Fishermen as barometers of a healthy place

West Amwell: The second day of trout season, 2015. (Steve Chernoski)

I don’t fish. When I was nine, my parents left me with relatives at a summer trailer campground in southwestern Ohio and I hated it. I was a suburban kid from Ewing and very disconnected from my local waters, even though we lived right alongside the Shabakunk Creek. I did skate on that creek when it froze over, but that’s it. Fishing was too much waiting around and if you caught one, they were slimy and smelled bad. I would rather have been playing video games.

 

Lambertville: Fishing in the Delaware River, while it’s snowing. Winter 2015 (Steve Chernoski)

But now that I live in Lambertville, a city that has a river, a canal, as well as an annual festivaldedicated to a very slimy fish, I wish I paid more attention to that summer in Ohio. Today, I run on the Lambertville towpath almost daily, weather permitting, and I often jog past many fishers, no matter the season. Over the years, I’ve theorized that the more fishers I see, the better my area is doing. To me, they represent an uncommon economic indicator; they’re my barometers of a healthy place, whether environmentally or economically.

Delaware Twp: Near the North End of Lambertville. Sat. April 4, 2015 (Steve Chernoski)

This thought process had me mark my calendar for April 4th, the first day of trout season in New Jersey, where I usually see the most fishers along the Delaware and Raritan Canal, excited to catch rainbow trout stocked from thePequest hatchery. At 8am on a mild, but windy Saturday morning, I counted about 30 trout fishers along a stretch of northern Lambertville near the Route 202 Toll Bridge. I then curiously drove south along Route 29, through West Amwell, Hopewell, and Ewing, and saw anglers converging at various accessible hotspots along the canal (Route is mapped HERE).

Trenton: Looking across at the towpath, with fenced-off access in the foreground. Sat. April 4, 2015 (Steve Chernoski)

But in the city of Trenton, there were no fishers. It’s not like the capital city was dead: there were two Easter Egg Hunts, one in Cadawalder Park and another sponsored by the Old Mill Hill Society at Mill Hill Park. But to see none? I honestly expected a lower turnout, but not zero. At the suggestion of a friend, I also followed the canal east to the Lawrence/ Hamilton border and again, saw plenty of anglers.

As I drove back, I noted some areas of the canal in Trenton were hard to access. The part near Cadawalder Park was mostly fenced-off, likely due to the steep banks. That continuing south-westbound stretch of the canal meanders past many private houses. But even in centralized and accessible,North 25 Park, there were no fishermen.

I’m not an economist, environmentalist, or city planner (and definitely not a fisherman). But I feel that if I saw more fishers along the banks of the D&R Canal, the Assunpink Creek or even the Delaware River in Trenton, it would be a tangible sign of a healthier city. Perhaps, it’s just a symbolic sign, but I feel it’s a meaningful one.

Sean Sullivan of nj.com, wrote on his personal blog about the Hackensack River and why he chooses to utilize those waters. In the piece, he quotes Bill Sheehan, the captain of Hackensack Riverkeeper:

When the community is divorced from its waterway, the bad guys always win. When people are engaged on their waterway — when they’re using it for recreation, when they’re using it for their personal fulfillment, they will help you to keep the bad guys at arm’s length.

My Saturday drive. Spots with trout icons represent where I saw fishers. Red markers are areas that I walked, but saw none. Map can be viewed HERE.

In other words, people who are engaged with their land and waters are also active citizens and community assets. Nurturing this populace doesn’t happen overnight, especially when there are challenges with accessibility. For instance, Route 29 effectively cuts most Trentonians off from the Delaware River and much of the canal there isn’t as accessible as say, Lambertville. And while fishing is a fairly economical hobby, applying for a license can be a chore, especially if you don’t have regular internet access. Finally, although the local waters are fairly healthy, there’s notable pollutants.

Concerned citizens can economically influence their neighborhoods in small, but significant ways. Camden and Newark have supper clubs. That would be a good idea for Trenton, sure, but I also think it’s time for a Trenton fishing club. It would be pretty low-maintenance — just a bunch of people hanging alongside the canal, creek or river and enjoying mother nature together. That connection to the land and waters could translate into more engaged civic discussion. All it takes is a handful of determined people, sharing stories, ideas, as well as some tackle and bait.

Sign along the towpath in Lambertville (Steve Chernoski)

Fishing is free for anyone in New Jersey under 16 and over 70. It is discounted for residents ages 65–69. For everyone else in-state, the license costs $22.50and an extra $10.50 for a “Trout Stamp,” brining the total to $33.00. If you add in the cost of a fishing pole (let’s say $30), plus bait and tackle ($10 — $20), that’s a hobby which could be started for under $100.