Fishing in the Passaic River

by Karen Zautyk


I was about 5 when my family moved to the Prudential Apartments on Oxford St., Down Neck. We lived about a half-block from Raymond Blvd. and on summer evenings my parents would bring me to the little park along the Passaic River. At the eastern end, there was a Ballantine's parking lot, also bordering the river, and one day my father told me he would take me fishing there. I was thrilled -- because my pet goldfish had died and I hoped to catch some sort of replacement.

The next evening, down to the lot we went. I was armed with a very small net (the kind you use for goldfish) and a large pickle jar. We climbed down some rocks and I was able to dip the net in the river. Within minutes, I had caught a minnow! Then another! And another!

These were deposited in the jar, which my father had filled with the cloudy river water. When I had a small school of fish, we carried the jar back to our apartment, where they were transferred one-by-one into my goldfish bowl, which was filled with fresh, clean water.

In the morning, all the minnows were dead.

The next evening, my father and I went back to the river and I caught more minnows and put them in the jar and brought them home and put them in the fresh-water bowl.

And in the morning, all the minnows were dead.

At that point, my kindergarten brain came to a conclusion: The river minnows cannot survive in clean water!

We never went fishing again.

I think of this story every time I read a news report about the polluted state of the Passaic, and I wonder why it took so long for the powers-that-be to learn what I learned at age 5.


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