He’s got two more lines deployed, also using bottles.
His friend Miguel Vargas fishes with two rigs: a Monster Energy beverage can, and an actual fishing rod and reel, which he bought at Walmart for $25.
A scrubby mulberry tree shades the spot on the low concrete seawall where García, 38, and Vargas, 39, fish on Sunday afternoons, just downriver from the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. It’s their principal recreation and most reliable respite from life’s cares.
Most anglers who fish the Anacostia River from Bladensburg down to the Benning Bridge are Latinos. Downriver from the bridge, more are African Americans.
García and Vargas usually catch a few nine-inch catfish, which they give to friends or eat themselves. Like many of the fishermen, they are unaware of the city health advisory that states: “Do not eat: Catfish, carp or eel.”
Vargas plants his pole in a hole in the ground and tends to his Monster Energy reel. Suddenly, the pole quivers and bends.
He sprints to grab it, too late: The pole erupts from the ground and launches into the river.
“¡Se la llevó, se la llevó!” he shouts in Spanish, which translates as, “He took it away!”
They watch, stunned, as the pole navigates upriver, diving and surfacing like a submarine, impelled by an unseen and awesome force.
About 20 feet offshore, a creature breaches, shimmering blue-gray, indignant at being hooked, thrashing, dragging the pole. Again it dives.
“Look at that fish,” García says.
“It’s enormous,” Vargas says.
García casts with one of his bottle reels and hooks the fishing pole’s line. He patiently maneuvers it around the end of the wall, where it’s possible to wade in.
“Take off your shoes,” he orders Vargas, who goes in barefoot with a bucket.
The flopping fish won’t fit in the bucket. García reels some more, then reaches over Vargas and grabs the fish with both hands.
It’s a 32-inch blue catfish, ugly as sin.
The anglers take turns holding up the trophy. They look like boys — so happy, so excited. The fatigue of the week slips from their features.
García starts speed-dialing friends: “We caught the biggest fish on the planet. I’m going to send you a photo.”
Catfish are bottom feeders, likely to absorb contaminants from the riverbed. Federal studies have found elevated levels of PCBs — industrial chemicals linked to cancer — in some Anacostia catfish.
“You can’t tell by looks,” says Fred Pinkney, a scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Catfish . . . that do not seem to get liver or skin tumors can in fact have very high concentrations of PCBs.”
When informed of the experts’ opinion, García and Vargas are unpersuaded.
They’ve never heard of anyone getting sick. The water is dirtier back home, and people eat the fish there.