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Getting Started Fishing in NYC

For a downloadable freshwater fishing version of this information see Getting Started Fishing in NYC, Freshwater (PDF).

For a downloadable saltwater fishing version of this information see Getting Started Fishing in NYC, Saltwater (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!

Freshwater rods and reels

For freshwater fishing, we recommend a medium- to light-weight 6' rod and a reel that can hold about 50 yards of 8 lb test. Beginners should use a spincasting reel. No matter what reel you choose, use the correct size for the rod. Make sure the line weight, rod line rating, and reel size match. Alternatively, many retailers sell relatively inexpensive rod-reel combinations. A setup should cost somewhere between $30 and $60 from a sporting goods retailer. Make sure your reel is firmly attached to the rod.

Saltwater rods

We recommend starting with a 7' - 7.5', 15-30 lb weight rod and a reel that can hold about 150 yards of 20 lb test, or a 4000 - 5000 size reel. A standard combination setup should cost somewhere between $60 and $150 from a sporting goods retailer. For more specific suggestions, consult your local tackle store.

Saltwater reels

We recommend that beginners start with a spinning reel (see diagram). Always use the correct size reel for the rod. Make sure the line weight, rod line rating, and reel size match. Ensure your reel is firmly attached to the rod. Rinse gear with freshwater after use to prevent corrosion.

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

For spinning reels, set the drag by closing the bail, pulling on the line, and adjusting the drag control, usually located at the top of the reel, until the line is difficult but not impossible to pull from the closed reel. For spincasting reels, set the drag by adjusting the drag control towards the (+) or (-). (+) will increase resistance, while (-) will lower the resistance, making the line easier to pull out. 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 monofilament line to start as it is easiest to work with. For freshwater, use 8 lb test; for saltwater, 20 - 25 lb test should work. Your local tackle store can sometimes spool line onto your reel for you, or you can do it yourself. Follow instructions found in the line packaging.


There are many types of hooks, but we recommend using circle hooks, which are designed to keep the fish from swallowing the hook. Hooks come in many sizes and a larger number generally means a smaller size hook. For freshwater fishing, start with a size 6 - 8 circle hook. NYC Parks regulations require the use of barbless hooks so either purchase barbless hooks or crimp the barb with pliers. For saltwater, anywhere from a size 2 to a size 1/0 should be suitable. Remember, a smaller hook can catch a larger fish but not the other way around! All three types pictured here are barbless hooks which minimize injury to the fish, allowing it to fight another day.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


For the beginning angler, we recommend fishing with bait instead of lures. For freshwater fishing, we suggest worms (hook the worm more than once), but corn, dough, and hotdogs can also work. General saltwater bait options include clam, squid, bunker, or sand worms, but certain species can require specific bait. Consult your bait shop for advice on what bait to use in a particular situation.

Casting your line, spinning reel

  1. On a spinning reel, keep reel under the rod and hold reel support between the ring and index fingers of your dominant hand. Use your index finger to hold the leading edge of the line and flip open the bail.
  2. Carefully rotate the rod over your shoulder behind you about 45 degrees, making sure not to hit anyone behind you. Place your other hand (guide hand) on the butt of the rod. Use this hand to aim - where this hand is pointed is where your cast will go. Careful orientation of this hand will ensure a straight cast.
  3. Swing the rod forward, using your guide hand to keep the rod pointed straight ahead. Swing quickly, but excessive power is not necessary. Release the line when the rod is about 45 degrees in front of you.
  4. When cast is complete, allow the bait to sink for a few moments, then close the bail.

Casting your line, spincasting reel

  1. Hold rod in front of you with the reel on top of the rod. Press the rear button with your thumb until it clicks, and keep the button depressed. Do not let the button go.
  2. Without taking your hand off the button, carefully swing the rod behind you about 45 degrees, making sure not to hit anyone behind you.
  3. Swing the rod forward with a snap of your wrist (not your whole arm). Swing quickly, but excessive power is not necessary. When the rod tip is at approximately a 45 degree angle in front of you, release your thumb.
  4. When cast is complete, turn handle forward a half turn to lock the line.


Fish should always be handled with care and as briefly as possible. Some fish have sharp spines or teeth, so be careful. 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.


In New York State, anyone 16 years or older requires a license to fish in freshwater or must join the free Recreational Marine Fishing Registry to fish in saltwater. 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 the NYS Department of Health website listed in the right column of this page.

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 and freshwater NYC fishing map
Freshwater information