Fish for Free: NY's Legal Fishing Days

2024 Guide to Free Fishing Days in New York: Dates, Locations, and Rules

Fishing is a beloved pastime for many New Yorkers, offering a chance to connect with nature, relax, and enjoy the thrill of the catch. However, the cost of a fishing license can sometimes be a barrier for those who want to try their hand at this rewarding hobby. Fortunately, New York State offers several Free Fishing Days throughout the year, allowing residents and visitors to fish without a license. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about New York’s 2024 Free Fishing Days, including dates, locations, rules, and helpful tips to make the most of your fishing experience.

What are Free Fishing Days?

Free Fishing Days are designated dates when anglers can fish in New York’s waters without a fishing license. The program, which began in 1991, aims to introduce more people to the joys of freshwater fishing and encourage them to support conservation efforts by purchasing a fishing license in the future. During these special days, the license requirement is waived for both residents and non-residents aged 16 and older, while those under 16 can always fish for free.

2024 Free Fishing Days in New York

In 2024, New York State has designated six Free Fishing Days:

  • February 17-18 (Presidents’ Day Weekend)
  • June 29-30
  • September 28 (National Hunting and Fishing Day)
  • November 11 (Veterans Day)

These dates are strategically spread throughout the year, allowing anglers to experience fishing in various seasons and weather conditions.

Where to Fish During Free Fishing Days

New York is blessed with an abundance of freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers, providing ample opportunities for memorable fishing experiences. Some popular fishing spots include:

Lakes and Ponds

  • Lake Ontario: Known for its excellent salmon and trout fishing, Lake Ontario is a top destination for anglers.
  • Finger Lakes: This series of 11 long, narrow lakes in Central New York offers diverse fishing opportunities, from lake trout and rainbow trout to bass and panfish.
  • Oneida Lake: As the largest lake entirely within New York State, Oneida Lake is famous for its walleye, bass, and perch fishing.

Rivers and Streams

  • Hudson River: Stretching from the Adirondacks to New York City, the Hudson River is home to a variety of fish species, including striped bass, catfish, and smallmouth bass.
  • Delaware River: Forming part of the border between New York and Pennsylvania, the Delaware River is renowned for its trout fishing, particularly in the upper reaches.
  • Salmon River: Located in Oswego County, the Salmon River is a premier destination for salmon and steelhead fishing, especially during the fall run.

New York City Fishing Spots

Even in the heart of the city, there are opportunities to enjoy fishing during Free Fishing Days:

  • Central Park: The park’s lakes and ponds, such as the Harlem Meer and The Lake, offer a chance to catch bass, sunfish, and catfish in an urban setting.
  • Prospect Park: Brooklyn’s flagship park features a 60-acre lake stocked with various fish species, including largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, and black crappie.
  • Staten Island: The borough’s lakes and ponds, such as Clove Lakes Park and Willowbrook Park, provide a peaceful setting for fishing amidst the city’s hustle and bustle.

Rules and Regulations

While the fishing license requirement is waived during Free Fishing Days, all other fishing regulations remain in effect. These include:

  • Size and catch limits: Each fish species has specific minimum size requirements and daily catch limits that anglers must adhere to.
  • Fishing methods: Certain waters may have restrictions on the type of fishing gear or techniques allowed, such as artificial lures only or catch-and-release.
  • Bait restrictions: Some waters may prohibit the use of live bait to prevent the introduction of invasive species.

Before heading out, anglers should familiarize themselves with the specific regulations for the water body they plan to fish. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) provides a comprehensive guide to fishing regulations on their website.

Preparing for Your Fishing Trip

To make the most of your Free Fishing Day experience, it’s essential to come prepared. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Essential Gear

  • Fishing rod and reel: Choose a rod and reel combo suitable for the type of fishing you plan to do, such as a spinning setup for bass or a fly rod for trout.
  • Line: Select a fishing line appropriate for your target species and the conditions you’ll be fishing in, such as monofilament, fluorocarbon, or braided line.
  • Hooks, weights, and bobbers: These basic terminal tackle items are essential for most fishing setups.
  • Bait or lures: Depending on your preferences and the regulations for your chosen fishing spot, you may use live bait, such as worms or minnows, or artificial lures like spinners, crankbaits, or flies.
  • Pliers or forceps: These tools are handy for removing hooks and handling fish safely.

Additional Items

  • Valid government-issued ID: While you won’t need a fishing license during Free Fishing Days, it’s a good idea to carry identification.
  • Sun protection: Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Insect repellent: Mosquitoes and other biting insects can put a damper on your fishing trip, so be sure to bring insect repellent.
  • First-aid kit: A basic first-aid kit can help you handle minor injuries or emergencies.
  • Camera: Capture the memories of your fishing adventure, especially if you land a notable catch!

Learning Resources

If you’re new to fishing or looking to improve your skills, the DEC offers a variety of resources to help you get started:

  • I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing: This comprehensive guide covers everything from rigging a fishing rod to identifying your catch and understanding fishing regulations.
  • Instructional videos: The DEC’s YouTube channel features a series of videos that complement the Beginners’ Guide, providing visual demonstrations of essential fishing techniques.
  • Places to Fish webpages: These informative pages are a reliable source of information when planning your fishing trip, offering details on access points, fish species, and regulations for specific water bodies.
  • HuntFishNY mobile app: This official app features “The Tackle Box,” a map-based interface that provides fishing regulations, boating access, and stocking information for your chosen location.

Angler Achievement Awards Program

The DEC recently revamped its Angler Achievement Awards Program, which recognizes anglers who catch notable-sized fish, including state records. The program now includes a Youth Angler Category and an online entry form for convenient submission of qualifying catches. Anglers who submit a qualifying catch will receive a species-specific sticker to display on their tackle box or vehicle. For more information on the program rules, eligible species, and minimum qualifying lengths, visit the DEC’s website.


New York’s Free Fishing Days provide an excellent opportunity for both novice and experienced anglers to enjoy the state’s diverse freshwater fishing resources without the need for a license. By offering these special days throughout the year, the state encourages more people to discover the joys of fishing and fosters a greater appreciation for conservation efforts. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or trying fishing for the first time, be sure to mark your calendar for the 2024 Free Fishing Days and take advantage of the chance to cast a line in New York’s beautiful waters. Remember to familiarize yourself with the fishing regulations, come prepared with the necessary gear, and most importantly, have fun!

So grab your rod, gather your friends and family, and head out to one of New York’s countless fishing spots during the 2024 Free Fishing Days. You might just discover a new hobby, create lasting memories, and develop a deeper connection with the natural world around you.

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