NEW YORK CITY — The piers and coastlines of New York City offer countless spots to cast a line — and even bring home a fresh caught dinner.
Boat captains from Bay Ridge to Bronxville lead fishing trips in the bays and rivers. Park ponds, which enforce a strict catch-and-release policy, invite anglers of all ages to go fish.
“It’s incredible you can be in a metropolis like this and go fishing,” said Jon Fisher, general manager of Urban Angler Fly Shop in the Flatiron District.
“Most people don’t understand there’s lots of fish to be caught.”
Roughly 326 species call the city's waterways home, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. More migrate through the waters.
“I’ve been all over the world to fish," said Tony Gangone, of Midtown and a former executive director of the Fishermen’s Conservation Association.
"Wherever I go fishing, it’s just as good as here.”
City fishermen say fishing is one of the few Big Apple activities to offer a direct connection to nature, and it requires little investment or travel. Between the required state license and a basic start-up kit, you can get started for less than $40.
“It’s relaxing,” said Sunset Park resident and longtime city angler Tom Maschio, 54, who likes to fish below the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“I like connecting with the energy of the fish. The flash and the flight of hooking a fish. It connects you with their energy.”
By paying attention to the tides and the shape of the land to learn where and when fish feed, anglers can “be immersed in the natural environment,” Maschio continued, even while standing in a city teeming with more than 8 million people.
“In Manhattan, no one thinks you can fish," said Eric Collins, general manager of Capitol Fishing Tackle Co. in Midtown. "People look at you like you have three heads.
"It’s cool when you pull a fish out in Central Park — people look at you and take photos. It definitely draws attention.”
Still, like everything else in New York City, fishing here comes with more quirks — not to mention regulations — than anywhere outside the five boroughs.
DNAinfo.com New York tracked down the city’s fishing experts to hook the info you need to know.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: PERMITS AND LICENSES
Before casting anywhere in New York State, fishermen 16 and older need a fishing license and to enroll in the state’s free Recreational Marine Fishing Registry.
Fishing licenses, valid from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 every year, range in price from $5 to $29, depending how often you plan to fish. Enrollment in the marine registry, open Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, is good for a full year.
License application and registry enrollment can be done online or in-person. More information is available on the DEC website.
THE EQUIPMENT: WHAT YOU’LL NEED, AND HOW MUCH IT’LL COST
Aspiring anglers can choose between fly and conventional fishing.
Conventional fishing is slightly cheaper, easier to learn and requires less space. You cast once, then wait, and periodically cast again. Baits or lures carry the line’s weight.
All-in-one freshwater fishing kits cost as little as $30, Collins of Capitol Fishing said. Saltwater fishing kits — which include stronger rods for bigger fish — start at about $50.
Fly fishing, by comparison, takes more practice. Fly fishermen use flies or lures that weigh just a few grams. Hence, the line itself is weighted. Learning how to cast effectively can be a challenge, and it requires much more space.
“It’s the difference between hunting with a bow-and-arrow and hunting with a rifle,” said Fisher, the Urban Anglers GM. “It takes a bit more skill to fly fish.”
Fly fishing kits cost between $150 and $200.
“It’s not inexpensive, but it’s not tennis or golf or skiing,” Fisher said. The sport requires a “rod, reel and nothing you can’t carry in a fanny pack.”
Individual fishermen or groups can hop aboard one of the many fishing boats that dock in the five boroughs. Eight-hour trips start at about $65 for adults and $40 for children.
Charter trips generally cost at least $500 for a four-hour afternoon excursion.
Most boats rent or include equipment, and many offer box lunches or snacks.
WHEN TO FISH
Fishing season generally lasts from late March to December, but spring and fall are best, experts said.
From May 1 until June 15, “striped bass here is unrivaled anywhere in terms of the size of the fish,” said Gangone, who noted that he regularly catches 45 to 50-pounders during the spring.
The quantity of striped bass is best in September through November, he said.
Fish feed at dusk and dawn, Collins said, so fishing is best at sunrise and sunset, plus during outgoing tide.
WHERE TO FISH
When it comes to picking a location, you’ll want to look for “spots that have lots of structure,” such as piers, rocks and curves in the land, Fisher explained.
“A lot of these fish are ambush predators,” he said. “They hide and wait for bait to come by and eat it.”
Ask a fisherman about a particular spot, though, and he or she will probably avoid the question.
“Fishermen are very secretive,” Fisher said, conceding “this is New York City, there are no secret spots. Everyone knows where the water is.
"Nonetheless, if there’s one or two other people there, it completely changes the experience.”
Hence, the key assets are access and space, the experts said. Whichever body of water is closest to your apartment, if it allows fishing, it will probably be as good as any other in the city.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one over the other,” Gangone said.
Still, there are some tried-and-true locations that offer the access and structure to create optimal urban fishing grounds. The DEC has published a guide to saltwater fishing in New York City, available on the agency’s website. For a full list of fishing locations in city parks, visit the Parks Department website.
Freshwater: Van Cortlandt Park Lake.
Saltwater: Riverdale Park.
Freshwater: Prospect Park Lake.
Saltwater: Jamaica Bay; Dead Horse Bay; Coney Island.
Freshwater: Harlem Meer.
Saltwater: Battery Park; East 96th Street (Collins: “It has a little curve that creates a rip — a separate current where the island curves.”)
Freshwater: Baisley Pond; Kissena Lake; Meadow Lake; Oakland Lake.
Saltwater: Breezy Point (Gangone: “Even sharks run up on the beach there.”); Jamaica Bay (Gangone: “There’s sensational fishing right under the runways there.”); Riis Park.
Freshwater: Clove Lake; Wolfes Pond.
Saltwater: Sharrott Avenue; Ocean Breeze Park; Lower Bay.
EATING WHAT YOU CATCH
You can’t eat fish caught in freshwater ponds — take it home, and you’re liable to be hit with a fine.
In the city’s rivers and bays, fishermen most often catch striped bass and bluefish. Both are “flaky white meat,” Fisher described, but bluefish tend to be “more oily.”
The DEC recommends eating no more than half a pound of fish caught in New York City waters per week, based on contaminant levels in the rivers and bays. Women of childbearing age, infants and children younger than 15, however, should not eat any of that fish, the agency says.
Local anglers viewed the regulations as perhaps overly strict, and pointed out that many of the fish are migratory.
“Whatever fish you catch in front of the Statue of Liberty you’d eat in Cape Cod,” Gangone said.
WHAT TO EXPECT
You'll need patience, and not just for the fish.
“There’s not a single time we go out where we don’t have an interaction with someone,” Fisher said. “All you have to do is stand in the park with a rod in your hands, and you’ll have interactions with people.
“Crazy old ladies complaining about fishing or you’re disturbing the birds or wildlife. Lots of kids coming up and asking a million questions.”