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Fishing for Fun: How to Legally Fish in NYC

There is nothing like a day of fishing. Hanging out outside with a friend or alone, some nice cool drinks, and the sounds of nature make for an idyllic afternoon. That said, the location of my fishing paradise doesn’t typically take place in NYC, especially in the parks. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking people who fish in Central or Prospect Park must be doing something illegal. Thing is, they’re probably not breaking the law at all! As long as they follow a few guidelines and rules, the bodies of water you can fish in New York vastly outnumber the bodies of water you can’t fish in.

How to get your fishing license in New York City

Intrigued? I’d be surprised if you weren’t! Fishing in Central Park seems like a great time. But where do you start? First and foremost, you need a fishing license if you’re over 16. Some 16-year-olds might be tempted to fish without a license, but I beg them not to turn to a life of fish crime. Speaking of fish crime, some websites that claim to sell you a fishing license are scams. These scams reel you in (no, I’m not sorry) only to steal the information you provide them. This is why it’s important to obtain a license only from the official Department of Environmental Conservation website. Once you have that, you can fish and hunt for frogs with a spear.

Gear for your New York City fishing experience

So you have a license, time to go fishing in the park, right? Wrong! First, you need the right gear. One might think that they just need a pole, some line, lures/bait, and hooks. However, there are strict regulations for fishing gear in New York State, especially for freshwater fishing. The biggest rule is that your sinker must be lead-free. This is to cut down on water pollution and make for a healthier environment for fish and people. The lead-free rule goes for all fishing. For freshwater fishing, since you’re required to throw your fish back in most freshwater locations, you’re not allowed to use a barbed hook. This is so the fish won’t be injured once you throw it back. Once you’re done fishing, you’re required to clean up after yourself for once.

Where to fish in NYC

So you have the gear and the license. Now it’s time for that sweet sweet fishing! But where can you fish in NYC? What are the best spots? Lucky for us, park rangers themselves have placed their top fishing spots on the parks and recreation website! Here are some spots they’ve highlighted.

Freshwater Fishing

  • Van Cortlandt Lake, The Bronx: This giant lake might seem out of place in the Big Apple, but it’s easy to get to and has a ton of popular fish like largemouth bass and black crappie (Which seems like a mean thing to name a fish).
  • Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn: This lake sports the largest concentration of largemouth bass in the city. It’s also 55 acres, so it’s easy to pack up and move if people start an ultimate frisbee game next to you.
  • Harlem Meer, Manhattan: This place is so popular with novice fishers that the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center lets you use their fishing poles for free. Could be a fun date for those of you who want to do something unique.
  • Baisley Pond Park, Queens: I’m truly shocked at the number of lakes in NYC, but here’s yet another one that has bluegill and panfish. This spot is out in Jamaica, Queens so make sure to find a good restaurant to eat at afterward.
  • Willowbrook Lake, Staten Island: This is the only freshwater location I found that advertises that you can catch an eel, which is hilarious to me. Please catch an eel and email or DM a picture to CitySignal. Here’s our Instagram. I expect fast results.

Saltwater Fishing

  • Orchard Beach, The Bronx: Located in Pelham Bay Park, this is the first entry on the list that allows you to keep the fish you catch! Just don’t fish near an opening swimming area. That’s a good way to get sued.
  • American Veterans Memorial Pier, Brooklyn: Honor our nation’s heroes by fishing on this pier. Also, check out the Manhattan skyline. Truth be told, this is probably the most scenic place to fish in all of NYC. Just don’t tell Willowbrook Lake I said that. I still want to see those eels. Here’s our Twitter too. DM us a pic of any cool fish you find.
  • West Harlem Piers, Manhattan: I know fishing in the Hudson River might not seem like the healthiest decision you’ve ever made, but you can always just release whatever you catch. Besides, the park is beautiful, so I highly recommend it.
  • Broad Channel American Park, Queens: This location provides saltwater fishing via a beach or marshland. Different spots will have different things, so try them both and see which one has the best fish!
  • Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island: This location is a bit out of the way, but it’s a gorgeous spot with a ton of fish. A bonanza of fish, if you will. See how much you can catch so you have a story on the ferry when you head home.

Fishing in NYC is a fun way to spend the day and it’s easy to do when you’re prepared. Just be sure to have a license, the right gear, and the knowledge ready at your fingertips. Soon you’ll be a successful angler and then you can tell your friends about the wonders of NYC fishing. There are a lot of locations and fish to checkout, and some places even have events that teach and celebrate the art of the sport. In a city that makes it difficult to commune with nature, do something that’s peaceful, fun, and rewarding.

Also, please please please send us your fish pictures. That place in Staten Island has eels! Ever catch a shark? I want to see that! Here’s our Instagram again. Happy fishing!

Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528