Free Fishing Days in New York: Dates, Locations, and Tips

Attention all fishing enthusiasts and curious beginners! Are you ready to embark on an unforgettable angling adventure without the hassle of obtaining a fishing license? Well, grab your gear and mark your calendars because New York’s Free Fishing Days in 2024 are just around the corner! This annual event, sponsored by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is a fantastic opportunity for residents and visitors alike to explore the state’s abundant freshwater resources at no cost. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to share your passion with loved ones or a first-timer eager to dip your toes into the world of fishing, Free Fishing Days offer something for everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the details of this exciting occasion, including the dates, top fishing locations, essential tips, and resources to help you reel in the catch of a lifetime. So, let’s cast off and discover the joys of fishing in the Empire State!

What are Free Fishing Days?

Free Fishing Days is a program designed to introduce more people to the rewarding sport of fishing and encourage participation in outdoor recreation. During these designated days, anyone can fish New York’s waters without a fishing license, providing a unique chance for first-timers to try their hand at angling and for seasoned fishermen to share their passion with friends and family.

The Free Fishing Days program began in 1991 with the goal of removing barriers and promoting the benefits of fishing, such as:

  • Connecting with nature and enjoying the great outdoors
  • Spending quality time with loved ones
  • Learning patience, discipline, and problem-solving skills
  • Supporting conservation efforts through increased awareness and appreciation for aquatic resources

2024 Free Fishing Days Dates

Get ready to mark your calendars and clear your schedules because the DEC has announced six Free Fishing Days for 2024, spread throughout the year to offer diverse angling experiences:

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

Each of these dates presents a unique opportunity to explore New York’s fisheries under different conditions. Imagine the thrill of ice fishing on a crisp February morning, the sun glistening off the frozen lake as you huddle in your cozy shanty, waiting for a flag to signal a bite. Or picture yourself casting a line on a balmy June afternoon, the warm breeze carrying the scent of summer as you drift along a lazy river, seeking out the perfect spot to hook a trophy bass.

For those who prefer the cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage of fall, the September and November dates offer a chance to experience the magic of autumn angling. Imagine the satisfying crunch of leaves beneath your feet as you hike to a remote trout stream, the brilliant reds and golds of the surrounding trees mirrored in the crystal-clear water. Or picture yourself on the shores of a misty lake at dawn, the chill of a November morning invigorating your senses as you cast your line, hoping to entice a hungry walleye or pike.

No matter your skill level or preferred fishing style, there’s a Free Fishing Day that caters to your interests. These carefully selected dates ensure that anglers of all stripes can take advantage of the program, creating an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere that encourages participation and fosters a sense of community among fishing enthusiasts.

Regulations and Requirements

While Free Fishing Days offer a fantastic opportunity to fish without a license, it’s crucial to remember that all other fishing regulations remain in effect. These regulations, designed to ensure the sustainability and health of New York’s fisheries, include:

  • Daily catch limits: Each species of fish has a specific daily limit to prevent overfishing and maintain healthy populations. Imagine the satisfaction of reeling in a beautiful trout, admiring its iridescent colors, and then carefully releasing it back into the water, knowing that you’re contributing to the future of the sport.
  • Size restrictions: Certain species must meet minimum size requirements to be legally harvested, allowing younger fish to reach maturity and reproduce. Picture yourself measuring a feisty smallmouth bass against a ruler, the anticipation building as you realize it’s just over the legal limit, ready to be brought home for a delicious meal.
  • Seasons for certain species: Some fish, such as trout and salmon, have specific seasons during which they can be legally caught, ensuring that they’re not disturbed during critical spawning periods. Imagine the excitement of planning your fishing trip around the opening day of trout season, the air buzzing with the energy of fellow anglers eager to test their skills against these elusive and highly prized fish.
  • Bait and gear restrictions: Certain waters may have restrictions on the type of bait or gear that can be used, helping to maintain the ecological balance and prevent the spread of invasive species. Picture yourself carefully selecting the perfect lure or fly, the colors and patterns mimicking the natural prey of your target fish, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’re using methods that respect the environment.

