To say that my son loves to fish is an under(sea)statement. Eric’s passion began the summer he turned 9, after a fishing trip to Captree State Park. Those early days of tangled lines reeled in an ocean’s worth of seaweed instead of sea life amid tears of frustration (mostly mine). Ten years later, he’s grown into quite the accomplished angler.
Old enough now to drive himself the 40 minutes to Babylon’s Captree or to any number of piers and beaches on the North and South shores to surf cast, Eric discovered one spot years ago that endures. At the beach end of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay, a low stone wall serves as the gathering place for a community of diverse fishing enthusiasts. The camaraderie is palpable, the vibe welcoming. Since his first cast into Oyster Bay in 2011, Eric was embraced and encouraged by these anglers representing Long Islanders of varying demographics, yet all identical in their love of fishing our island’s waters. Over the past decade, my son has become part of "The Wall."
Though my fondness for fishing is nowhere near my son’s devotion to the sport, accompanying him to Oyster Bay throughout his younger years always strengthened my awareness of life’s simple gifts, from a feeling of joy seeing his little face beam while he held up his catch, to the peaceful vista of boats rocked gently by the currents. The water is forever beautiful, whether glinting in the high noon sun or aflame during sunset. The real beauty of the spot for me? The warm connections extended from the individuals who made up this "reel" community.
Over the years, this little fishing village has included local teens, Latinos who showed up after work in search of porgies and, over many summers, a Greek grandmother and her grandson from Cold Spring Harbor. Always impeccable in her colorful sundresses and neatly pulled-back hair, the woman was a striking contrast in this setting. Though appearing better suited for a dinner cruise, her unflinching attitude, whether slicing bait or expertly removing fishhooks, immediately endeared her to me. The undisputed "captain" of The Wall, a man in his 70s, goes by "Joe Fish." His near daily presence seemed to always reassure that the fluke will be back yet again next season. Fishing from this spot since his youth, Joe has admitted he gets more satisfaction these days from instructing the newbies and seeing the delight on kids’ faces when they feel a tug on their lines.
With the passing years, different anglers have replaced some of the familiar ones, reminding us of the inevitability of change. I wondered how the changes brought by the pandemic would affect The Wall this summer. Would anyone be there? Happily, yes. Though it’s strange seeing those fishing masked and socially distanced, the excitement still ripples along The Wall whenever someone yells, "Fish on!" Passing cyclists still screech to a halt, craning their heads toward the flurry of sudden activity. Joe is still holding forth. Fish tales and bait still shared. And my son and I continue returning to this place that’s become an integral piece of our lives on Long Island.
It’s comforting to know certain constants await us year after year. Sea-scented breezes, fellowship, water views, keeper fluke — what more can you ask of a reel-real community?
Reader Michelle Yadoo lives in Glen Head.