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.
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.