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The Everything Guide to Catching Your Lunch

Our rivers are cleaner than ever, the piers are crawling with anglers, and your East River bouillabaisse is now edible (with some caveats).

Fishing in New York has long conjured images of old men hunched along the piers near Chinatown, cutting boards covered with live bait in Harlem riverside parks, and cigar-chomping affairs on boats docked in Queens. While those Joseph Mitchell–esque scenes still exist, recently the city’s been seeing fresher faces, more female anglers, younger captains, and the first party fishing boat to leave from Manhattan in years. And the Brooklyn Fishing Club is a new hub for fishermen and -women to meet and show off their striped-bass Instagrams. This rise in urban anglers is owed in no small part to the newfound health of our waterways; the city’s invested billions of dollars in river cleanup, with updated wastewater-treatment plants to show for it, and started construction to minimize the effects of sewer overflows. “You’re not just seeing more fishing in the Hudson and East River,” says Joshua Laird, the commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, “but conversations are even being had about swimming.”

Saltwater | Mostly Edible
The Department of Health states that city fish can be eaten in moderation. Migratory fish are the safest bet — that striped bass you caught in Red Hook might’ve been swimming in Montauk a few days before.

Delicious and coveted. A good place to catch them is off the Coney Island flats.

Striped Bass
Prized for its fight and taste; can be kept if it’s over 28 inches.

Bottom-feeding scavengers, and thus considered pretty contaminated — don’t eat them.

Sea Robin
Edible and easy to catch; often regarded as a nuisance, as they get in the way of catching more desirable fish.

Aggressive, fighting fish (they can even eat through your line), which is why anglers love them.

Freshwater | Not Edible
Not because they aren’t delicious, but because all fishing in New York City’s public parks is catch and release only. There are so few lakes and ponds that “harvesting” could significantly impact fish populations.

Very difficult to catch; can be found in city-park lakes.

Largemouth Bass
Lure one of these game fish with a Senko (artificial) worm.

For their size, they put up a good fight (be careful, they have sharp fins). Prospect Park Lake has a lot of them.

They like to hang out in the shade, so tree-covered corners of the pond are good spots to find one.

Easy-to-catch fish found in most of the city’s parks. They have tiny mouths, so small hooks are best.

Where the Fish and the Fisher-People Are

Staten Island (9)
“When I was 7, my aunt took me fishing off the Harlem piers (1). Now I go out with the Brooklyn Fishing Club. Last year, on a trip to Staten Island, each of us caught at least six huge striped bass. It was like out of The Old Man and the Sea: The reels were screeching and we were shouting, ‘We got another one here!’ One guy broke two poles and still managed to reel in a fish on one broken pole. When I came back home, I had blood all over my pants.” —Joseph Perez, 28, middle-school math teacher

Sheepshead Bay (10)
“Fishing in the city has become a fun weekend option for me. I go fishing off Sheepshead Bay, on the Sea Queen VII. My friends and I just head there in an Uber and bring ingredients for Aperol spritzes and snacks. You pay a small fee to get on the boat, and if you catch some fish that are big enough, they will fillet them at the end. There’s lots of shirtless guys and beers.” —Angela Dimayuga, 31, executive chef at Mission Chinese

Gowanus (11)
“I live near the Gowanus Canal, and I launch off from 2nd Street and cruise on my stand-up paddleboard up the canal all the way to Gowanus Bay. I’ve met people who fish in the canal and swear they get bluefish, but I do my fishing in the Gowanus Bay. There’s a big derelict boat moored out there that has a nice shadow, and on hot days the fish follow the shade. I like to go work the shadow up and down.” —Gary Francis, 50, construction professional

Red Hook (12)
“My boyfriend got me into fishing. He first took me to Valentino Pier, and now he’s my New York Hemingway. I love taking my rod on the subway; it is a very weird thing to be on a train with a large trash bag filled with a striped bass, which everyone can smell. Dogs will become interested in you, for sure.” —Cassandra Tannenbaum, 27, photo editor

Prospect Park Lake (13)
“I go out fly-fishing in Prospect Park Lake once or twice a week. But when I first started doing it, I went to the park across my block in Williamsburg, near the Domino Sugar Factory (2), and would practice my fly casting. I read that Brad Pitt practiced casting for A River Runs Through It on L.A. rooftops, and that inspired me.” —Natasha Eng, 32, digital producer

Greenpoint (16)
“There was a November night last year when some friends and I went fishing on the India Street Pier in Greenpoint. There was a super-moon, and I ended up catching an amazing 38-inch striped bass. It was regulation size and in open season, so I scaled it, gutted it, used the carcass for broth, and seared its meat to put on top of ramen noodles. It lasted me a week.” —Kimberly Lee, 26, pharmacist

Next Year in Chelsea (17)
Zauo, a Japanese concept-restaurant chain, where customers sit inside a large mock boat and catch their meal with miniature rods from a fish-filled moat surrounding them, is set to open. What you catch is instantly prepared by the restaurant’s chefs.

