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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the first statewide free fishing weekend in New York for 2020 will take place on February 15 and 16. During these designated days, residents and visitors are permitted to fish for free without a fishing license. 

“New York is home to hundreds of lakes, streams, and rivers, allowing amateur and expert anglers alike to get outdoors and experience the world-class fishing we have to offer, as well as the communities that host them,” Governor Cuomo said. “With free fishing this weekend, I encourage residents and our out-of-state neighbors to pack a tackle box and a cooler, grab a fishing pole, and head out to have some fun with a pastime that I and so many of our fellow New Yorkers enjoy.”

The free fishing days program is part of the Governor’s NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative and the upcoming free fishing days are the first of several planned for 2020. The free fishing days program began in 1991 to give people who might not fish a chance to try the rewarding sport at no cost, introduce people to a new hobby, and encourage people to support the sport by purchasing a New York State fishing license.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “This is a great time of year for families and novice anglers to try ice fishing as a new outdoor activity. Many schools are on mid-winter recess next week, so we selected Presidents’ Day weekend as the first of several free fishing opportunities planned in New York to coincide with a time when anglers of all abilities are able to fish this winter.” 

Winter anglers can catch a variety of fish while ice fishing, primarily perch, sunfish, pickerel, northern pike, and walleye. In addition, many waters throughout New York State are open to fishing for trout, lake trout, and landlocked salmon.

DEC reminds anglers to put safety first when ice fishing. This is particularly important during periods of freezing and thawing that most areas of New York have been experiencing lately. Four inches of solid ice is usually safe for anglers accessing ice on foot. However, ice thickness can vary on every waterbody or even within the same waterbody. Anglers should be particularly wary of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice buildup. The presence of snowmobile tracks or footprints on the ice should not be taken as evidence of safe ice conditions. Individuals are strongly encouraged to check ice conditions and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk. Testing the thickness of ice can easily be done with an auger or ice spud at various spots.

Those who are new to ice fishing are encouraged to download the state’s informative I FISH NY Guide to Ice Fishing and the Ice Fishing Chapter of the DEC’s I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing for information on how to get started ice fishing. Additional information, including a list of waters open to ice fishing, can found on the DEC ice fishing web page and the Public lakes and ponds map.

The use of baitfish is popular when ice fishing. Baitfish may be used in most but not all waters that are open to ice fishing. Visit the DEC website for a list of special regulations by county to find out where baitfish can and cannot be used, and for other baitfish regulations.

Anglers are reminded to take these important steps when using baitfish while ice fishing:

  • Follow the baitfish regulations to prevent the spread of harmful fish diseases and invasive species;
  • Use only certified disease-free bait fish purchased at a local tackle store or use only personally collected bait fish for use in the same water body in which they were caught;
  • Do not reuse baitfish in another waterbody if you have replaced the water they were purchased in; and
  • Dump unused baitfish and water in an appropriate location on dry land.

In addition to the six statewide free fishing days, DEC hosts regional free fishing clinics throughout the year.