Fly-Fishing: Esopus Creek offers pleasant day of angling

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Someone has already dubbed it the “Comeback Creek.” That may be pushing it a little; one good gully-washer of a thunderstorm over the right hollow could mess it up all over again. But right now, after a decade of doldrums, the Esopus Creek is in great shape.

The water is cool and clear, and has been flowing at a good clip. When I was there

May 18, a cool, showery day, the creek hosted the best hatch of March Browns I’ve ever

encountered, and birds by the dozen worked

furiously over the riffles, picking off Blue-Winged Olives.

Trout rose freely the whole time I was there, and they were bigger than the trout I used to catch on the Esopus.

The Esopus rises in the remote high country of the Catskill Mountains, and flows southeastward through Ulster County. Most of the fishing takes place on the 12 miles or so from Allaben, just above Phoenicia, to Boiceville.

At Allaben, the Esopus gets a shot of cold water courtesy of the New York City water supply system, which pipes water from Schoharie reservoir to the Esopus, then lets it flow down the creek to Ashokan Reservoir.

This extra water (and the Esopus’ own currents) has always tended to be cloudy, but starting in the mid-1990s, it got so bad that Trout Unlimited sued the city over the water quality. Long-range plans for cleaning it up are supposedly being drawn — stay tuned. But meanwhile, while making emergency repairs to the dam on Schoharie Reservoir last year, New York City dredged away much of the silt near the intake of the tunnel that carries water to the Esopus, and the water has been considerably clearer ever since.

Kept nice and cold by the water from the Schoharie, the Esopus has for nearly a century been home to a remarkable, self-sustaining population of wild rainbow trout. Most are small — eight inches or under — and are often referred to as “silver bullets.”

Perhaps the trout are getting bigger, or perhaps Joe McDonough and I just got lucky for a change, but the trout we caught during the March Brown hatch were more like artillery shells than bullets. Eight inches was as small as they got, and many were well over 12, with a couple in the 15-inch range.

All of our fish were taken on dry flies, and all were rainbows, except for one brown — another one of my “accidental trout.” I had just made a cast when I turned to step, stubbed my foot on a large underwater rock, teetered on the edge of my balance, let out a yelp of panic, waved my arms around for a couple of seconds, regained my footing and went to lift my fly for another cast, only to find a hefty brown had grabbed the fly during my antics. I catch some of my best fish that way.

Of course, the Delaware River west of the Esopus still offers bigger trout, more plentiful hatches and a championship-level degree of hatch-matching challenge. The Esopus is all about feisty little wild rainbows and cool pocket water rushing through a valley with tall, green walls. There’s ample access, and it’s all less than 80 miles from Albany.

One note about access: To fish the water

below the Five Arch Bridge at Boiceville, which includes popular spots such as the Big Bend pool and the Chimney Hole, you need a permit from the New York City Department of Environ­mental Protection. They’re free, and you can find information on getting the permit at www.­nyc.-gov.

Whether the Esopus will fish all summer the way it did a week ago Sunday, I can’t say. But I can say, for sure, there are trout in the creek to be caught, and it’s a heck of a nice place to spend a day.

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