Fishing in New York City’s Central Park

Many people are surprised to learn that you can go fishing in New York City’s Central Park. The truth is not only can you wet a line, you can actually hook into some decent fish.

The rules are straight forward. According to the official website of Central Park (and signs in the park) you cannot use barbed hooks or lead sinkers. And you have to release whatever you catch. That’s about it. None of this impedes on the fishing much. If you have trouble finding barbless hooks, either visit a fly shop or file or pinch down the barbs on some barbed hooks you already have. And of course make sure you have a New York fishing license to avoid receiving a fine.

More than a few people fish in the park on any given day, though to be honest many look like they learned how by watching southern BASS tournaments on television. I’ve seen more than one angler chucking massive spinner baits on 50 pound braided line. In my opinion, that’s just overkill.

What about the fish? There is actually a good variety. The Harlem Meer (Google map here) offers the best fishing. Bluegill, crappie, carp, koi and largemouth bass can be found throughout, many of good size. The Central Park Conservatory claims there are also chain pickerel, but I’ve never seen any. There are some giant grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) swimming here, at least three feet in length. Although I’ve seen them, I’ve never really had a chance to properly fish for them and thus have not hooked into any. Note that this pond gets overgrown with weeds in the summer, and is also home to a number of turtles and birds that are all too eager to swallow a hook. Keep an eye out.

I’ve caught numerous fish in the Meer, including a six pound largemouth bass on a worm that made it into the pages of North American Fisherman. Other people new to fishing who I’ve taken to there have had a good time catching bass, bluegill, and good-sized crappie on Berkley Gulp maggots fished on small hooks under foam floats.

Central Park Harlem Meer Bass Fishing

An average sized Central Park largemouth bass.

The small building on the east side of the Meer will lend out fishing poles and bait (pieces of corn) for free some days. This is mainly for children, and the rigging is questionable, with a piece of heavy line tied directly to the last eye of the pole. I’m sure you could catch some fish like this, but there are much better ways to go about it.

The other, larger, body of water you can fish in Central Park is “The Lake” (Google map). This used to be a great place to catch carp. A few years ago I hooked two over twenty pounds and a 4 pound largemouth bass on a homemade doughball in a matter of hours. Now, it’s a rather stagnant lake with water stained by microalgae. To be sure, this was never a pristine waterway, but the dredging that took place recently seems to have really done a number on the habitat and the fish. Numerous large carp used to be visible from shore or the bridge. Today you’re lucky if you see one or two in 1-3 pound range. Bass fishing seems to have taken a hit too. It used to be nothing to see someone catch a half dozen fish in an hour. The anglers are still there, but now you rarely see even one caught.

There are numerous other water bodies in the park, but they are all off limits to fishing. Some of these hold really quality fish. I once  saw two largemouth bass that must have weighed 8 or 9 pounds each guarding nests in the clear waters of The Turtle Pond.

It’s best to bring fishing equipment into the city or order it online. There are a few tackle shops in New York but they largely focus on saltwater fishing.

A standard light to medium fishing rod with six to ten pound test would do for most fishing. You may want to rig up differently, with a longer pole and perhaps a little heavier line, if targeting carp.

Central Park, a world famous piece of land which gets fairly crowded most days, offers fishing in two man-made impoundments. It’s far from the best angling available, but if you’re in the city that never sleeps, it’s an option.

  1. Tony

    Fishing is also allowed in the Pool (near West 103rd St), and the Pond (near 59th St.) Additionally, many of the bodies of water, including the Harlem Meer also contain brown bullhead and yellow perch. I’ve seen good sized perch caught in the Meer.

    • admin

      Thanks for the comment Tony. I haven’t seen any bullhead but I believe that they’re around. I have seen perch in the Meer. I don’t know that you’re allowed to fish in the Pool. What do you base that on? Everything I’ve seen says fishing is only allow in the Lake, the Meer and the Pond. Here’s the NYC Park’s website on the question:

  2. Z

    I grew up fishing the lake by the boat house. In the right season you can use the berries overhanging the water and catch carp. Have caught carp, bullhead, bluegill, bass, golden shiner and even one tiny yellow perch. When I was young I remember catching tons of bluegills by the fountain. One time after the weeds were cut, a crested night heron and an egret flew down and I tossed them gills. It was amazing. Im looking for people to go fishing with.

    • Angler

      Thanks for the comment Z. The last time I was near the boat house they cut back many of the trees. I didn’t see any signs of life near the fountain either, which is strange because there used to be a lot of fish there. The perch are still there though, possibly more than ever. Pelicans used to hang out around the Harlem Meer, occasionally stealing someone’s catch. I’m sure they still come around.

  3. Terence Joyner

    I went fishing yesterday at the harlem meer. Not even 1 bite I got. 4 hours of fishing & nothing caught. I threw everything from soft plastics to crank baits, top water lures (frogs, whooper plopper). I guess they wasn’t hungry that much

    • Angler

      Did you see any fish? I wasn’t in the New York at that time but it may have been a very hot day. Something else could have put the fish down too. There are a lot of things that can get in the way. Fish like bass and bluegills usually eat when the opportunity presents itself.

  4. I have fished all 5 lakes within Central Park (The pond, Loeb Lake, Turtle Pond, The Pool ant The Meer). The Park’s Conservancy trys to “encourage” everyone to fish at the Meer. but you can fish the other ponds. That does not mean some one may want you to stop fishing and tell you to do so. The state DEC determines which waters are open to fishing. The other ponds are over run by park visitors as long as you respect there right to pass by you will have no problem.

    • Angler

      Hi Bill. Thanks for commenting. According to New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, fishing is not allowed in the Turtle Pond or the Reservoir.