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Origins of the HRFA by Pete Barrett

Founder and first president of the HRFA

 

THE EARLY YEARS OF THE HRFA

Pete Barrett

Barrett speaks 5-2004 web.JPG (44270 bytes) After visiting with the HRFA members back in May, 2004 I became more curious about the history of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, and especially its beginnings. Time fades the memory of many of the events of 35 years ago, but the HRFA’s beginnings are an intriguing story, and I hope the following is of interest to today’s members.

The original HRFA was a casual, but close-knit group from New York, based at Croton-on-Hudson, a short cast away from Croton Bay. Among the founders was Bob Boyle, senior editor at that time of Sports Illustrated, Art Glowka an airline pilot and outdoor writer from Connecticut, Dom Perrone studying to be an attorney, and Ace Lent a commercial sturgeon fisherman and owner of Ace’s Place, a tackle shop in Verplank, NY. There were many other names I do not  recall. This New York group was the original Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, which probably formed in the early to mid 1960s. They were all volunteers, and they all loved the river.

Dom Perrone’s standard reply for river polluters was, “Sue the bastards!” The HRFA came into national attention by using the 1892 Pollution Act to file suit against polluters that refused to clean up their environmental problems. The 1892 act was unique in that it allowed the plaintiffs to retain the fines awarded at the outcome of successful cases. These sums could be quite substantial and caused quite an uproar in the conservation community. The HRFA successfully sued and won against Penn Central, and others, and may have been awarded some monies from which it built a war chest to finance the continuing court battles with polluters. The government soon rescinded, or modified the law and the money stopped flowing, but not the zeal of the HRFA members.

My initial involvement with the HRFA was sometime around 1967 when I was employed at the Garcia Corporation, the one-time fishing tackle giant. I was asked to attend an HRFA meeting to see if Garcia would make a donation to the association. I met Bob Boyle, and was captivated by his numerous stories about the Hudson River.  The New York HRFA was focused primarily on the problems at the Indian Point nuclear power plant operated by Consolidated Edison, and with General Electric.

I continued to visit with Bob Boyle and Dom Perrone, and in 1969 Bob gave me a copy of his book, “The Hudson River, A Natural and Unnatural History.” Based on Bob’s book and my own fishing experiences, I developed a slide presentation that got me into the “rubber chicken” banquet circuit at north Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island fishing clubs, Coast Guard Auxiliaries and Power Squadrons, and at local schools and literally anyone who would listen.

My early river fishing experiences were with a friend, Vince Grippo, in his 12-foot car topper taking good numbers of schoolie stripers in Croton Bay.

I also got the chance to fish with some local fishermen at Oscawanna and Crawbuckie beaches along the railroad tracks that ran on the east side of Haverstraw and Croton bays.  Along the way I met Willie Cafasso, Gene Garafano and others who also fished the Hudson each spring specifically to tag and release school bass for the American Littoral Society.

In 1969 I began a weekly fishing report in The Long Island Fisherman magazine that covered all the Hudson River hot spots from Newburg to the Verrazano Narrows, as a way to get more publicity for the river’s fishing potential.

Pete Barret 1 web.JPG (53936 bytes)A young Pete Barrett. An early HRFA patch on his hooded sweatshirt!

JERSEY CHAPTER GETS STARTED

The New Jersey chapter was formed at the urging of Dom Perrone, and as near as I can recall, the first organizational meeting was held in Rockleigh, NJ, probably in the early fall of 1969. Among those who attended were Vic Alasio, Matt Staropoli, Doc Helden, Don Ecker and others whose names I cannot recall. There were about eight to ten people and we agreed to meet on a monthly basis at Doc Helden’s office in Hackensack.

Other members came into the club in those early years who had a big influence on the growth of the organization, they included George Graf, Paul Gamba, Ed Graser, Jerry Gomber, Walt Arrigoni, Ron Ingold and others whose names I cannot recall, but whose faces I remember. It was quite a band of “heroes” as we worked hard to nail polluters and make the public aware of the value of the river and its fishing opportunities. Many of the early members came form the Alpine and Englewood Marinas in the Palisades Interstate Park system. Others came from local fishing clubs because they wanted to support the work to protect the Hudson River as a striped bass spawning area.  Everyone brought something to the table and interest was very high.

The club soon outgrew Doc Helden's office and moved several times over the following years to such places as the Fairview VFW Post, the Edgewater VFW Post and a restaurant in the center of downtown Bergenfield.

I believe the first banquet the club ever held was in Piermont, NY in 1972 or 1973 at a waterfront restaurant overlooking the Hudson. Entertainment included a few songs from the famous folk singer Pete Seeger, who attended the event. Several years later, Pete Seeger joined us in Edgewater for a special HRFA River Appreciation program open to the public. One of the other singers in his group took the opportunity to sing an anti-war protest song which did not go over very well with the Edgewater veterans, but Pete Seeger smoothed the waters and everyone left happy.

Fund raising was accomplished by selling embroidered “Fight For The Hudson” patches, and it was gratifying to see fishing clubs from all over the country purchase them to support the protection of Hudson River stripers.  Decals were also available. It was not unusual to visit Montauk, Cape Cod or Cape Hatteras and see a beach buggy with an HRFA decal on the window or an angler with a patch sewn on his fishing jacket.

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Teller's Point ( South end of Croton Point ) Was always a pretty spot to fish with the beautiful palisades in the background.   Teller's Point often held bigger stripers.

The HRFA also teamed up with ALCOA aluminum to run a recycling day each year in the spring. We did this for about three years in the Garcia Fishing Tackle Company’s parking lot and people lined up to toss their aluminum soda cans onto the scale and into the recycling truck.  The HRFA received a donation from ALCOA based on the total pounds of aluminum collected.

