Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A visit to the Esopus

This weekend my wife and I shared a house rental with another couple and we ended up in Phoencia, NY for a couple days. Full disclosure: I had volunteered to find a rental house for this weekend getaway and just happened to find a great house conveniently located near the Esopus Creek, which I've wanted to fish for a long time. It also just happened to have a classic Catskills trout stream running right behind the house. So, I figured I should pack some rods. You know, just in case.

Thanks to some excellent insider info from Tom, I was prepped for a quick strike plan to visit two distinctly different parts of the Esopus: the lower portal-fed section in the morning and the upper smaller water in the evening. I was especially curious about the upper area, being the small stream fan that I am. Neither spot was a disappointment. Not only were the flows perfect this weekend, but both areas were just spectacularly beautiful. I haven't spent a ton of time fishing the Catskills, so I usually  feel a bit overwhelmed by all that big open water, but the pocket water I found in both areas was a welcome sight. The fishing was a little slow in the morning at the first location. I tried fishing an attractor dry at first, with no takers. I switched to tight line nymphing and picked up a nice brown at the head of a deep, fishy looking pool created by a gnarly log jam. I ventured upstream and bit and found some fast riffles and then a long slow pool that looked like excellent dry fly water. Naturally, there was already someone fishing there. After a quick hello, he generously encouraged me to jump in at the head of the pool. I took him up on it, with gratitude, but wasn't able to connect with anything on a dry dropper. I didn't see a single rising fish all day and nothing more than the occasional mayfly here and there. The fishing may have been slow, but the surroundings were really incredible. I'd love to return when the hatches are more active, it's just a beautiful place to fish.

That evening I took a quick drive to the spot on the upper section. Given that the Esopus is cooled by the somewhat controversial portal further downstream, which forms a cloudy and very cold tailwater, I had no idea what to expect of the section that is more of a freestone. I was happy to find water that was gin clear and cold- and much more so than our local Croton streams these days. And this area was even more beautiful. The narrow and rocky stream wound its way through a valley, with the lush green mountains in the distance. Though it's not far from the road, the sense of being in the wilderness was striking. The only footprints I saw were those of a bear and what I would guess to be coyotes. I was actually so enamored with it all I didn't even take any photos. And again, the variety of water was amazing. Years and years of flooding have created occasional log jams that form some excellent pools. Not to mention the many rocks that provide perfect lies for trout. I hooked and lost a couple small wild browns in the first pool and then made my way downstream. It didn't take long to find an absolutely perfect run. It took shape after a shallow pool flowed into a sharp bend- creating a narrow and deep run along a bank with overhanging trees. Textbook trout water, if I've ever seen it. Though there were almost certainly trout in there, and I worked hard, I just couldn't get one of them to take a fly over the next hour. I tried various nymphs at every depth possible and drifted some terrestrial dries under the branches, but I didn't see a sign of life. Even the occasional real insect that floated by got the cold shoulder. I rested the water for a while, after likely having put down any activity, but it didn't make a difference. It's tough when you just know they're there, but they won't bite. I finally admitted defeat and walked back to that first pool. I immediately hooked a small brown. A nice way to go out, sure, but it didn't exactly solve the mystery of that seemingly lifeless run I had just left. With a promise of grilling dinner to keep, I packed it up and hiked back to the truck. I can't wait to come back here.

The famed Stoney Clove Creek, right behind the house. This little creek was just full of brown trout parr.