To ensure that you’re always fishing within the law, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the DEC’s Freshwater Fishing Regulations guide, available online or in print at license issuing agents. Take a moment to imagine yourself sitting down with a cup of coffee, poring over the guide, and discovering new waters and species to target, the anticipation building as you plan your next angling adventure.

In addition to following the regulations, it’s crucial to obtain permission from landowners when fishing on private property and to practice responsible angling etiquette. Picture yourself approaching a friendly landowner, engaging in a warm conversation about the local fishing opportunities, and gratefully receiving permission to access their stretch of river. Or imagine packing out all of your trash after a successful day on the water, leaving the shoreline pristine for the next angler to enjoy, and feeling the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing your part to preserve the beauty and integrity of New York’s fisheries.

By adhering to these regulations and best practices, you not only ensure the sustainability of the state’s aquatic resources but also contribute to a positive and respectful fishing community that values the environment and the sport’s rich traditions.

Top Fishing Locations in New York

New York boasts an incredible array of freshwater fishing destinations, each offering its own unique challenges and rewards. From the vast expanse of the Great Lakes to the rugged beauty of the Adirondacks and the Catskills, there’s no shortage of stunning locations to explore during Free Fishing Days. Let’s dive into some of the top spots that should be on every angler’s bucket list:

Great Lakes Region

The Great Lakes Region is a true paradise for anglers, offering world-class fishing opportunities for a variety of species. Imagine standing on the rocky shores of Lake Erie, the wind whipping through your hair as you cast your line into the depths, hoping to hook into a monster walleye or a hard-fighting steelhead. Or picture yourself on the open waters of Lake Ontario, the sun glinting off the waves as you troll for massive salmon and trout, the anticipation building with each passing moment.

For those seeking a more intimate fishing experience, the Finger Lakes provide a series of 11 glacial lakes renowned for their diverse fisheries. Imagine yourself in a small boat, drifting along the serene waters of Seneca Lake, the lush hillsides rising up on either side as you cast for lake trout, rainbow trout, and bass. Or picture yourself wading in the shallows of Cayuga Lake, the cool water lapping at your legs as you fly fish for cruising carp, the thrill of the chase keeping you engaged for hours on end.

  • Lake Erie: Known for its excellent walleye, bass, and steelhead fishing
  • Lake Ontario: Offers world-class salmon and trout fishing, along with bass and panfish
  • Finger Lakes: A series of 11 glacial lakes renowned for their diverse fisheries, including lake trout, rainbow trout, and bass

Adirondack Region

The Adirondack Region is a true wilderness, offering anglers the chance to immerse themselves in pristine natural beauty while pursuing a wide range of fish species. Imagine yourself on the vast expanse of Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains rising majestically in the distance as you cast for bass, pike, and salmon, the tranquility of the surroundings enveloping you in a sense of peace and connection with nature.

For a more intimate experience, the Saranac Lake Chain offers three interconnected lakes that provide excellent fishing for bass, pike, and panfish. Picture yourself paddling a canoe through the mist-shrouded waters of Lower Saranac Lake, the haunting cry of a loon echoing across the surface as you cast your line along the weed edges, hoping to entice a feisty largemouth bass or a crafty northern pike.

And for those seeking the ultimate in solitude and adventure, the Adirondacks are home to countless remote brook trout ponds, scattered throughout the region like hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Imagine yourself hiking through the dense forest, the scent of pine and earth filling your nostrils as you make your way to a secluded pond, the anticipation building with each step. As you break through the treeline and lay eyes on the mirror-like surface of the water, the colors of the native brook trout shimmering beneath the surface, you feel a sense of awe and gratitude for the opportunity to experience such unspoiled beauty.

