Stand Up, Cast Off, Reel InBy COREY KILGANNON
Relaxing with a rod and a beer is not the way someone named Pierre A. Champion goes about landing a prize catch.
“This is not wait-and-see fishing — this is run and gun,” he said on Thursday, referring to his style of angling: standing on a thick surfboard and paddling it like a gondolier, with his rods at the ready. It is the most challenging method he can find to chase schools of fish.
“I’ve never seen anyone else in New York doing it,” said Mr. Champion, 31, who suits up like a frogman and plies New York City waterways while many New Yorkers are hitting the snooze button or ordering dessert.
Using a stand-up paddleboard enables him to quietly position himself near a school of fish or next to a promising spot. Then he grabs his rod from the deck of the board and begins casting.
The board lets him reach the shallows, ply the jetties, and nose around the piers and rocks where fish linger.
One of his favorite spots is a craggy island inhabited by sea gulls between City Island and Hart Island in the Bronx. He paddled quietly up to it Thursday morning as the sun rose on Long Island Sound, and he pulled out a plastic case of his own hand-tied lures. He attached one to the line of his fly rod and began whipping it over the water’s glassy surface.
It was here, four days earlier, also at dead-high tide, that Mr. Champion landed an Atlantic salmon, a rare catch for this area.
Mr. Champion usually releases his catch, but the hook had mortally wounded the salmon. So he hauled it onto his kayak — which he was using that day because of rough water — and later took it to a City Island tackle shop, where the employees told him they could not remember one being caught on a rod and reel in these parts.
Mr. Champion sent snapshots to New York State environmental officials, who told him the endangered fish might have come from the Connecticut River and failed to head out to the ocean. The state officials came to Mr. Champion’s apartment in Harlem to collect samples of the fish from his freezer for further study.
“They told me they never heard of someone catching this kind of salmon on a lure here,” said Mr. Champion, who is not resting on his laurels.
“My goal now is to catch a bluefin,” he said, referring to a trophy tuna that would also have no business wandering around the coast of the Bronx.
“This is who I am — I’m always going to be the seeker — even in business, it’s the same,” said Mr. Champion, who works in Midtown for a private equity firm buying distressed companies. “In both pursuits, I’m the guy who’s going to seek the deal and never give up, no matter how many hurdles.”
He began his day on Thursday at 5 a.m. by stepping out of his apartment in the darkness, strapping his paddleboard to his sport utility vehicle and driving about 15 minutes to City Island. He parked and pulled on his wet suit, as well as a vest and waist pouches for his fishing tackle. He tucked two fishing rods — a fly rod and a spinning reel — under an elastic strap on the board and paddled out from a small beach toward the sunrise.
Mr. Champion said he grew up in Ardeche, in the south of France, and would fly-fish the rivers for trout with his father. He became an avid kayaker too, and used his kayak to fish.
Shortly after moving from France to New York City at age 25, he bought a stand-up paddleboard and began fishing from it.
On the windless Sound on Thursday morning, one could sense the city coming to life, with traffic whooshing on the parkways and building on the Throgs Neck Bridge. The BX-29 city bus rumbled over the bridge as Mr. Champion fished underneath.
At times, Mr. Champion held his rod down with his foot, letting the line trail in the water while he paddled. The goal, he said, was to get into rod-bending fights with big fish, like the 44-inch bass that recently pulled him around out by Execution Rocks lighthouse, in the Sound.
“It’s a stand-up sleigh ride,” he said.
After several hours of no luck, just before he was about to head in to go to work, he hooked something. It was no salmon, but rather a 2-foot long striper. Mr. Champion carefully removed the hook and let the fish slip back into the Bronx waters. Then he paddled back to shore.