Is the future of deep sea fishing feminine?

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The newest member of the fishing club had slept during his alarm and was now speeding through Queens towards the beach in the pre-dawn light. Gypsea Star was supposed to disembark at 5 a.m., almost half an hour earlier, and if the fishermen weren’t able to beat the other boats in the bay on their first trip of the season, she would be at blame.

It was not a very good first impression.

“I’m already a stereotype, being the only woman who is late,” said Julie Gomez when she finally got on board. Her 10 year old daughter, Elyse, was with her. “I am so bad.”

The men on board were pouring black coffee, looking at the chicken cutlet sandwiches someone had brought for the group’s lunch, or pretending to be asleep. And while no one smiled at Ms Gomez’s attempt to lighten the mood, no one criticized her either. No one there would have come to say it, but New York’s party boat fishermen are a declining breed. The boats that are rolling them out, the cash-only businesses that have suffered financially during the pandemic, are in desperate need of attracting and retaining new members.

The start of the striped bass season, in April, sees a huge release of pent-up enthusiasm. This is what sustains the city’s fishing captains during the winter. But last year, Covid restrictions kept boats docked during several of these critical hot months, and paycheck protection program loans were not an option. Even when things tentatively reopened last July, business was slow; people were still afraid of the virus and prices had increased to make up for lost time.

Every few years, a reporter takes the train to the outskirts of Brooklyn and counts the boats there, inevitably concluding that a specific slice of New York life is close to oblivion thanks to a combination of real estate development and changing demographics. And it’s true: in the 1970s, there were about 40 party boats operating in New York; a few decades later, there were 18; now you can count them all with one hand.

For most of that time, the boats were basically floating dive bars, full of secondhand smoke and cheap beer. But then dating strangers became an existential threat. During the lockdown, a number of wealthy amateurs went ahead and bought their own boats; sales peaked in 13 years, according to to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. So, people who make a living taking people out on the water now need to find new enthusiasts. And for those who care about bringing the sea to life in the city, this year it’s all about welcoming New Yorkers who don’t necessarily fit the stereotype of a sailor.

They’ll have to rely, in part, on entrepreneurs like Victor Lucia, a former hip-hop producer and public school teacher in Crown Heights who started the Brooklyn Fishing Club in 2014. His goal was to bring culture to life. which can be intimidating or downright hostile to newcomers. “A lot of captains really love me, and I’ve made them a lot of money over the years,” he said.

To secure a spot on a fishing boat in New York City, you traditionally had to wake up at dawn and head to the town-owned strip of Sheepshead Bay, where several identical-looking boats are moored. You would need to know how to choose one, as well as how to buy your own bait from the nearby fishing store. You will also need to have a hunch of the exact amount of cash to take, in order to pay and tip the mate.

And then there’s being on the boat.

“This is New York, so everyone is on guard,” said Lucia, 34. “If you were to get on one of these boats for the first time and act nice and friendly, people would look at you like you were crazy. It would be like going around a subway car and introducing yourself.

His idea was that there is safety in numbers when a fishing trip is also a social event – that if he sent outgoing and open-minded people together they would be more likely to have a good time. and start over. Mr. Lucia tends to attract an equally young and friendly clientele. For the start of this season, he’s teamed up with a young captain who just launched the very first party boat in Howard Beach, Queens. This means members of his club will avoid the alumni scene around Sheepshead Bay altogether.

By creating an alternative to the typical party boat atmosphere, Mr. Lucia accidentally became something of a father figure to women a decade older than him. His most recent sidekick was Ms Gomez, the 45-year-old French manicurist who delayed the trip and almost ruined it for everyone. She had learned to throw from her father, a handyman in Far Rockaway. But where to actually find fish was kept between him and his buddies. He died eight years ago without disclosing it. “The fishermen are secret and don’t give you anything substantial,” she said. “They were like, ‘Sure, put on your blindfold and we’ll take you over there.’ And now, without my father’s presence, I can’t catch fish.

So here she is at sunrise, far in Raritan Bay. People from all walks of life and all over the Northeast had slept in their clothes and woke up at 2 a.m. for the chance to feel normal again. The trip had already been delayed by a week because a maintenance worker on the Gypsea Star caught Covid, but they were soon about to drink seltzer water in near perfect weather. The boat can hold 30, but has generally taken at most 17 due to coronavirus concerns.

