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Getting Started Fishing in NYC

For a downloadable version of this document see Getting Started Fishing NYC (118 KB PDF)


For anyone with no fishing experience, walking into an angling supply store can be daunting. With so many different types of rods, lures, hooks and bait, it is hard to know where to start. Here are a few tips on what equipment to purchase and how to correctly use it for the best possible fishing experience. Remember, the most expensive equipment does not guarantee you will catch the most fish!


The two major types of fishing are freshwater and saltwater fishing. Most experienced anglers use separate rods for salt and fresh water; however, if you can only buy one, we recommend starting with a medium weight rod and reel combination that can be used in both circumstances. A standard combination set-up should cost somewhere between $30 and $60 from a sporting goods retailer. Always rinse gear with freshwater after fishing in salt water in order to prevent corrosion. For more specific salt and freshwater equipment suggestions, see your local tackle store.


The two basic types of reels are spinning and conventional reels. It is recommended that beginners start with a user-friendly spinning reel. The spool is in front of the reel on a spinning reel, producing fewer tangles. No matter what reel you choose, always use the correct size of reel for the rod. Make sure the line capacity (noted on the side of the rod) of your rod and reel match. Always make sure your reel is firmly attached to the butt of your rod and is in line with the eyes of the pole (see diagram).

Setting the drag

Before you start to fish always set the clutch/drag on the reel. This allows the line to be pulled out of the reel without breaking.

Image of a spinning rod and reel

Set the drag by closing the bail, pulling on the line, and adjusting the drag control until the line is difficult but not impossible to pull from the closed reel. The drag needs to provide just enough resistance to tire out the fish. If it is too tight the fish will snap the line; if it is too loose, the fish may suffer excess stress.


Use a medium-quality line that matches the weight range of your rod and reel. Choose a line that is just heavy enough to hold the fish you want; the lighter the line, the farther you can cast! Use monofilament/fluorocarbon line as it is easiest to work with.

Attaching line

Your local tackle store staff can spool line onto your reel for you, or you can do it yourself.

  1. Thread the line through the eyes of the rod and use a improved clinch knot to attach the line to the spool (see Attaching the hook, next).
  2. Position the new line so that it can unroll freely from the spool. It is helpful if another person can hold the spool with a pencil through the middle. Make sure the line doesn't twist as it comes off the spool.
  3. Hold the rod between the reel and the first eye, keeping light tension on the line with your other hand. Use a cloth to protect your hand!
  4. Wind the line, keeping it as tight as possible. Never overfill the spool.


There are many types of hooks, but the two most common are the J-hook and circle hook design. Circle hooks are designed to reduce mortality in catch and release fishing, and their use is strongly encouraged. When using circle hooks, don't set the hook when the fish bites; simply reel in the slack and let the fish hook itself. All three types pictured here are barbless hooks which minimize injury to the fish, allowing it to fight another day. Barbed hooks can be crimped down with pliers. Treble hooks are typically found on lures. Avoid stainless steel hooks as these persist in the environment and can cause lasting injury to fish unfortunate enough to swallow the hook.

An image of three types of the Circle hook, the J-hook, and the Treble hook.

Attaching the hook to the line:
To connect your hook and line, use a improved clinch knot.

5 steps to tying a clinic knot

Catching Fish


A lure is something that imitates a fish's food source. Lures come in different shapes, sizes, colors, materials and target depths, and movement styles. They are designed to mimic the appearance or behavior of a fish's prey. Given the variety of lures available, you may wish to consult your local bait or tackle shop for advice on lures suited to your particular area. Never use a lure that is too heavy for your rod.


Bait is typically sold fresh (and often alive) or frozen. Choose bait based on the type of fishing you're doing. Freshwater fishing bait can include worms, dough, corn and hotdogs. Any bait shop can give you advice on what bait to use in a particular location.

Casting your line

  1. On a spinning reel, flip open the bail and use your index finger to hold the leading edge of the line.
  2. Using wrist (not arm), bring tip of rod to 1 o'clock.
  3. Use wrist action to flick pole forward.
  4. When pole is about 10 o'clock, release your finger, allowing the line to unspool.

How to cast diagram


Fish should always be handled with care and as briefly as possible. Some fish have sharp spines or teeth which can result in serious injury to the careless angler. Hold a fish by grasping it firmly around the body, outside the gill covers, pinning the dorsal spines to the body. As in all animals, a fish's organs are delicate: never place hands, fingers, or tools in the fish's eyes or underneath the gill covers. Always handle fish with wet hands to avoid damage to the slime layer, which protects the fish from infections. If possible, try not to remove the fish from the water at all if you don't intend to keep it.

Removing the Hook

To remove the hook, gently but firmly hold the fish as described and, in one motion, back the hook out the way it came in. Needle nose pliers or forceps are advisable for toothy species. If the fish swallows the hook, cut the line as close to the hook as possible and release the fish.

Catch and Release (C&R)

Most freshwater fishing in NYC is catch and release (see regulations). In C&R fishing, fish are returned unharmed to the water where they were caught. C&R is practiced to ensure that stocks of fish remain plentiful for future generations. C&R is not required in saltwater but any fish that does not conform to regulations (see below) must be released. Always minimize handling time and follow safe procedures as described in the previous section. The fish (and your fingers) will thank you! Careful handling and release will ensure the health of fish populations and another great day of fishing.


Anyone 16 years or older requires a license to fish in the freshwaters of New York State. There are also species specific limits on the size and number of fish you can keep. Consult the regulations before every trip; they regularly change based on new information. For the latest regulations and license information go to DEC Fishing web page (518) 482-4922.

Please note: Freshwater fishing is permitted in NYC parks, but only C&R fishing with barbless hooks. Thank you in advance for following all laws and ensuring the health and longevity of NY's fish stocks!

Health Advisories

The NYS Department of Health issues advisories for the safe consumption of fish from New York waters; guidelines can be either state-wide or area-specific, and can pertain to specific fish species. Current guidelines can be found at NYS Department of Health website listed in the right column.

What to Catch and Where to Catch It:

In NYC, there are a variety of locations to fish. For beginners we recommend the topnotch bass and sunfish angling in Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn, the Harlem Meer in Central Park, Oakland Lake, Queens or Clove Lake, Staten Island; for saltwater try your luck with striped bass along any of the public Hudson River Piers.

More information:

Saltwater fishing in NY
Freshwater information