Take a walk over the Galata Bridge from Eminönü to Karaköy, in fair weather or foul, and you can’t miss the fishermen standing nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, their fishing rods tied to the rails of the bridges. Here, at the city’s most well-known fishing spot, you will also see educational murals painted by the Istanbul municipality, showing the names and pictures of different local fish. Some of these you may already know from the dinner table: hamsi (anchovy), sardalya (sardine), and istavrit (horse mackerel). It’s likely you’ll also see live samples swimming around in the plastic containers the fishermen use to preserve their catch.
The geography of Istanbul – particularly the differences in temperature and salinity between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean – make the waterways surrounding the city especially abundant in fish. Schools of fish pass through the Bosphorus with great regularity, and those who spend a few hours fishing are unlikely to come back empty-handed.
If you’re tempted to purchase a rod and try your hand at fishing, you’ll be spoiled for choice in terms of places to cast your bait. The Golden Horn – the estuary that runs below the Galata Bridge – has seen a great reduction in pollution over the past few decades, and if you are set on fishing here, then by all means do so. If you’d like a spot with smaller crowds, and possibly cleaner water, there are many stretches of the Bosphorus, Marmara Sea, and Black Sea that are suitable for fishing.
On the Asian side, you could fish on the Marmara Seacoast (just be sure not to impale the rollerbladers in Suadiye or the couples making out in Moda with your hook.) Numerous spots along the Asian side of the Bosphorus are also suitable: the Kuleli Askeri Lisesi in Çengelköy, Kandilli a bit further up the coast, Kanlıca (in Beykoz), or Anadolu Kavağı, at the meeting point of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. On the European side, you could try Yeniköy, Aşiyan, Arnavutköy, Tarabya, Büyükdere, Rumelihisarı (all on the Bosphorus); or Rumelifeneri, an underrated spot on the Black Sea, with a picturesque old castle, and cows and bulls milling about.
As a stranger (to Turkey, to the neighborhood, and perhaps to fishing), you can expect a mild sort of camaraderie from local fishermen, but don’t think they’ll drop everything (so to speak) and spend all their time helping you. You need to come prepared with your own fishing gear. A good place to buy what you need is Tahtakale, roughly definable as the part of Eminönü behind the Mısır Çarsısı and Rüstempaşa Camii. Similarly, the backstreets of Karaköy on the opposite side of the bridge, around the Yeraltı Cami, teem with shops selling fishing rods, hooks, sinkers...everything you need for an afternoon of fishing. As for bait, if you are fishing on the Galata Bridge you will see itinerant bait-sellers peddling their wares there all day long.
Don’t worry if you don’t catch enough fish to make up a full dinner. Go with a friend or two, take along some things to eat and drink, and enjoy the ambience of your chosen fishing spot – that’s half the fun.