RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
NYC is blessed with over 500 miles of shoreline, providing a plethora of spots to take the kids fishing within city limits. Piers along the Hudson and East River as well as many scenic bodies of water in NYC parks are full of various species of fish that your youngsters can reel in for free! Fishing as a family is one of our favorite outdoor activities, but before you go, make sure you know the rules.
While kids ages 15 and under can take part in the city's fishing clinics without a permit, adults will need a fishing license before they can drop a line. Get one from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Also, park lakes and ponds are freshwater, therefore the "catch-and-release" rule applies—you'll have to hit up the city's best family restaurants for that fish-fry dinner you've been craving.
Best kids fishing spots in NYC
Hudson River Park
Swimming around here are more than 200 kinds of fish—including striped bass, snapper, flounder, perch and American eel—some of which make their nurseries right under the piers. The park's Big City Fishing program provides free formal instruction on catch-and-release fishing throughout the summer. Complimentary rods, reels and bait are provided (first-come, first-served) and environmental educators on onsite to school families on topics such as water quality, fish biology and river ecology. When others are waiting for a turn, as is often the case, you'll have to return the equipment after 30 minutes. Pier 25 at N Moore St; June 7–Sept 27, Sundays 1–5pm; July 6–Aug 24, Mondays 5–7:30pm • Pier 84 at W 44th St; July 7–Aug 25, Tuesdays 1–4pm; July 9–Aug 27, Thursdays 1–4pm • Pier 46 at Charles St; July 5–Aug 23, Sundays 1–5pm • (212-627-2020, hudsonriverpark.org). Ages 5 and up.
Van Cortlandt Lake
This 1,000-acre green space is the fourth largest park in the city, providing varied conditions for fishing enthusiasts of all skill levels. Beginners will want to find a spot in a flat, grassy area and those with experience can try the sloped wooded areas where big fish often hide. Families can reel in yellow perch (the most prominent species in this freshwater lake), sunfish, largemouth bass, crappies and even ugly brown bullhead catfish. Van Cortlandt Park, Bailey Ave and Van Cortlandt Park South, Bronx (718-430-1890, vcpark.org). All ages.
Prospect Park Lake
For catch-and-release fishing on a regular basis, bring your own gear to the lake (south side between Prospect Park SW and St. Paul's Pl) to wait for a nibble from largemouth bass, bluegill or pumpkinseed sunfish. During the summer, the Prospect Park Alliance offers guidance for first-time anglers through the Pop-Up Audubon program. Track down Macy's Fishing Clinics on Saturdays and Sundays from 1–2pm and 3–4pm, when kids collect their own bait before dropping a line. Pop-Up Audubon sessions meet at the Peninsula and the North End of the Esplanade. Prospect Park, enter park from Vanderbilt St and Prospect Park Southwest (718-287-3400 ext. 303, prospectpark.org). Ages 15 and under.
Harlem Meer, Central Park
Although the park has several angling spots, this 11-acre freshwater lake at the northeast corner is the loveliest. In fact, some local catch-and-release fishing fans consider it the city's best. Next to the Conservatory Garden, this area is populated by swans and grebes and surrounded by oak, ginkgo and beech trees. The best part is that the Meer is stocked with thousands of fish: largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish, chain pickerel and carp, among others. If you'd like to borrow free bamboo poles and bait (corn kernels!), bring a photo ID to the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (110th St between Fifth Ave and Malcolm X Blvd). The center is open from mid-April through mid-October; Mon–Sat 10am–4pm and Sundays 10am–2pm. Poles must be returned an hour before closing. Harlem Meer at Central Park, enter from Central Park North at Malcolm X Blvd (212-860-1370, centralparknyc.org).
Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5
Young fishermen can cast a line from the pier's western promenade while taking in stellar views of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. This is a bring-your-own-pole operation, but there are bait preparation and fish cleaning tables onsite. Keep in mind that children under 15 and pregnant women are not advised to eat their catch from these waters. Take advantage of the nearby playgrounds and sports fields to make it a full-day outing with the family. After reeling in a few big ones, retire to the Picnic Peninsula to cook up some burgers for a barbecue. Pier 5 at Joralemon St, Brooklyn (718-802-0603, brooklynbridgepark.org). All ages.
Crotona Nature Center
With help from the Urban Park Rangers, youngsters can try their hand at catch-and-release fishing on various bodies of water throughtout the city. Spend a few hours outdoors learning about the ethics of fishing and ecology of NYC's waterways. They'll bone up on fishing safety, then grab complimentary equipment (first-come, first-served) to try and reel in a big one. Indian Lake in Crotona Park is a small lake with paved paths, making it easily accessible for families. Snag a spot on the nature center's deck and wait patiently for the largemouth bass, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish to come your way. Fishing clinics offered at various locations, check website for schedule. Crotona Park East and Charlotte St, Bronx (718-548-0912, nycgovparks.org).
Get some fresh air in your lungs and hit the trails as a family at this scenic Staten Island oasis. Check the Parks Department website beforehand to get the schedule of free nature activities led by rangers, or set off with your fishing poles in hand on an unguided adventure. Start at the corner of Hylan Boulevard and Cornelia Avenue, then meander through Wolfe's Pond Park's native forest. The glacial ponds, streams and wetlands are full of marine life like blue crab and jellyfish, and birds such as killdeers and sandpipers skittering along the water's edge. 245 Chester Ave, Staten Island (718-984-8266, nycgovparks.org).
Kissena Lake, Kissena Park
With its saltwater bays and beaches and freshwater lakes, ponds and creeks, Queens has many sublime spots for fishing. A good one to try is Kissena Lake, beautifully situated in 234-acre Flushing Meadows–Corona Park and encircled by paths for contemplative strolling. Catch-and-release anglers can expect to find carp, largemouth bass, yellow perch and American eel. Enter the lake area at Oak Ave and 164th St, Kissena Park, Staten Island (718-359-1297, nycgovparks.org).