Skyline fishing

NEW YORK — The rotten, abandoned posts that used to hold up Pier 59 on the East River in Manhattan have given way to new floating docks, and on Friday, more than 50 fishing boats lining up for the 11th annual Fisherman's Conservation Association's Manhattan Cup.

Even FCA chairman and tournament director Frank Crescitelli admitted that there wasn't much about New York City that said fishing. It's an island, so there's obviously plenty of water, but it functions more as a funnel for traffic than a fishing paradise.

"The words fishing tournament and Manhattan, as far as we know, were never used before in the same sentence before we started this event 11 years ago," Crescitelli said. "There's no more stark contrast in the world than live animals swimming in the East River. It's known more for being polluted, or dead bodies, or tires and cars."

In this charity event, which benefits the FCA and autism research through the Jacob's Team Foundation, dead bodies were not on the score sheet. Captains and teams were fishing for striped bass, bluefish and sea trout. But above all, they were looking for biggest bass — that's how they decide who to give the money to.

With that in mind, Capt. Joe Blanda was on the water at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning looking for Atlantic Menhaden, the baitfish he planned on winning the tournament with. The only problem is the baitfish, which used to be common around NYC, is no longer so common.

"Most of these boats today came out with 20 to 30 dead bunker to cut up as chunk bait," Blanda said. "I have 100 live ones swimming in my livewell, which means we constantly had live bait. Even the guys who went out and caught them this morning, they're still fishing with dead bait and it just can't compare."

He took his team, led and paid for by Steve Porricolo — a bond trader in New York — to a spot near the middle of Raritan Bay where an old tugboat had sunk and dropped anchor. As is usually the case in charity tournaments, not all the participants were seasoned anglers, so Blanda casted a piece of menhaden out to demonstrate what they should do if they were to get a bite. And he got a bite.

"I knew when I got a bite on the demonstration cast that it was on," Blanda said.

What followed was a flurry of bass and bluefish that often had all four participants hooked up, ducking and weaving their way throughout each other, trying not to cross lines.

What Blanda thought might be winning stripers were getting beat one after another. The first was 33 inches long with a girth of 16-1/2 inches. That was beaten by a 40-incher, then a 42-incher, but Porricolo's bass caught around 11 a.m. — two hours into the day — put them all to shame.

It started with a shout of, "Oh man. It's a nice one!" and ended with high fives and beers. The striper measured 44 inches long and 24-1/2 inches around. They estimated the weight at 35 pounds, but it locked the scale at 30.5 pounds. (Each team was allowed to keep their largest striped bass in a specialized livewell built specifically for the animal to be weighed in and released at the dock.)

It was its girth — plugged into a couple formulas to calculate the winner — that ultimately made Porricolo and Blanda the 2009 FCA Manhatten cup champions. When asked about his winning bass, Porricolo summed up the entire event in a few words.

"Anything to get out of work," he said. "And it's for a good cause."