Central Park Lake (18)
“Fishing in Central Park, I’ve learned how the raccoons come out at dusk, and once I saw a snapping turtle bite a duck’s leg off. I like catching carp; they love mulberries. You can bend down tree branches or shake them and then just put the berries right onto your hook without any other tackle.” —Morgan Krell, 17, junior at Bronx Science

Other Fish Hubs
• On the East River Bikeway near Chinatown
• Near the WWII Memorial in Battery Park
• Snug Harbor
• Flushing Bay
• By the Con Ed power plant
• In front of the U.N.
• South Point Park on Roosevelt Island
• City Island

Get On a Fishing Boat From Brooklyn (10)
Ocean Eagle V: This Sheepshead Bay BYOB institution departs at 7 a.m. from Pier 5 every day and heads out into the Atlantic. Captain Greg Nardiello and crew focus on fishing for blackfish and porgy, while the galley cook might serve deer and rabbit burgers. ($60/person; 2250 Emmons Ave., Sheepshead Bay)
Rockfish Charters: This six-person boat special­izes in striped-bass fishing. Best for anglers serious about catching big fish. ($800/group; 2100 Emmons Ave.)

Get On a Fishing Boat From Manhattan (15)
Capitol Princess: With its 23rd Street departure point, liquor license, and open-air top deck, this one is a fancier and more polished version of the rowdy Brooklyn party boats. (From $75/person; 23rd St. nr. FDR Dr.)

Rent Your Own Fishing Boat (14)
Marina 59: Fish around Jamaica Bay with these skiff boats, which cost $110 for a full day or $80 for a half-day. (59-14 Beach Channel Dr., Far Rockaway)

E-Z Catch Bait & Tackle (19)
5 Tysen St.
This small but well-stocked shop focuses on American-made products.

Big Ron’s Fishing station (20)
15835 Cross Bay Blvd., Howard Beach
Operated out of a trailer near the shoreline at Howard Beach. Ron supplies fishermen with fresh bunker caught in nearby nets.

Dream Fishing Tackle (21)
673 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint
In the back is a menagerie of vintage European tackle: carp lures made in Poland, bamboo rods, and “plug” lures that look like they belonged to your grandfather.

Jack’s Bait and Tackle (22)
551 City Island Ave.
Pick up some bait or rent a motor boat ($90 on weekends) for trips to Pelham Bay Park.

Capitol Fishing Tackle Company (23)
132 W. 36th St.
Once located below the Chelsea Hotel, Capitol has more inventory (thousands of items) than most bait-and-tackle shops.

The Basics of Urban Angling

Get a license: To fish in saltwater (off a pier downtown or in Red Hook), you need to sign in to the city’s marine registry, a process that takes just minutes online. On fishing boats, anglers are covered through the captain’s license. For freshwater fishing (which includes the fishable lakes in Central Park, Prospect Park, Baisley Pond Park 3, and Van Cortlandt Park 4), you must purchase a license. That simple application is also completed online. An annual freshwater license costs $25; a seven-day license costs $12.

Learn how to cast: Throughout the summer, the Department of Environmental Conservation offers free fishing classes at sites like the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center at the Harlem Meer (5), Willowbrook Park in Staten Island (6), and the Lower East Side Ecology Center (7). Novice anglers learn the basics of equipment and technique and how to identify fish and get briefed on New York regulations. For fly-fishing specifically, on Saturdays, the Orvis store (489 Fifth Ave.) provides free lessons in Bryant Park (8). Sign up online and meet with 15 other anglers at the store before heading across the street to try fly-casting near the lawn — all in the shadow of the New York Public Library.

Study the rules: As noted earlier, all fresh­water fishing in city parks is catch and release, meaning you merely thank the fish for the fight and return him to the water. For saltwater, you can keep your fish as long as it passes muster with size regulations. These rules (which were put in place to maintain healthy fish populations in our waters) are updated regularly on the State Department of Environ­mental Conservation’s website.