Mike Wasserman of the Captain Lou Fleet (est. 1948) has worked these Long Island waters since he was 12 years old. He’s held every job from the bottom on the dock to the top on the bridge. Now, at 38, he stands alone—offering a unique and memorable daily experience—where a competitive recreational fishing business once thrived. The other boats have been beaten down by high fuel prices, state regulations, gossip on the internet and the lure of all the other ways Americans spend their entertainment dollars. And yet, Wasserman’s Starstream VIII is pristine, the anglers lined up on the rail to try their luck, the waters calm and the sun overhead. Wasserman eases the big boat down Freeport’s Woodcleft Canal and it’s easy to understand why Omar Khayyám wrote that God does not deduct the time spent fishing.
Long Island Pulse: You’re the last open boat on the Nautical Mile that sails every day, open to the public, just walk up and walk on. What happened to the other fifteen guys?
Mike Wasserman: The state and federal regulations got tougher, the costs went way up. The economy went down. It was a lot of things. People got gun-shy. Fishing stocks went down. The internet made things immediate. They post from the boat. Got word of fish off Montauk? Everybody can drive out there, but then no one goes to Captree or here that day. Got mackerel off Freeport? Everybody is here, nobody there. It’s good and it’s bad, I guess.
LIP: Did commercial fishing boats thin the fishing stocks?
Wasserman: That’s what the DEC would like you to believe. I think the rules they have for recreational fishing are wasteful and counterproductive. We only catch what we’re allowed to fish for. We’re still rebuilding stocks from the 1970s and 1980s. Twenty years ago a thousand people a day came down here to fish. Now some days it’s only twenty and we’re overfishing? Come on. I file reports with so many agencies, every day I go out I finish with two hours of paperwork.
LIP: Prices have gone up to keep pace?
Wasserman: They had to. Fuel prices tripled. Taxes are sky-high on a big slip.
Fishing is not about catching dinner anymore. It’s also about entertainment. We have pool fish and first fish contests, sure, and free parking, and we have arrangements with restaurants that will cook your catch. But we’ll also go out for air shows and fireworks, even burials at sea. Woodcleft Avenue used to be the East Coast capital of fishing. Now with all the dock space taken by nightclubs and restaurants, it’s become the East Coast capital of partying. Plus, we’re one of the few ports without a town- or state-owned dock, and that hurts. We do everything ourselves.
LIP: How do you find fish?
Wasserman: Experience. Work with other captains, commercial, charter as well as regular anglers. We rely on firsthand reports and won’t stay too long in one spot if we’re not catching fish. Water temperature. You know a day after it rains to stay well away from the storm drains. Pesticides in the spring rains chase away the fish. We look for the deeper holes. We follow the clam boats, looking for striped bass. This business was built on bay fishing, but now we go everywhere, even a hundred miles out to chase tuna. We’ll go out and stay overnight on some trips.
LIP: Who goes fishing today?
Wasserman: We see a lot of new people and our regulars, the guys who buy a season pass and come down almost every day. I was a young kid here and they watched me grow up. Now I’m watching them grow older. But it’s not so much dad taking his young son fishing, that old ritual, anymore. I don’t know what happened to that.