Something’s fishy: Anglers reel ’em in as fish derby comes to a close • Brooklyn Paper

Something’s fishy: Anglers reel ’em in as fish derby comes to a close

There’s only one week left in the inaugural Brooklyn Fishing Derby, and anglers, like Maria Haddad, are still trying to land the big one.
The Brooklyn Paper / Stephen Brown

For a moment, Mike Bruno thought he had hooked a contender in the final week of the inaugural Brooklyn Fishing Derby.

Unfortunately, it was only spark plugs.

As the 40 participants in the first Brooklyn-only fishing tournament dig in for their last few days and nights on the shores of the East River, they do not just have to deal with the cold weather.

In other words, that’s not a crab at the end of your line; it’s garbage.

On Sunday, five fishermen in the tournament gathered at the end of N. Eighth Street in Williamsburg and rode out their Halloween hangovers in East River State Park, many still in the remnants of the previous night’s costume.

Led by Ben Sargent, a laid-back surfer built like a football player, the motley crew tried its luck, regularly getting lines stuck on the rubble littering the river. One of the group’s most common catches? “Bag fish,” the nickname for the black and white trash bags that they regularly reel in.

But the East River holds plenty of surprises, too.

“A few days ago a guy pulled out a car bumper,” Sargent said.

The tournament — which inexplicably allows catches from Long Island City — was started by Sargent, 32, who has earned notoriety for his formidable seafood chowder that has been tasted by the likes of Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay.

Sargent and a fellow surfer, James Potter, 32, both enjoyed the company of other ocean-lovers so much that they came up with the fishing tournament, which wouldn’t require the long trip out to the Rockaways.

“We found that we all just kind of speak the same language,” Potter, an education consultant, said while wearing a bright green wig.

Still, the mellow anglers couldn’t hide their disappointment that one fisherman has all but secured victory in the striped bass category — and, like any good fisherman, he’s letting everyone know it.

John Ruffino caught a 40-pound, 40-inch beauty — about the length of a golf club — on a pier in Long Island City. But, also like any good fisherman, Ruffino is prone to exaggeration.

Sargent joked that the fish has fluctuated from 39 inches to 41 inches depending on Ruffino’s level of excitement — though everyone begrudgingly acknowledges that Ruffino did struggle for 20 minutes before landing this striper.

That’s feat can’t be beat.

“I would be feeling the pressure if that guy hadn’t caught a 40-incher,” said Michael Louie, 32.

So far, Louie had reeled in a couple striped bass roughly half the size of Ruffino’s already-legendary catch. So far, his biggest thrill was that brief moment when he thought he’d hooked the Big One — only to realize that all he’d caught was a big piece of wood.

“That was an adventure,” Louie said, whose enthusiasm for fishing has resulted in some collateral damage: “I’ve been blowing off my girlfriend to go fishing — I’ve kind of been focusing on fishing more than on her,” he said.

There’s good reason why he’s concentrating on fish right now. Though no one will beat Ruffino’s striper, bluefish and other categories are wide open. Potter, for his part, said he would be dedicating his energy for the next week to landing a respectable fish.

“I have only one crab on my scorecard, so I’m definitely burning the midnight oil,” Potter said. “But it was an enormous crab — could have taken my leg off!”

Brooklyn Fishing Derby awards show, Sunday, Nov. 8 at Brooklyn Ale House [103 Berry St. in Williamsburg, (718) 302-9811]. Visit www.brooklynchowdersurfer.com for info.

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