Fly Fishing in NYC’s Central Park & the Hunt for the Snakehead “Monster” Fish


Photo: Ed Wray/AP

When I think of fly fishing, the wilder rivers of North Carolina come to mind, or even Hemingway’s Big Two Hearted River, in Michigan.  I don’t think of Central Park, which is literally the center of New York City, a metropolis of eight million people, in a metropolitan area of over 20 million.  I have recently learned, however, that there is indeed fishing in Central Park.

But not all is well. There have been reports of a toothy predator, a northern snakehead in the lakes of the park. The snakehead, often referred to as a  “monster” fish, can live for days out of the water and will eat just about anything including other fish, frogs, lizards and even rats.

But first to the fly fishing. Last month, there was a story about Tucker Carlson, a political pundit, caught on camera in some minor confrontation with a passerby.  What grabbed my attention, however, was that Carlson was fly fishing in New York’s Central Park, at the time.  Fly fishing in Central Park?  I have lived in the New York area for close to forty years and I never knew that there was any sort of fishing in Central Park.  Central Park is a public park in the center of Manhattan. With 843 acres of park land, it is visited by 37 million people annually.  It turns out that fishing is indeed allowed in Central Park, in three of the five lakes. In Harlem Meer, a lake in the north end of the park, you can borrow a fishing pole, get free bait and fish for largemouth bass, sunfish, bluegill sunfish, carp and chain pickerel. Everything is catch and release, so whatever you catch, you must put back into the water.

The one exception to the catch and release rule is the snakehead fish. Signs have gone up around the lakes with a photo of a snakehead with the warning, “IF YOU CATCH THIS FISH, DO NOT RELEASE. IT IS HIGHLY INVASIVE AND A THREAT TO THE ECOSYSTEM.”

In Central Park, Hunt for an Intruder, the Snakehead Fish, Is On

The northern snakehead is common in the lakes and streams of China, Korea and Russia but they are not native in American waters. The threat posed by the fish should not be underestimated, wildlife officials said.  The possession, sale and transport of live snakeheads was prohibited by federal law in 2002.

However, they remain a persistent presence in Chinese fish markets across the city, officials said. For many, the fish is prized not only as a meaty, savory ingredient in stew, but for its supposed healing properties.  

After the seizure of 353 live snakeheads at Kennedy International Airport on the eve of the 2010 Chinese New Year, an investigation led to the arrest of a local wholesaler in 2011 who illegally imported thousands of snakeheads and sold them from a shop in Brooklyn.  

Ms. Cohen, a regional fisheries manager for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said a single snakehead turned up in the Harlem Meer in 2008 and that the fish has recently established a presence in Meadow Lake in Queens.

Invasive predator fish that can live out of water for days to be hunted in Central Park


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