Big Damn Fish

Blog Image 317527 - Rubin
A Schuylkill Striper

I know you come here for spirited discourse, but how about a picture of a big damn fish?


Lance Butler an aquatic biologist with the Philadelphia Water Department, sent it to me after I was asking after the health of the Schuylkill River.

"We’ve had this major resurgence," he said. "It's loaded with different species. I can give you 45 different species of fishes we’ve surveyed from the Flat Rock Dam to the confluence of the Delaware."

So he e-mailed a shot of a big ol' striped bass they netted from the tidal waters just below the Fairmount Dam. Note the Waterworks in the background. That's a Center City fish. It weighed about 30 pounds.

The reason I was asking? A Comcast show called "City Limits" airs Friday on the Versus network in which championship angler Mike Iaconelli fishes the Schuylkill. He's done the the East River, the Potomac, The Chicago River. Here, he's got six hours to catch and release three large-mouth and two small-mouth bass as the camera rolls and the clock ticks.

If you are a YouTube fan or watch fishing on cable TV you might recognize the Philly-born Iaconelli, who moved to Runnemede, N.J., when he was five and has fished the Schuylkill for a quarter century. The videos have titles like "Never Give Up!" and "Never Leave the Boat!" He is an excitable boy. Think the Jim Cramer of anglers.

One such video begins with him screaming "Big one! Big One! Oh my God! This is a giant!" as he reels in a scrappy bass, a species he calls "a little ball of muscle." That particular catch won him the 2003 Bassmaster Classic on the Delta. He's a big fish himself.

In person he is much more low key. I met him along the Waterworks Tuesday afternoon as the sun was low over the expressway and a dozen or so young men in hoodies fished for catfish. Iaconelli was touting the virtues of urban fishing - how the remnants of the river's industrial past creates challenging nooks and crannies in which fish gather to feed or hide from predators like Iaconelli (pronounced Ike-o-nelli).

The challenge, he says, is picking among the 20 or casts he knows -- or make up new ones on the spot to sneak his bait next to the sewer outflows and  bridge pilings and barge ties and entice a hungry fish.

Below us the noise from the young fishermen rises. Someone has a hooked a channel catfish, a two or three pounder. "These are city kids who love to fish, Iaconelli enthuses. "It's what I'm talking about. Look at his face. He's using a spinner rod. I went out on this river with a $50,000 speed boat that does 70 miles per hour. Here you've got kids with equipment that doesn't cost $50.

"Look at his tackle box. It's tagged with graffiti! That's urban fishing right there!"

So back to the big damed bass. A beautiful fish, but could you eat it?

Not so much, says Mike Kaufmann of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The state has issued a health advisory for stripers pulled from the tidal portions of the Schuylkill River. The commission recommends that no one eat more than eight ounces of the fish. A month.

Which means that baby could safely feed a few dozen of your closest friends.