Is this reel life? One Brooklyn dude’s journey to become a full-time fishmonger

He caught you a delicious bass.

He caught you a delicious bass.

‘Sheepshead Bay Pier, 6:30am. Sunscreen in one hand and coffee in the other. I’m sleepy, sweaty and armed with no fishing experience, if you don’t count accidentally dropping a fishing pole into a lake when I was eight. Walking down the pier towards me is my unofficial First Mate, local fisherman and bartender Lucas Finelli, who is here to convince me that I, Hope “Mosquito Magnet Sunburnt Prone Can’t Swim To Save My Life” Morawa, can successfully fish in Brooklyn.

I first met Finelli when he started bartending at Crown Heights’ popular Cajun spot Catfish, where I serve brunch with a winning smile on my face. Within a week of Finelli’s arrival, Catfish began to feature fresh-caught specials ranging from ceviche to pan-seared bronzino with capers. I soon found myself opting out of the free family meals after my shift and paying full price for the fish instead.

To my surprise, I later discovered that it was Finelli who was donating his fresh-caught fish to the restaurant so the chef could prepare them. The concept of local fishing in Brooklyn had never once crossed my mind, but after hearing a few of Finelli’s stories of being out on the water near BK, I learned just how accessible — and ambitious — the fisherman’s life in Brooklyn could be. 

A NY/NJ licensed fisherman, 28 year-old Finelli is a self described “NY transplant” from Blairstown, NJ who has spent the past eight years fishing in waters ranging from Jamaica, Queens to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, whether it be on the surf or in his ocean kayak. Even if he’s scheduled to work at Catfish, Finelli has no problem hopping on a party charter boat before or after a shift, leaving within hours notice to get out on the water.

Over shift drinks, Finelli would tell me stories of how he learned to fish with his father and uncle when he was a kid, instilling in him a sense that the ocean was his “safe place.” He shared photos of big catches and sunsets while out on his sea kayak, and talked of taking regulars from the restaurant out fishing and drinking with him.

Finelli and his partner Victoria Melesio first began hosting pop-up cookouts through friends at local businesses including Myrtle Diner, Baron’s and Project Parlor. The couple began donating their surplus supply of fish once their own freezers were full, without collecting any profit from the businesses’ respective sales. Over time, the pop-ups began to grow more popular, making for higher demands on Finelli and his fishing crew. Finelli also volunteers with the junior division of the Brooklyn Fishing Club, mentoring and teaching the kids.

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The OG fishing crew behind Finelli's popups and Hookit2Cookit

The OG fishing crew behind Finelli’s popups and Hookit2Cookit.

After the surge of manpower expended on planning, fishing and cooking for these popups, the gang was more than ready for a small stay-cation of less-pressured projects. Then one day while watching TV (n.b. I miss having cable) the couple had an entirely new, and yet still fish-related, idea.

“We were watching a fishing show about three years ago, and my lady went ‘Hey, why don’t you do this?’ And I was like, ‘You know what, why don’t I do this?’ It started as a joke at first, and then I started thinking more and more about it and started investigating. My main goal in life is to become a fishmonger, so I thought this might be a way to do that. One thing led to another and I started filming. It started off as a blank project.”

The “Hookit2Cookit” web series follows the everyday lives of Finelli, his fishing buddy Rodney Davis, and their crew on and off the water. The goal of the series is to show city folks just how easy it is to fish. They’ve collected hours of footage over the past couple years with the help of GoPros and smartphones. Their website is currently under construction, but Finelli said they’re aiming to have a trailer online by Halloween.

So now, back to Grump Hope at Sheepshead Bay Pier.

After breakfast sandwiches, Finelli and I headed aboard the Sea Queen VII, a charter boat Finelli frequents most when he’s not riding the Ocean’s Eagle. For $38, I was welcome aboard by Captain Bobby, was given a fishing rod from the stash they rent out on the charter, and bestowed a temporary fishing license for the day. With buckets of shad placed everywhere free of charge for bait, we set out at 7am for our half day trip in the hopes of catching fluke!

Within the first hour, I had already begun racking up skill points; Finelli taught me how to drop my weighted lure into the water, and how to guide the speed of my spinning reel using my thumb while avoiding getting it caught with other lines, which of course I still somehow managed to hook my hook onto another woman’s line three people down from me. I didn’t end up with any keepers, but I did manage to catch some garbage (PSA: don’t litter), as well as surpass my slimy “no touching” policy and began putting on my own bait.

Thanks to Darwinism, I’ve never been one to fall victim to motion sickness, and after being out on the water for five hours, the ease and peace of mind was worth its weight in Pogs. It’s safe to say I now understand why Finelli considers the water to be his “safe place.”

So, is fishing easy for the common Brooklynite? This girl says yes, and that she plans try her hand at surf fishing next once she invests in her own fishing gear! It’s good fun for all ages, and is as simple as jumping on a boat last minute to learn from the pros. Check out the Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s New York website for state regulations, licensing requirements and laws when it comes to freshwater/saltwater fishing.

Btw, it’ll also make you feel like a badass. I got to see a red squid the length of my foot up close, and it was easily one of the coolest things I’ve seen since that one time I was five feet away from Oprah. I christened the squid: Fernando.

Follow Hookit2Cookit on Instagram: @hookit2cookit

And ride along with Hope: @havinghope14