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Fishing Q&A: Ben Sargent of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association

Before you head out to land that trophy fish, read our FAQs about fishing in New York.

Photograph: Courtesy Cooking Channel
Ben Sargent with a small striped bass off the coast of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

We spoke with Ben Sargent (brooklynchowdersurfer.com), cofounder of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association, host of the Cooking Channel’s Hook, Line & Dinner and author of the forthcoming book The Catch (out July 30), about fishing in the city.

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Are there a lot of fish in the New York area?
Yes, and I would say [New York has] probably some of the most underrated fishing in the United States. It shocks me every day the amount of fish that you can catch. You’re starting to see the efforts that they made back in the ’70s [such as the Clean Water Act] finally working.

Can beginners expect to catch anything on the water?
I would say that you’re very likely. To me it’s just amazing that you can cast from the shore three blocks from your house and land the same sized striped bass or bluefish as you would out in Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard or one of these places you think of “fishy fishy.”

What sort of fish can people catch in the city?
If you’re fishing with bait, you could catch anything from a flounder to a porgy to a sea robin to a striped bass to a bluefish. If you’re fishing with [lures], then you’d probably only catch a bluefish, a striped bass or maybe, later in summer, the bonito [small tuna] run.

Is it a warm-weather activity or can it be done year-round?
As year-round as you would like. One season will close and another season will open, so all that has to happen is your fishing has to change up a bit. When the migrating fish go south, like the bluefish and the striped bass, that’s when these other guys [like blackfish, fluke and flounder] become more targeted.

What equipment do people need if they’re starting out?
The best thing is to go out and buy a pretty low-end rod. You can spend $40 on a rod and reel and have something that can catch a 29-inch striped bass. And then you’re going to need some hooks, some sinkers or weights, and some leaders [to connect the line and the hook]. If you don’t want to get into the tying of [the leader, hook and weight], go to the tackle shop, tell them you’re new at this and they’ll tie it for you. And then there’s your bait: Some guys come out with squid but clams and bunker are the two most popular. Bunker is a small fish that both the bluefish and the striped bass seem to love.

Is it safe for people to eat the fish that they catch?
I don’t want to gross people out but I think what they don’t understand is, they’re eating the same damn fish at a restaurant in midtown. That same fish that someone catches on a commercial boat in Montauk and charges $14 a pound for [has just been] up the Hudson or in the East River cruising under trash bags and power plants. It’s part of their migratory path. You probably want to stay away from the porgy [also called bream] and eel and all the resident fish that don’t leave. But there’s a darn good chance that a bluefish or a striped bass has either been in Chesapeake [Bay] or the East River or the Hudson.

What’s the best fish to eat that people can catch around NYC?
Most New Yorkers would probably say striped bass, because it’s a nice, white, fleshy fish that flakes really beautifully when you cook it. But in my book, a smaller-size bluefish is just as good, if not better. It’s for people who love fish, because it’s really oily and fishy in a good way. If you have it right out of the water, it’s insanely good.