ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Nothing says romance like flowers and…free fishing! New York State has announced the first free fishing weekend of 2021 will be February 13 and 14.

“New York is home to some of the best lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in the world, all offering exceptional fishing opportunities all year round,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, families are seeking outdoor activities that don’t break the bank or require extensive travel, and this Free Fishing weekend is a perfect option for anglers of all experience levels to enjoy the very best that the Empire State has to offer.”

Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors during the winter months while practicing social distancing. Unlike some other styles of fishing, ice fishing is unique because groups can spread out and fish safely. DEC is reminding anglers to be SMART when fishing this year:

  • Socially distance at least six feet apart;
  • Mask – Wear one when you cannot maintain social distancing, especially in parking lots and along footpaths;
  • Avoid sharing gear when possible;
  • Respect your fellow anglers and the resource by providing space and practicing ethical angling; and
  • Take out what you bring in or place trash in receptacles.

Those new to ice fishing are encouraged to download the Ice Fishing Chapter of DEC’s I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing for information on how to get started. Additional information, including a list of waters where ice fishing is permitted, can found on the DEC ice fishing webpage.

Recent cold weather has improved ice conditions across the state and DEC reminds those venturing onto the ice that four inches or more of solid ice is considered safe for accessing bodies of water on foot. Ice anglers should note that ice thickness can vary on different bodies of water and even on the same body of water. 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 considered evidence of safe ice conditions. Individuals are strongly encouraged to check ice conditions and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk. It’s easy to test ice thickness with an auger or ice spud at various spots.

“During these tremendously challenging times, free fishing days give New Yorkers a chance to enjoy the peace and solace of the outdoors year-round,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “No matter the season, we are committed to promoting all of the great things to do outdoors in New York and enhance quality of life for all New Yorkers across the state.”

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Every year, more and more New Yorkers discover there are just as many fantastic fishing opportunities during the winter months as during the summer. Ice fishing is a great activity for families to do together, and the annual February Free Fishing weekend is the perfect time for first timers to give it a try on waters with ice thick enough to access safely.”

February’s free fishing days are the first of several planned for 2021. Additional days include June 26 and 27, September 25 (National Hunting and Fishing Day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). During free fishing days, residents and visitors can fish for free on any of the state’s 7,500 lakes and ponds or 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.