The Delaware River off Chester is UPS brown.

On a wooden promenade in Barry Bridge Park, directly beneath the soaring Commodore Barry Bridge, Cashmere Bey casts his fishing line into the murky chop and awaits developments.

Catfish offer a good fight, but nothing battles like eels. Eels make Bey, 24, a Temple business student, feel like a Hemingway hero. He bests the wriggling creatures in the fisherman's timeless tug and struggle, then throws them back, as he does all the fish he catches.

"It's the excitement of not knowing what you're going to get until it's out of the water that draws me," Bey says. "It's the lurking surprise, the looming anticipation."

Summer may be ending, but the fisherman's ritual goes on. In out-of-the-way spots on local waters, fishermen find Zen-like calm in their revered pastime.

Fishing is easily arranged escape, a kind of meditation with reward dangling on the hook. For those who love it, it's better than practically anything.

It's not about eating the fish; most people around here release what they catch.

What anglers get out of yanking fish out of water is peace, pure and simple.

"In Chester, we live with fights, gunshots, disturbances that escalate," Bey says. "But when I fish, I put those things aside. It's the only time I can relax."

Invariably, fishermen will say, they began growing their passions as children, taken to the waters by an adult bestowing a lifelong gift.

"My mom got me into it," says Myren Palmer, 38, a printer from Germantown. He wets a line in an unlikely place: Manayunk Canal, off the 4500 block of Main Street.

Still and unappealing, the canal looks as likely a place to support life as a moon crater.

But bass bite, as do catfish.

Palmer casts his Rebel lure three-quarters of the way across the canal, toward Venice Loft Rentals, anticipating slimy prizes from the ooze.

He says he feels alone, although he's sitting in full view of dozens of apartment windows.

That's what fishing around here does: carves privacy out of urban density. Palmer goes somewhere deep in his head as he fishes, tuning out road whine and plane buzz.

"I think about nothing when I fish," Palmer says. "I just enjoy."

So compelling is the need to fish that good men will shirk responsibility to do it.

In an algae-choked pond in South Philadelphia's FDR Park, two men stand on opposite edges of the water, silently willing snakeheads and bass to burble up. Neither will give his name because they should be working.

Conducting a secret summer in the afternoon heat, the outlaw fishermen risk discovery to feed their souls. That's something those who fish say they understand.

Down in Salem County, the Wilson family fishes openly and without subterfuge, in the Salem River off Route 540 East outside the city of Salem.

"I bring my kids out here so they won't get in trouble in South Philly," says Jesse Wilson, an unemployed 34-year-old.

Back in the neighborhood, there is mess and menace, too much for Wilson to sort out. So he piles his three children, his mother and his wife, Adrienne, who is a nurse, into the car to travel 45 minutes to this spot.

Wilson believes he is doing nothing less than saving his family as they sit on rocks on the riverbank and pull out blue-claw crabs, largemouth bass, white perch, and two-foot catfish.

"In Philly, people get shot every day," says Wilson, a trim, serious man. "But I know exactly where it's peaceful."

Unlike many fisherfolk who release their catch, Wilson's mother, Catherine Stowe, 73, says she will fry the catfish in cornmeal and eat it. "It's safe," she says.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would disagree, saying children and pregnant women should never eat catfish from the river, and others might be able to eat one yearly meal of catfish from the river.

The kids don't seem all that interested in eating their yield, though. It's the catch that counts.

"Fishing gives children something to do," Stowe says.

The kids of nearby Woodstown believe that's so, and flock to the shore of Memorial Lake for catch-and-release afternoon marathons the moment school lets out.

With the sun lowering and a warm breeze blowing, two Tom Sawyeresque boys, Lucas Ecret, 11, and Gregory Terry, 13, pull up sunfish, then throw them back in an endless cycle.

It seems as though they're catching the same fish over and over, but the boys obviously don't care.

"I love the fight of the fish," Lucas says.

Like other kids, like other adults, the boys have found something in fishing that sticks for a lifetime.

Regardless of what's happening on land, fishermen will tell you, they live for the moments they can gather their gear, find their spot, then lean over cool water.

And become renewed.