John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Kyle Naegeli of Texas says he's hauling in nice-sized catfish and bluegills from his suburban storm drain.
To many people, the storm sewer is a murky and perhaps loathsome fixture that only becomes noteworthy when it clogs and floods the street.
But Kyle Naegeli, a 15-year-old high-school student in Texas, says the storm drain 40 feet from his house is so much more: It's an untapped fishing paradise teeming with silvery bluegill and corpulent catfish, none of which a sane person would want to eat.
Naegeli, who lives in the Houston-area city of Katy, has created a pleasant-enough series of YouTube videos plumbing his neighborhood's fishing holes. But what's gotten people talking is the action he's discovered underneath a manhole cover, which he revealed 10 months ago in a video titled "Fishing in the Sewer." In it, he drops a line and worm into the drain and then pulls out a slippery, green-backed fish the size of a AA battery.
The suburban angler followed this video with ones called "Fish Trap in the Sewer!," "Big Mudcat in the Sewer," "Sabiki Rig Sewer Fishing," and others. Naturally, people were suspicious, as Naegeli wrote for one film of him retrieving several little fishies from a large trap:
Multiple species of fish swim from the pond into the storm drain. I have caught bass, catfish and bluegill in that sewer. In the first video I caught a bluegill on rod and reel but most people didnt believe us.We brought out this minnow trap in the sewer since a lot of yall didn't believe there were fish in there and we caught some bluegill.
On the phone, Naegeli swears it's all true, saying the fishing for ugh started about 4 years ago. "I bet my dad I could catch fish" down in there, he says. "I caught a little bluegill and won the bet. It was like five bucks."
Since then, he's gathered respectable crowds of neighbors who stare at him as he presses his eyeball against the manhole cover. "People walk down the sidewalk and look at me crazy, and ask me if I caught anything," he says. "Last time I said, 'Yeah, I caught a catfish.' And they said: NO!"
Skeptics might point out Naegeli's video cuts, which sometime leave question marks about what happened between dropping a line and landing a fish. To his credit though some videos don't have cuts, like when he netted a wee fish and also snagged a bluegill using the artificial bait Gulp! Alive! This unedited footage involves creatures much smaller than the bloated catfish you see in the above montage of "My Three Biggest Catches." (Listen for the off-camera admirer saying either "got him a cat" or "government cat" – I choose to believe the latter interpretation.)
Fishermen love to tell dubious tales, but it's not inconceivable that a stocked pond would feed from a storm drain under the street. "The pond is like 100, 150 yards away," Naegeli says. "I think it connects somewhere and that's how they're getting in."
To anyone gagging right now, it's not as bad as it looks, as this sewer is for rain and not for the contents of your toilet (presuming it's not a combined sewer.) Still, the water in that drain contains whatever runs off the street during a storm – motor oil, radiator fluid, brake-pad dust, paint, dog poop and pee, and what have you. Naegeli says he's not interested in tasting the fruits of his dirty labor, anyway.
"It's catch and release – I don't eat anything out of there," he says. "Most of the fish are just mudcats and stuff you're not really supposed to eat, anyways."