Featured in Field & Stream Magazine – March 2017
Our boat was practically in the barge’s shadow, or at least it would have been on a clear afternoon. But that was exactly where Captain Joe Shastay wanted us. “The fish are under the barge,” he told me, “and nowhere else.” Two of his fishermen—thirtysomething business guys—flipped their jigs toward the ship’s base. A third angler casted overhand and snagged the top of the barge, as the fourth sat on a cooler, apparently more interested in watching the nearby Statue of Liberty than in fishing.
Shastay instructed the snagged angler to break off the lure and then edged us past a corner of the barge. “Get ready,” he told one of the guys whose lure was still in the water. “You’re gonna get hit here.” The guy must not have believed Shastay, because he looked startled when his line suddenly tightened and his rod flexed from the force of the strike.
In just two minutes, Shastay had gotten the fisherman something I had been after for more than a month—a decent striper hit. I had spent the summer interning in New York City, and every weekend I borrowed fishing rods from a coworker and tried to land a striper. But after seven trips to five different spots, I’d come up zero. I couldn’t imagine how a city composed of little coastal islands could not have good fishing, but I had begun to wonder whether hooking stripers in New York waters was as impossible as spotting deer in Central Park. Then I heard about Joe Shastay, the captain of New York Harbor Fishing, with more than 30 years of guiding on the Hudson and East Rivers—and a purported 482 consecutive trips without getting skunked—to his credit. I decided to put his streak to the test.
The angler missed that first strike, so, after replacing the lost lure with an identical white curly tail jig, Shastay prepared for a second run past the barge. He doesn’t concern himself with presentation in the city’s murky waters; he gets his clients on fish with his hard-earned knowledge of striper hotspots—and by rigging lines, baiting hooks, and changing spots at breakneck speeds. “It’s just a matter of how quick you can do it,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
In college, Shastay’s love of fishing prompted him to abandon chiropractic school and instead earn a biology degree, focusing all his independent research on striped bass. “You can read about stripers till you go nuts,” he told me. After graduating, he took a job tagging stripers with a team of scientists, until he finally made the leap to start his guide service. “I was like, ‘There’s a lot of fish; there are 8 million people. This should work, right?’”
As Shastay motored his 23-foot boat past the barge’s corner a second time, the fisherman redeemed himself by setting the hook yet again.
“I think you’re stuck,” another angler said.