Streams of Traffic

Are They Biting?: Testing a rod in Chelsea.Photo: Photograph by Scott Jones

A few times a week, a man stands on West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and fishes. He smokes a Capri Super Slim and usually wears a button-down shirt, suspenders, and khaki pants. For about ten minutes, he casts a line against the stream of eastbound traffic. Then he is gone.

Just such an episode took place one recent breezy afternoon. The fisherman in question, 69-year-old Moe Cohen, was holding an eight-foot, four-piece Redington fly rod with a very fast action. “It’s a hell of a weapon,” Moe said, stepping off the curb.

He looked down 23rd Street toward the Hudson, lit a cigarette, and, ignoring a bilious surge of taxis, sent the green fly line toward a Vespa scooter parked 60 feet away. With each cast, the line flew farther. It traveled at head height with a faint snapping sound. Finally, it swooned onto the seat of the scooter.

“It’s not hazardous,” Moe said, reeling in the line, “because there’s no hook on the end of it.”Moe, who has fly-fished for 53 years, doesn’t fish on the street just for pleasure; he works at Capitol Fishing Tackle, purveyor of all kinds of fishing stuff to all kinds of people (Bette Midler once bought a net there). And when a customer is interested in buying a fly rod, Moe or a colleague may suggest a street demo.

On this occasion, a woman named Brenda was looking for a rod for her husband. She herself did not fish. “Sometimes women catch on faster, because they have more dexterity, more feel,” Moe noted as he prepared to cast the line again. “And women can tie beautiful flies.”

“It’s one of the sexiest movements,” Brenda said, making a motion with her fist. “Not that way it isn’t,” Moe politely corrected her. “You don’t use your wrist that much for fly-fishing.”

He started casting again, this time aiming for a limo in the loading zone of the Chelsea Hotel. The line soared over a pile of trash bags and softly came to rest on the grille of the limo. “It’s poetry,” Brenda sighed. Buses and trucks roared past, then a man walked by carrying a huge crucifix and a sign accusing the police of trying to murder him. “If I had the time, I’d go upstate for a weekend to the Beaverkill River,” Moe said. “It has no similarity with West 23rd Street.”

Streams of Traffic