Anything Fly Fishing

THE CEMENT DOCK

3 Mins read

In the 1950s my cousin Paul and I hung around together. Since we were about the same age and he lived next door, we spent much of our youth exploring the woods and making tree forts, wandering the fields and watching birds, or walking the shore of the Niagara River and fishing at the end of our block. Although the river was significantly polluted those days, we were always fascinated when we discovered a dead fish floating by. And though all the fish in the river were not dead, we had no frame of reference then that there should be no dead fish floating by at all.

In our younger day we were allowed to ride our bikes to the shallow water at the foot of our country street, but as we got older, we were then permitted to ride our bikes another quarter mile to the “cement dock,” as the locals called it. The dock was a solid poured cement pier that jutted about thirty yards into the river. Anchored deeply in the muddy bottom of the Niagara, it sat about four feet above the water surface and was about three feet wide. At the far end of the structure was a poured cement slab off to the right side a foot above the water that was once used for a boat landing. Old rotted wooden pilings dotted the area in front and to the side of the dock in testimony to a day when it was fully functional. These days, the pilings are gone and silt has filled in the down-river side.

At one time in the early 1900s there were several high-end resorts built along the west side of Grand Island where we lived and throngs of summer vacationers were boated there from Buffalo. The cement dock was a part of a more elaborate moorage system for one of the resorts. The story we were told was that in the 1940s the state of New York bought out all the high-end resorts, leveled them, and converted the entire stretch into a state park complete with a scenic eight-mile parkway. Although there was lingering animosity from the local community that the state would dare convert private property into public land, my cousin Paul and I sure didn’t mind. We learned to fish with worms off the dock thanks to our Grandpa and Grandma who took us there regularly. We continued to spend many summer days casting lures far out into the river as we got older, and even caught some memorable bass and pike. The dock was also a popular hangout for the older kids or adults who would clean up the adjacent beach so they could party into the night burning driftwood bonfires.

That was well over sixty years ago. So much has changed since then, and virtually nothing is the same anywhere. Trying to find some remnants of the past is often difficult for many of us upon visiting places where we once spent time. But thanks to the state of New York, that parkway is now a bike path and hiking trail, and though it no longer looks like the iconic cement dock I remember, it is still there as well. Crumpled and sagging a bit, it stands watch over a river that is now healthy with vastly improved water quality. Upon my last visit there three years ago, I walked out onto the dock and the memories were overwhelming. The most prominent was fishing with my Dad a few years before he died. Although we didn’t catch anything, we mostly sat and just watched the river flow on by.

My cousin Paul still lives on the island and he posted a picture on Facebook the other day of his two grandsons walking in the woods. Paul noted that he takes them to the local forest or fishing in the Niagara at least once a week like we did decades ago. He also takes them to the cement dock now and then. It is a rare opportunity to be able to step back in time to the way it once was in bygone days. And though it is said that you can’t go home again, the cement dock serves as a reminder that sometimes you can.

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