  • Lake Champlain: A vast lake with over 80 species of fish, including bass, pike, and salmon
  • Saranac Lake Chain: Consists of three interconnected lakes offering excellent fishing for bass, pike, and panfish
  • Adirondack brook trout ponds: Numerous remote ponds scattered throughout the region, known for their native brook trout populations

Catskill Region

The Catskill Region is a mecca for fly fishing enthusiasts, boasting some of the most iconic and historic trout streams in the country. Imagine yourself standing knee-deep in the crystal-clear waters of the Beaverkill River, the birthplace of American fly fishing, as you cast your line with the same reverence and skill as the anglers who came before you. Or picture yourself on the banks of the Delaware River, the mist rising off the water in the early morning light as you present your fly to a rising trout, the thrill of the take sending shivers down your spine.

For those seeking a more diverse fishing experience, the Catskills also offer excellent opportunities for smallmouth bass and other warmwater species. Imagine yourself floating down the Esopus Creek, the lush green hillsides towering above you as you cast your spinning gear towards promising rock structures, the explosive strike of a bronzeback setting your heart racing. Or picture yourself on the shores of the Pepacton Reservoir, the expansive waters stretching out before you as you target cruising smallmouth bass and chunky brown trout, the satisfaction of a well-earned catch filling you with pride and accomplishment.

  • Catskill Rivers (Delaware, Beaverkill, Willowemoc): World-famous for their wild brown and rainbow trout fishing
  • Esopus Creek: A popular destination for fly fishing enthusiasts seeking brown and rainbow trout
  • Pepacton and Neversink Reservoirs: Large reservoirs offering excellent fishing for brown and rainbow trout, as well as smallmouth bass

New York City and Long Island

For those who may not have the time or means to venture far from the city, New York City and Long Island offer surprising fishing opportunities that are sure to delight and inspire. Imagine yourself in the heart of Manhattan, the towering skyscrapers of the city skyline rising up around you as you cast your line into the tranquil waters of Central Park Lake, the thrill of hooking into a feisty largemouth bass or a colorful pumpkinseed bringing a smile to your face. Or picture yourself in the lush green oasis of Prospect Park, the bustle of Brooklyn fading away as you lose yourself in the pursuit of carp, catfish, and panfish, the simple joys of fishing providing a much-needed respite from the stresses of urban life.

And for those willing to venture a bit further, Long Island offers a true gem in the form of the Connetquot River State Park. Imagine yourself walking along the pristine banks of the Connetquot River, the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees as you cast your fly to rising trout, the sense of history and tradition surrounding you in this hallowed fishing ground. Or picture yourself on the shore of one of the park’s serene ponds, the gentle lap of the water against the bank as you cast your line for bass and panfish, the peacefulness of the surroundings enveloping you in a sense of calm and contentment.

  • Central Park Lake: Surprising fishing opportunities in the heart of Manhattan, with largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, and bluegill
  • Prospect Park Lake: Another urban oasis in Brooklyn, known for its carp, catfish, and panfish
  • Connetquot River State Park: A Long Island gem featuring a pristine trout stream and several ponds with bass and panfish

No matter which of these incredible locations you choose to explore during Free Fishing Days, you’re sure to create lasting memories and forge a deeper connection with the natural world. Just remember to check with local authorities for any specific regulations or access restrictions before planning your trip, and to approach each fishing adventure with a sense of respect and reverence for the environment and the fish that call it home.

Fishing Tips and Techniques

To make the most of your Free Fishing Days experience, it’s essential to arm yourself with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed on the water. Whether you’re a beginner just starting out or a seasoned angler looking to refine your techniques, these tips and tricks will help you unlock the full potential of New York’s incredible fisheries.

Getting Started

For those new to the sport, the prospect of gearing up and heading out on the water can seem daunting. But fear not! With a little preparation and guidance, you’ll be casting like a pro in no time. Start by obtaining a free fishing guide from the DEC website or your local bait and tackle shop. These invaluable resources are packed with information on fishing locations, species, and regulations, providing a solid foundation for your angling adventures.

When choosing a fishing spot, consider your skill level and the type of fish you hope to catch. Many of New York’s state parks and public access sites offer excellent opportunities for beginners, with well-maintained facilities and helpful staff on hand to offer guidance and support. As you gain confidence and experience, you can begin to explore more challenging waters and target specific species.