The Jersey chapter worked on several environmental projects, including the night-time secret “raid” by Vic Alasio when he got polluted water samples to give to the EPA.  Another project was the landfill in Edgewater where a new post office was being built.  A rip-rap bulkhead was to have been built to contain the dirt fill and prevent sediment from washing away with the tides. No rip-rap was built and Fletcher Creamer’s company dumped what seemed like unending truck loads of junk, rocks, dirt and lots of unidentified objects into the river. We had a member who lived in a nearby condo who filmed the dumping on an hourly basis. It was compelling evidence. They all sunk away from sight until we had a meeting in New York with the Army Corps of Engineers, who vowed to uphold the dumping permit. They did their job, and the dumping soon was under control, and eventually the post office was built.

To help spread the word about the Hudson’s fishing potential, several fishing seminars were conducted in Fairview, Palisades Park and Bergenfield. Local members discussed the rigs, baits, lures, tackle and fishing tips that were successful at that time. We appreciated the fact that we knew relatively little about the river’s full fishing potential and we were just as eager to hear from the audience, as they were to hear from us. Many a good tip was exchanged, and many new members came into the club through these seminars.

One of our early organizational projects was placing a display exhibit at the once-famous New York Sportsman’s Show at the Coliseum. Matt Staropoli built a nice countertop display and we arranged for a good-sized aquarium to hold live Hudson River stripers. Unfortunately, these 6-inch fish all died when the show people shut off the electric to all the displays at night. Oops! Still, we signed up new members and had a good time. One of the new members was a printer and he made up membership brochures. In following years, Larry Danziger’s ad agency made up some really nice flyers and brochures and we looked great going to the show. Larry eventually became an HRFA president.  A few years later the show went belly up, like our aquarium stripers, but while it lasted it was a great way to get the attention of local fishermen and to spread the word about the great Hudson River striper fishery.

TAGGING SCHOOL STRIPERS

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Another project that gained some attention for the river’s striper fishing opportunities was the annual Striper Safari. I think it was a weekend event in April or early May and we had anglers from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey come to the river to fish. As best I can recall, it ran for four years – 1971 through 1974 and then it fizzled. Some years the fishing was good, others not so good, but it did make people take notice of the river.

Most the fishing was in Haverstraw Bay and Croton Bay. Back then we didn't know where else to catch stripers, and kept going back to those same places that were a “sure bet.”

 

Paul Gamba with a schoolie bass in Croton Bay.  Looks like a white bucktail was working then as well!

 Croton Bay’s fishing was not always good. Netters ran two strings of gill nets across the bay and when the nets were in, the fishing generally stunk. At other times the fishing was exceptionally good and it was not unusual for some HRFA members to rack up tagging scores of up to two dozen fish on a tide – not bad action on light spinning gear in April. Bucktails and yellow-back Rebels were the favorite lures. 

Most fish were schoolies, but while wade fishing along Crawbuckie Beach, HRFA member Jerry Gomber took a 38-pound striper on a 12-pound spin outfit and a Garcia Mee-Mee swimming lure.

One of the best tagging catches was made by Vince Grippo and Gene Gehter, when they stuck 50 tags into Croton Bay schoolie bass. Vinnie ran out of tags that day. Their total take of fish was well over the 70 mark.

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Jerry Gomber brings in a beauty!

Added excitement was provided courtesy of Penn Central. To fish Crawbuckie Beach, HRFA members walked from the train station parking lot along the tracks and across the railroad bridge over the Croton River. If a train came when you were half way across the bridge, a wild, noisy, windy experience was assured.   I don’t think we were in danger of being swept away, but the hurricane effect was somewhat scary! Fortunately, Crawbuckie often gave up some good catches of March stripers on the flood tide, at night, on bloodworms. By Easter Sunday, bucktails and yellow-back Rebels were the hot lures. Most of us fished the river in car toppers launched at Croton Point and we drifted the bay, casting and plugging.  

Jerry Gomber’s big fish was quite remarkable at the time because most of the stripers caught on rod and reel in the Hudson were schoolie fish.  Members like Ron Ingold, who kept alive the traditional old-time shad netting operations in Edgewater, reported much bigger bass in his nets. I was extremely fortunate to join one of his crews on a night-time net hauling operation. The numbers of shad were impressive, but the number of big stripers we released was even more amazing – many bass at 25 to 35 pounds.

The Cornwall Yacht Club surprised me when I gave a slide presentation at their club house by showing me a 60-pound striper they kept in the freezer to show off to visiting fishermen! It was a monster of a fish and many a member dreamed of catching a striped bass that size. Modern catches by HRFA members like Charlie Stamm’s 43 pounder were just a figment of the imagination to HRFA members back in the 1970s.  

 

There’s a whole lot more to remember, and if I can recall more, I’ll write it down.  I’m embarrassed that I don’t remember more names of the many members who contributed so much to the early growth and organization of the HRFA. The club was always blessed with a core of dedicated, highly motivated members and their hard work made the club so successful.

In 1976 I moved to Brick, NJ and was no longer active with the HRFA, however, I still have many fond memories of the good friends I made, and the great times we shared working to protect the Hudson River.  Today’s members and officers have taken the club to a level none of us dreamed possible “way back when” and the club’s accomplishments of today are a great tribute to the original founding members who spent so much of their time to help save their favorite river.

Catch ‘em up!

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A fly rod striped bass taken in Croton Bay during one of the first Striper Safari tournaments in the early 1970's.

Long Overdue Reunion!

Vic Alasio and Pete Barrett meet again at an HRFA meeting in May of 2004.

The two who started the HRFA NJ in 1969 had not seen each other in 34 years!

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