These types of stories are usually half-cocked and full of half-truths. But at the 16th annual Secaucus Fishing Derby, held on May 13 at the town Duck Pond near Metro Way, fibs fell short in the face of family fun. And a good ruler.
Such a trustworthy measuring device documented Robert Baer and Andrew Bourbon's 19-inch channel catfish catch. The answer to the mystery of their success: meat. "We use chicken livers," said Baer, 37. "It's an old fisherman secret for catfish."
The fishing derby is definitely not a secret in Secaucus. Approximately 80 children, parents, family members and friends stood around a fishing hole that is somehow symbolic of Secaucus. Surrounded by warehouses and concrete, the pond is a shining chip of the jewel of the Meadowlands, providing a bit of both natural beauty and an opportunity for recreation where neither is expected.
Good stock, but snacks?
According to Nick Ricciardi, 65, overall environmental expectations about the area have risen in recent years. "The Hackensack River is cleaning up," he said. "Fifteen years ago, there were no fish in there. Now there are striped bass, carp and eels. You can fish the river up all the way until in becomes freshwater in Oradell."
There are also a lot of fish in the freshwater Duck Pond thanks to John Voli, Secaucus Recreation Director. "We stock the pond the Wednesday right before the fishing derby every year with about 600 fish from the Musconetcong fish hatchery out in western New Jersey," he said. About 300 bass and 300 catfish are inserted into the spring-fed pond, which join the sunfish and eels already present.
Local waters may be cleaner and the fish may be fresh, but there are limits.
"I wouldn't eat anything out of this pond or the Hacky," Voli said. "By law, you're not allowed to anyway."
However, laws are made to be broken.
"I disagree with people's opinion about that," Baer said, who helped with the day's prize-winning catfish catch. "I don't make a steady diet of them, but maybe once a year I eat the fish from around here."
But his fishing partner Bourbon, 8, refused to take the bait. "I hate eating fish," he said. "It tastes weird."
Thu Nguyen, 55, is from Seattle, Washington. Originally from Vietnam, he now fishes regularly at Lake Washington and the Puget Sound. "I didn't have much of a chance to fish when I was younger during the war," Nguyen said. "But I enjoy fishing since I've been over here." Nguyen is visiting his brother-in-law Minh Tran, 40, and his nephew Bryan Tran, 5, who live in Secaucus. The best part about fishing for Nguyen revolves around his family. "Just to see the thrill of catching a fish from the view of a kid's eyes is enough," he said.
Nguyen's nephew Bryan liked what he saw during the fishing derby.
"I like to catch the fishies," he said. "Then I eat them. But the one I caught today, I threw it back in. I love playing outdoors, and I want to catch three more fish today."
The Devany family recently moved to Secaucus from the Bronx. While his wife Denise, 36, and sons Brian, 4, and Thomas, 6, tried their luck, Thomas Devany, 41, talked about his lack of luck. "We're obviously just trying to feed the fish," Devany said. But he wasn't really complaining.
"We just love fishing," he said. "It's a great time for the family to get together and meet new people. For me, it's a great way to decompress. Fishing is one of the only things that I have patience for. Because once you put the rod in the water, you never know what you're going to get."
Lifetime Secaucus resident Maurice Hundevadt, 47, had a more historical perspective about the fishing derby. "I remember when we used to ice skate on this pond before the factories came," he said. "We always had a good time down here."
For his son Nicholas Marciano, 9, fishing fun does not have a quantitative quality.
"Fishing takes a lot of patience," he said. "It may matter to some people if they catch a fish, but not to me. I just think we're here for the fun of it."