundreds.
But for Gartside, the best fishing is on the 34 islands that dot the harbor. Wading the skinny water there offers shots at fish that are inaccessible to boats. For an $8 round-trip ticket, he takes the 20-minute shuttle from the city to George's Island, the site of an old Civil War fort. From there, he hops on a free water taxi that drops him off on any of the smaller, undeveloped islands, some of which allow free camping (Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, 617-223-8666; nps.gov/boha). He fishes the in- and outgoing tides for stripers up to 30 pounds, using his various creations, like the famous topwater Gurgler. At 6 p.m., he's on the last shuttle back to the city.
To be sure, the municipal environment still provides some strange moments. Gartside was once fishing near the Fleet Center when a bunch of teenagers started throwing cups of beer at him from the bridge. "I made an easy target," he says. On one of his favorite spots, Nix's Mate, a small island near the harbor's entrance, pirates were once shackled as a warning to other sea dogs. "If you have an active imagination," says Gartside, "you can still hear the chains of Capt. William Fly rattling in the wind."
But to him, it's all part of fishing urban waters, where nature and commerce often go hand in hand. "The harbor feels like such a solitary place. Then the QE2 will come so close that I can bounce a fly off the bow."
Contact Jack Gartside, 617-846-5984; jackgartside.com.
More Fishy Cities
In these 4 places, you don't have to leave town to find terrific water.
1. Washington, D.C. (bass)
T Potomac River is one of the most underrated fisheries in the country. In the upper limits of our nation's capital, you can park along the C&O canal and wade or canoe the shallows of the Potomac from June to October. You'll find good sport with the 10- to 15-inch smallmouth bass hidden behind every rock near the Beltway Bridge. Downstream, the river becomes tidal, which means you'll encounter perch, herring, American and hickory shad, and striped bass. You can fish from shore in the Chain Bridge area, where the water violently rips through the gorge. Or rent a rowboat from Fletcher's Boat House (202-244-0461) for $20, anchor up, and catch stripers all day long.
Near Georgetown, where the marshland was filled in the 1700s, you'll find the occasional striper lurking around structure, but from Key Bridge on down, largemouth bass predominate. Two Bassmasters tournaments have been held in this part of the river, and the first President Bush was known to make a cast here while in office. An added bonus is the Constitution Gardens Pool on the Mall near the Vietnam Memorial, where you'll find bass, sunfish, and catfish. Just watch for tourists on your back cast. Contact the Angler's Lie, 703-527-2524; anglerslie.com.
2. Atlanta (trout)
Trout fishing is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Atlanta, but maybe it should be. Thanks to a bottom release from the Buford Dam on Lake Lanier, some 45 miles of ice-cold Chattahoochee River runs from northern Georgia through "Hotlanta." The Hooch, as it's known to locals, just might be the best trout water in the Deep South. The river wends it way through leafy woodlands, beneath the shadows of office parks, and under interstates, and has up to 5,000 rainbows and browns per mile.
Wading is an option, but a drift boat is a better bet for covering the water and taking in the scenery, like the prehistoric fishing weirs that were first built by the native Cherokee and Creek Indians. Spring is one of the best times to be on the river, when caddisflies blanket the water, and the blooming azaleas and dogwoods on the banks rival that of the famous golf course in Augusta. Guide Ken Louko says that good fishing is available all year long. One of his favorite spots is the pool below the bridge of I-75, where fat rainbows sip bluewing olives as commuters zip by on the highway above. Contact Spring Creek Anglers, 404-664-4823; springcreekanglers.com.
3. Detroit (walleyes)
Guide Jim Barta will never forget the morning he guided an executive from GM on the Detroit River. He anchored his boat on his favorite spot, a reef that fronts the Renaissance Center, Detroit's paean to modernism. Ten minutes later the client landed a 10-pound walleye, then phoned up to his office in one of the buildings and proudly displayed his catch for his coworkers. "It was like the guy had signed a big contract or something," says Barta, a retired fireman who has fished the river for 45 years.
In the 1960s, the Detroit River could be bright blue one day, green the next, and orange the day after, depending upon which effluent the steel mills and chemical plants upstream were discharging. Rescued by the Clean Water Act, the river now boasts a run of nearly 10 million walleyes each spring. And fishing isn't the only entertainment. Barta enjoys watching the joggers and inline skaters on the lively waterfront and catching the smell of hot dogs in the air. And he really likes the front-row seat he has to outdoor concerts at the Civic Center-imagine jigging for tasty walleyes while listening to Aretha Franklin belt out "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." Contact Capt. Jim Barta, 313-388-5847; truefishing.com.
4. New Orleans (redfish )
Just on the outskirts of the Mardi Gras Mecca lies an endless jumble of ponds, canals, and marshes known as Myrtle Grove, a place where "you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, save for the oil refineries on the horizon," says Hilary Thompson, a Louisiana State University medical school statistician and obsessed angler. In places with some freshwater inflow, there are schools of good-size largemouth bass. But the king catch of New Orleans is the redfish. Hidden among the marshes, you can spend the day sight-fishing the clear water and have shots at dozens of hard-fighting reds a day, all in the 6- to 8-pound range.
In the 1980s, famed chef Paul Prudhomme made the blackened redfish a staple of his menu. Some say this simple, delicious recipe incited a craze that sent the fish spiraling toward extinction, setting off what was known locally as the redfish wars between commercial and sport fishermen. But cooler heads prevailed, and commercial net bans and catch restrictions were put in place. The redfish is back now, with a vengeance, which means you shouldn't be bashful about stopping by CafÂ¿Â¿ Degas (504-945-5635), where chef Stephen Hassinger serves up a mean redfish meuniÂ¿Â¿re. Contact Uptown Angler, 800-974-8473; uptownangler.com. ve for the oil refineries on the horizon," says Hilary Thompson, a Louisiana State University medical school statistician and obsessed angler. In places with some freshwater inflow, there are schools of good-size largemouth bass. But the king catch of New Orleans is the redfish. Hidden among the marshes, you can spend the day sight-fishing the clear water and have shots at dozens of hard-fighting reds a day, all in the 6- to 8-pound range.
In the 1980s, famed chef Paul Prudhomme made the blackened redfish a staple of his menu. Some say this simple, delicious recipe incited a craze that sent the fish spiraling toward extinction, setting off what was known locally as the redfish wars between commercial and sport fishermen. But cooler heads prevailed, and commercial net bans and catch restrictions were put in place. The redfish is back now, with a vengeance, which means you shouldn't be bashful about stopping by CafÂ¿Â¿ Degas (504-945-5635), where chef Stephen Hassinger serves up a mean redfish meuniÂ¿Â¿re. Contact Uptown Angler, 800-974-8473; uptownangler.com.