One of the most important aspects of fishing is having the right gear. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer variety of rods, reels, and accessories available, remember that you don’t need to break the bank to get started. A simple spinning rod and reel combo, paired with some basic tackle like hooks, weights, and bobbers, is more than enough to begin your fishing journey. As you progress, you can gradually add to your collection and experiment with different setups to suit your evolving needs and preferences.

Another crucial skill for any angler is knot tying. Imagine the heartbreak of hooking into the fish of a lifetime, only to have it break off due to a poorly tied knot. To avoid this fate, take the time to practice basic knots like the improved clinch knot or the Palomar knot. These strong, reliable knots will ensure that your hooks and lures stay securely attached, giving you the confidence to battle even the most powerful fish.

Reading the Water

One of the most important skills for any angler to master is the ability to read the water. By understanding how fish relate to their environment, you can greatly increase your chances of success and avoid wasting time in unproductive areas.

When approaching a new fishing spot, take a moment to survey the scene and look for areas with structure. Submerged logs, rocks, and weed beds are all prime examples of structure that can hold fish. Imagine a largemouth bass lurking in the shadows of a fallen tree, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey, or a school of crappie hovering around a submerged brush pile, seeking shelter

Here is the continued writing on the beginner fishing setup guide:

Your first reel

To match your light-power, fast-action rod, you’ll want a spinning reel in the 2000-3000 size range. Spinning reels are easy to use, making them ideal for beginners, and the 2000-3000 sizes are well-balanced for light line and lures while still having the capacity to handle decent-sized fish.

Look for a reel with a smooth drag system that can be easily adjusted even when fighting a fish. You’ll also want one that’s constructed with corrosion-resistant materials since you’ll likely be dunking it in both fresh and saltwater over time.

Some great options in this category include the Pflueger Trion, Daiwa BG, and Shimano Sienna reels. They’re affordable, durable, and will serve you very well as you start your fishing journey.


Monofilament line in the 6-10 lb test range is an excellent all-around choice for beginners. It’s inexpensive, forgiving of rough use and abuse, and has just enough stretch to help protect your light line from breaking on hard strikes.

Brands like Trilene, Stren, Berkley, and Spiderwire all make quality monofilament lines that will work very well on your new setup. Just avoid going too light, as line under 6 lbs can be frustratingly difficult for new anglers to manage.


For your first few trips, a selection of live bait hooks in sizes 6-1/0 will cover most of your needs. Look for hooks with long shanks, wide gaps to avoid gut-hooking fish, and sharp points and barbs. Brands like Mustad, Eagle Claw, and Owner all make excellent, affordable live bait hooks.

Floats and split shot

Bobbers or floats help suspend your live bait at the desired depth, while split shot weights help get your bait down in the water column. Pick up an assortment pack of each in various sizes so you can adjust your presentation as needed. Thill, Lindy, and Offshore Angler all offer good options.


A good set of fishing pliers with a line cutter is an essential tool for every angler. You’ll use them to flatten hook barbs, crimp split shot, and cut line. Look for aluminum or stainless steel pliers from brands like Pline, Rapala, or Berkley.


While live bait is always a solid choice when starting out, you’ll also want to pick up a few lures to have some artificial options in your arsenal. For versatility, we’d recommend:

  • Inline spinners like Mepps or Rooster Tails in 1/8 – 1/4 oz sizes
  • Floating minnow plugs like Rapalas in 1/8 – 1/4 oz
  • Curly-tailed grubs on 1/8 – 1/4 oz jig heads

These lures will allow you to cover a lot of different fishing situations for bass, trout, walleye, crappie and more. Stick to natural colors like white, yellow, green pumpkin, and crawfish patterns to start.


As mentioned, focus on mastering the versatile uni knot for tying on all your lures, hooks, and rigs. It’s easy to learn but extremely strong and reliable.

With this beginner fishing setup, you’ll be well-equipped to start catching a variety of freshwater and inshore saltwater species. As you gain experience, you can then begin expanding your tackle collection to match your evolving skills and preferences.

The most important things when starting out are to have fun, be safe, and keep an open mind to learning. The fishing journey is a long one with countless opportunities to grow and improve along the way. Tight lines!

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