If you’ve spent much time fishing Esopus Creek in the eastern Catskills, you know better than to expect crystal-clear water.
The Esopus has always been rather murky. One reason is much of the creek is used as a kind of aqueduct, carrying water piped from Schoharie Reservoir downstream into Ashokan Reservoir, an impoundment on the Esopus itself.
That water is often cloudy, due to the topography of the Schoharie watershed.
But the Esopus’ own tributaries pour plenty of sediment into the creek, too. The worst offender has always been Stony Clove Creek, a lovely little stream that courses through a steep-sided valley and meets the Esopus, like a side street meeting the main drag, in the village of Phoenicia.
In many years, the Esopus could be seen running reasonably clear upstream of Stony Clove, but muddy brown below. The eroding clay banks up in Silver Hollow and Chichester were enough to foul the whole Esopus.
In fact, they’re enough to foul Ashokan Reservoir, too. And while a muddy creek only upsets a few fly-fishermen (the trout don’t seem to mind a bit), a muddy reservoir upsets New York City, which drinks the water.
So the city, through an agency it funds called the Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program, is out to fix the worst of the erosion on Stony Clove Creek. It has undertaken a major project, a $1 million bank stabilization that should make a real difference in the turbidity of the Esopus.
The site was a hillside, 500 feet long and 30 feet high, made largely of clay. A few toppled trees lay on it, but most trees that grew on the slope had long ago slid down to the stream and been carried off in floods. All that remained was a raw clay bank.
Last summer, the stream was moved away from the slope, and rock structures were built to keep it away. The hillside was cut into terraces and planted with grass.
In September, soon after the project was finished, a big rain came, one that would have washed heaven knows how much clay down the bank and into the creek. But the Stream Management Program reports that the engineering was a success.
This year, two more erosion sites on Stony Clove Creek are scheduled to be fixed — “even more challenging” than the one done this year, the AWSMP reports.
“One of the sites has been called ‘the bowl of doom,’ because of its large half bowl-like shape circling one of the largest and most dramatic hillside slumps seen in the Ashokan watershed,” according to the agency’s newsletter.
“This site is the number one contributor to chronic turbidity in the watershed and its repair should make a substantial difference in clearing up the water flowing down the Stony Clove Creek through Phoenicia and into Esopus Creek.”
That’s music to my ears. I love the Esopus and its little wild rainbows, and I don’t mind if the water’s a bit cloudy — frankly, it makes it easier to sneak up on the fish.
But the Esopus has been Yoo-Hoo Creek for much of the past few seasons, especially after events like Tropical Storm Irene. Nobody likes fishing a river of mud. And while the trout seem to survive such conditions quite well, they can’t bite a fly they can’t see.
TROUT IN THE CLASSROOM
Trevor Tripp from the Albany Leadership School for Girls will give a presentation on the school’s Trout in the Classroom project at Monday’s meeting of the Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Albany Ramada Plaza Hotel, 3 Watervliet Ave. Ext. The guest fly tier, Mike Walchko, will start at 6:30 p.m.
It’s not too late to sign up for fly tying classes and enter the annual Hornbeck canoe raffle. More details, directions, and information on coming events can be found at www.clearwatertu.org. Admission to TU meetings is free, and the public is invited.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.