Most major trout streams in New York have a catch-and-release section, or at least a section where you you can fish on a catch-and-release basis over the winter, after the statewide season closes. The Beaverkill, the Battenkill, West Canada Creek, the West Branch of the Ausable up north, the Connetquot River down in Long Island all have no-kill sections.
Esopus Creek in Ulster County has always been a notable exception — and it’s going to stay that way. The Department of Environmental Conservation has decided against a plan to make a long stretch of the stream catch-and-release and to open it to fishing during the winter.
The DEC Region 3 office had floated the proposal to make the Esopus catch-and-release from Phoenicia downstream to Ashokan Reservoir and allow fishing there year-round. At present, the Esopus season runs from April 1 through Nov. 30, and is covered by the general statewide trout regulations — five fish per day, any size.
Anglers surveyed at streamside supported the idea by a 2-to-1 margin, said Michael Flaherty, the DEC’s Region 3 fisheries manager. But the Bureau of Fisheries ruled against a no-kill on the Esopus, saying any impact would be too small to justify the special regulation.
“Most people release their fish, anyway,” Flaherty said.
Albany also vetoed the idea of year-round fishing on the Esopus, out of concern that it might interfere with the spawning success of the creek’s celebrated wild rainbow trout.
“They wanted to take a conservative approach and not kill the golden goose,” Flaherty said.
I’ve always liked the idea of opening the Esopus to winter fishing.
For one thing, the creek gets a spawning run of rainbow trout in late winter. The Esopus is full of wild rainbows all summer long, but most are small. As they grow bigger, they tend to migrate downstream to their “ocean,” the Ashokan. Some of them do, however, return to the creek to spawn in late winter and early spring. Allowing fishing before April 1 would extend the opportunity to fish for them before they return to the depths of the reservoir.
A winter-fishing stretch on the Esopus would also give anglers in the upper Hudson Valley something to do. Wappinger Creek and the Ramapo River in the lower valley are open in the winter, but they’re no match for the Esopus in fishing quality. Between Poughkeepsie and Albany, there’s no winter stream fishing at all.
But maybe the DEC is right. It doesn’t seem fair to deny anglers the right to keep some fish on a long stretch of the river when there’s no evidence that no-kill rules would make much difference. And protecting trout from harassment during their spawning run seems like sound management.
DEC fisheries chief Phil Hulbert deserves some credit for resisting a rule change that enjoyed popular support in order to protect wild fish. Wild rainbows are indeed the “golden goose” of the Esopus and it’s good that their well-being is top priority.
But maybe the DEC can find another creek or three in the region where cabin-fevered anglers can drift a nymph and get some fresh air on a decent winter’s day.
TU Flea Market
The Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited will hold its annual flea market Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, 1228 Western Ave. This is a great event with lots of fishing tackle, books, DVDs, artwork and more at terrific prices. Trout season’s only a week and a day away, and the TU flea market is a fun way to get psyched. Admission is $3, free for everyone age 16 and younger. Visit www.clearwatertu.org for more information.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]