PARIS – A winter afternoon on the Seine River, a Parisian teenager pulled a fishing rod from a narrow holster, hooked a shiny rubber fish and threw his fishing rod into the water.
The fisherman, Elliott Mulherbe, 19, was soon joined at the edge of the river by his friend Kachim Mahline, a 22-year-old art student. But first, Mr. Machline spray painted greenish striped fish on the concrete walls next to their place on the river, in a renovated former industrial area near the Jardin des Plantes on the left bank.
The Seine used to be a fishing ground for older working-class men who spent their retirement days by the river. Nowadays, a younger and more diverse generation is disrupting the scene.
While calmer fishing pleasures may lack the same thrill, this is not the case, says Manuel Obadiah-Wills, 40, a former graffiti artist and skateboarder – now a fisherman in his spare time.
“There is a buzzing, an addictive side, a repetition until you reach the moment of grace,” Mr. Obadiah-Wills said. “In skateboarding, this is the perfect trick. When it comes to graffiti, it’s all about the rush of adrenaline when you’re in a forbidden place. When you hunt, it’s about the most beautiful catch. “
Like skateboarding and graffiti painting, fishing in the Seine also sometimes flirts with legality. Many fishermen go out after work or school – although France has officially banned fishing since sunset since 1669, even in winter.
During the official fishing season from May to January, young fishermen meet in certain places, near barges stretching for miles along the river and sheltering fish, or the Saint-Martin canal or the Canal de l’Ourcq, where the water is calmer and warmer than in the Seine.
Eager to find unexplored grounds, however, some venture into restricted areas, such as under Place de la Bastille at the “tunnel”, as is well known, a kilometer-long underground canal covered with a stone arch. The city recently closed its entrance to try to prevent people from entering.
Although they continue the centuries-old tradition of fishing in the shadows of Notre Dame or under the Eiffel Tower, younger fishermen have brought with them updated rules and codes.
The most important among them: The ultimate goal of the day’s catch is no longer sharing food with friends and family. Instead, the goal is to share close-up images of pike, perch, dairies, catfish and other species on social media – and then release them back into the river.
“Fishing is a sport and fish are our partners in the game, so we release them,” said Grégoire Auffert, 21, squatting on the railing of Quai Anatole France, facing the Tuileries Garden across the river. “You would never ask a tennis player to eat a ball.”
Also, the new generation uses plastic artificial lures to lure fish, rather than natural lures such as worms, still preferred by retirees wearing berets. Fish do not swallow the baits and fishermen can attach them to the cartilage of their mouths, causing as little damage as possible.
The new customs are aimed at protecting the growing biodiversity in the Seine. In the 1970s, only three species of fish remained in the river, but after decades of water purification policies, there are now more than 30 – although plastic bags, industrial waste and more recently electric scooters with lithium batteries continue to pollute the river.
“The environment is constantly improving and the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating it, offering a quieter fishing environment,” said Bill Francois, a marine scientist. He pointed out that there were fewer tourist boats on the Seine last year. In the summer, he said, “we observed very good reproduction.”
Thierry Paco, who studies urban life and teaches at the Paris Institute of Urban Planning, sees urban fishermen as part of France’s aspirations to be more in tune with nature.
“There is a whole new set of practices aimed in the same direction as urban agriculture,” he said.
He said a generation of young people suffering from growing economic insecurity find a sense of community in the fishing tradition, which they have transformed through environmental awareness and sharing their passion through technology.
The fishing federation of the Paris region has 8,500 members who buy an annual license for about $ 120. Add those who occasionally buy a daily license for $ 15, and those who fish illegally, and the total number of people who fish in the capital can be over 30,000, according to fishing shop owners.
“The number of fishermen remains fairly stable, but now young people are clearly outnumbering people of a certain age,” said Marcelo D’Amour, who has been selling fishing gear in Paris for the past 30 years, first in a sporting goods chain and now in Giga. -pêche “- which means something like” mega-fishing “- a store he opened in 2016 in East Paris.
The growing appeal of Parisian fishing to the younger crowd has caught the attention of entrepreneurs such as Fred Misner, who says he noticed the trend in the early 2000s and called it “street fishing.” With a business partner, Mr. Miessner – who also fishes in the Seine – he launched French Touch Fishing, a wholesale company for fishing items, and Big Fish 1983, a collection of streetwear for urban fishermen, including hats, printed T-shirts and polarized sunscreens. glasses.
“We didn’t recognize each other in the old codes,” Mr Misner said. “We did not wear plastic boots, military clothing or tight-fitting T-shirts. We hunted and then went to parties with our friends without changing. “
His brand and the like sponsor young fishermen who have become influential social media in the community. Mr. Machline, an art student, receives goods worth hundreds of dollars from a company in exchange for posts mentioning the brand to his 4,000 followers on Instagram.
Some fishing customs remain unchanged in the age of social media. Although sharing photos of the trophy for the day is essential, anglers tend to avoid making their exact locations obvious to protect them from “crabbers” – as those who identify good locations in the photos call them.
And boasting about the amount of catches per person continues without diminishing.
Recently, late in the afternoon, after a day circling the banks, Mr Machline caught a thick 15-inch perch in the Bassin de l’Arsenal, a barge port near Place de la Bastille, where the Saint-Martin canal meets the Seine. Mr. Mulherbe, a friend of his, sealed the moment on his cell phone, after which the fish was submerged again.
“I always stretch my arms in front of me,” Mr. Machline said with a proud smile. “That way the fish looks bigger in the picture.”