Although Ms Gomez joked that she was the only woman on board that day, there was actually another. She got so upset about leaving late that she had to cross to the other side of the boat to avoid a possible confrontation. But while the two women have very different attitudes about punctuality, their back stories are surprisingly similar. Amal Samaleh used to beg her father to take her with her brothers on a fishing trip and still remembers the day he gave her the greatest hope. “Of course he never woke me up,” she said. “I was 7 years old and since then I have resented fishing.”

Ms Salameh, who was born in Jersey City, decided to take matters into her own hands much later in her life. She was supposed to go fishing with a friend the day after her 33rd birthday, but he drank too much and didn’t wake up on time. So she went to a pier in Weehawken despite a crushing hangover and asked to borrow a cane from two old men. She realized that – despite what her father might have guessed – she had a natural talent. She caught a dozen blueberries that day.

Flash forward to over a decade, that’s when she contacted Mr. Lucia about his fishing club. Ms. Salameh went out on her first charter boat last June, a memorable experience. “The first time I walked out of New York in my head during Covid,” she said. In December, she traveled to Guatemala to participate in a billfish tournament – and win.

While Ms Salameh describes this victory in the Pacific as something she will “talk about on her deathbed,” this visit to Raritan Bay would be a little less action-packed. Paying $ 200, the cost of a day trip on the Gypsea Star, just got a room for passengers on the ship with a cooler full of White Claws. After that, they drew numbers, and when one of the lines hanging on the back of the boat was bitten, the person whose number was called had a chance to roll it up. Ms Salameh’s number was one of the first to arrive. up. A biotech salesperson who describes herself as “Louis Vuitton during the week and break your balls on the weekends,” she seemed eager to distance herself from Ms. Gomez.

She grabbed a bass in seconds – unaided – and instinctively ripped off her jacket to pose for a photo with the 29-inch. Mrs. Gomez looked on in admiration. “I don’t know how she does it,” she muttered to herself as she took pictures on her phone. “So beautiful.”

There would be no time to dissect his technique. Ms. Gomez’s young daughter’s number was called immediately after. Miniature drama ensued as the girl refused to leave the cabin of the boat. The pressure from all these watching men was apparently too much; instead, she chose to watch TikTok videos on her phone.

“I just want to grab one, even though I hardly do,” said Ms Gomez, who took her place as a pop-punk anthem blared over the boat’s speakers. “My friends make fun of me, like ‘You have all this expensive gear and you never catch fish.'”

She actually caught a fish, but it slipped off the line – all that nervous anticipation culminating in about 10 seconds of action. Ms. Gomez rubbed her biceps and backed up to her seat in the cabin.

But before she felt too sorry for herself, she had a chance to redeem herself. His own number was called. This time, Mr. Lucia helped her, supporting the rod from below, and moments later the two pulled on board an exactly 28 inch fish – her first keeper. She drew Mr. Lucia for a hug. “I love you,” she said, crying. “I hope it’s not weird that I said that.”

Ms Salameh was clearly irritated with Ms Gomez, but she had held her tongue through bigger trouble on other fishing trips. There were the boats without a bathroom where the “guys would just pull it out”, and many others full of veterans of the scene who otherwise clearly weren’t used to a female presence. Her conclusion was that she would never fish again unless it was with a club like Mr. Lucia’s, even if she had to pay more for the organized experience.

But she was learning that newcomers come with their own problems. A guy raised on the water could urinate over the railing, but this new ilk didn’t necessarily follow the rules and traditions. “You don’t show up late for things,” Ms. Salameh said later. “Early is on time, on time is late and late is inexcusable.” Clearly still irritated a week after the trip, she plans to write an article on the label for a local magazine called The Fisherman and reflects on her own women-focused fishing club.

For her part, Ms. Gomez did not seem aware of the voltage. After landing her striped bass, she had noticeably more boast and confidence. The two women – now, in a way, equal – discussed what to do with their takes. The consensus was to make fish tacos.

The next step for Ms. Gomez would be to get Elyse interested in fishing. The mother and daughter were going to a tulip festival the next day, which was much more of their usual activities together. But Ms Gomez thought it could be the start of a new mother-daughter tradition.

Plus, she knew that being on the boat would have an effect later in life. It had happened to him. “I was like that when I was his age,” she says. “The urge is felt later. When is she 22? Forget that.”


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