Fly Fishing the East River and happy birthday, Dave!

Today is Dave Co’s birthday. Happy Birthday Dave Co’. He’s like 26 or something ridiculous.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I asked our friend Shane Smith to write up something on fly fishing the East River and he came through with a little piece I’m posting below. I’m sure a couple others (Preacher) can weigh in on this too, which would be great to hear some other voices. The fly category hasn’t brought too many entries yet, but now is the time as there is a $500 gift certificate (which Dave Co’ acquired and I subsequently lost, then found again) up for grabs from Urban Angler. I’ll try to round up some pics to go along, but for now check out what Shane has to say… hope to see you out on the water soon, Shane! Thanks buddy!

Shane gearing up at N.5—pic by G

My Name is Shane William Smith and I’m a fly fisherman! After a late start, for the last 10 years I have delved deeply into the adventure, literature, frustration and culture that is American fly fishing. Destiny for this adventure was deep in my genes, as my father’s father, mother’s father, and several of my uncles (who knows how many others) were serious fly fishers!

In the past, my main focus has been fresh water trout and steelhead fishing. The legendary streams of the Catskills, the Salmon River upstate and my home streams of Logan, Utah have been my nurturing waters. It wasn’t until I ran into my old friend Ben Sargent at Dream Fishing (Greenpoint Brooklyn) two years ago, that I even considered fishing in the East River. Or salt water for that matter! Rumors of behemoth stripers and ravenous blues pulled at my fishing sense like the lure of an exclusive new hidden Bushwick restaurant to an ambitious food blogger! This experience was too intriguing to pass up! To my amazement and the delight of onlookers at the N. 5th pier, I caught a respectable “schooly” on my first cast. And an aggressive surface take to boot! From that moment on, I was hooked! The unique sights, smells and particular tackle that come with this type of fly fishing have given way to new adventures I never thought possible.

As in fresh water, the idea of fly fishing in salt/brackish water is to mimic the natural food sources of the target fish. As a result I have discovered many new fly tying materials that have even had a positive influence on my fresh water outings. For instance, Yak hair at a lengthy 10 to 20 inches, makes imitating an adult herring or 1-year old brown trout very easy. The plethora of eye catching man-made materials available round out a heady array of fishy supplies. I use an 8-weight, 9-ft fly rod/line combination. So far I have been hand over hand reeling my catches over the side of the pier, but if I catch larger fish this technique might prove difficult. My largest striper so far (on my birthday in April) is 30 inches. I release all catches so if I catch a biggy I will need to photograph and measure the fish carefully and quickly.

I have been using much lighter line than the bait/lure fishers commonly use. A general downsize and limit in line weight could add more “sport” to the derby in years to come, in my opinion. Leader and line weight consists of 2-3 ft of 20 lb brown maxima and 3-4 ft of 16 lb fluorocarbon, run off of 8 lb floating fly line. I have caught vicious 20+ pound King Salmon on the same set up, so I figure it can work in the East River. Imitations tied are peanut bunker, sand eels, herring, crabs and other bait fish, but color seems more important in the end. Black flies at night and white or white/chartreuse flies in the daylight seem best. I try and imitate movement in my retrieve as best as possible. Larger predatory fish respond to the action of injured baitfish. This is a distinct difference in the method of bait fishing versus fly fishing. Behavioral fly action and play against tidal flows versus real bait and depth of presentation are a major consideration in fishing for trophy stripers. My goal this year is to try and bridge the gap between depth and fly presentation to catch larger fish.

For anyone considering fly fishing in the urban environment, I recommend Urban Anglers @ 5th Ave. and 26th, or for more value, There are many benefits to fishing in the greatest city in the world… Fish bite at spectacular times of day or night. IE: early dawn, late night and dusk. Do yourself a favor. Get up early, wet a line and watch the sunrise. It will change your perspective! On several early Catskill mornings I have been rewarded by unexpected great blue heron sightings, close encounters with deer, surly beaver attacks and heart stopping sunrises. Night time Brooklyn fishing forays have so far produced a crazy baitfish blitz, making new friends over a shared bottle of bourbon and an adventurous outing on a secret extension into the East River! It is my thought that you should fish any way you feel most drawn to.

But when fly fishing in the waters of New York City, know that you are participating in an age old sport unique to this city. Fly fishing for trout dates back to the earliest settlement of Manhattan. A variety of immigrants fished for native brook trout in fresh streams that no longer flow. The first fishing regulations in American history were enforced at a pond called the Deposit in modern day Tribeca. Ambitious fisherman were keeping absurd numbers of trout to the point were sustainability was in serious trouble. A daily limit was set in place, but the Deposit’s fate was dark. Within a short few years the population of trout was destroyed by overfishing and pollution. A canal was dug to drain flow from the Deposit into the East River. The remaining result is Canal street. I look forward to learning more about fly fishing the East River and other local waters, and to see many spectacular sunrises and sunsets. For anyone with questions about fly fishing in the derby, you can email me at

Cheers and enjoy the derby!!!!


5 thoughts on “Fly Fishing the East River and happy birthday, Dave!

  1. Preacher says:

    Well said Shane.
    My only other suggestion is that N5th pier is not a place to learn how to false cast. Not a place to false cast at all (the kind of casting one thinks of when thinking of fly fishing). It is not needed and will prove dangerous there. Use the current and the height to get the line out. Just watch Shane. (He’s the man) Dont snag the locals, thats all we need.

    Also for other local fly spots not on the east river. Try Prospect park. Fly fishing for pan fish and Large mouth bass with everything from dry’s to streamers. And also great carp fly fishing. One of the best fish to catch on a fly, like catching a horse on light tackle. Chum with dry dog food or bread and then use a dry fly that looks like the respective chum. And hold on.

    Also a 3 inch piece of surgical tubing makes a good popper for night feeding frenzies on the east river.

    Thanks Shane

  2. Preacher says:

    Would be great, but my fishing hours are dictated by a five month old. If you set a time, I would try to join. middle of the night is best for me.

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