Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know my way around a few excellent trout streams in the lower Hudson Valley.
Having fished in many spots around the Catskills and the Adirondacks, I was a little surprised to learn that some of the best trout fishing in the state was right on the edge of the nation’s biggest metropolitan area — the streams of the Croton River watershed in lower Putnam and upper Westchester counties.
They’re great streams because they are tailwaters — waterways downstream of impoundments whose contents are released from floodgates at the bases of dams. The water at the bottom of a tall dam is nice and cool, and pouring it into a stream all summer creates very nice habitat for trout.
The Croton River was the first upstate river system to be dammed in the late 19th century to provide drinking water for New York City.
In the decades that followed, other reservoir networks were built in the Catskills.
The Croton tailwaters are very unlike the big Catskills rivers — the Delaware, Neversink and Esopus — which also depend on dam releases for their extraordinary habitat. The Croton streams are small, stony and shady, full of frothy little pockets and plunge pools that usually harbor small trout, but occasionally hold magazine-cover lunkers.
The benefit of being part of the New York City water supply goes beyond having cold water even in high summer. The city owns much of the property through which these streams flow, and in order to keep them clean enough to drink, has kept it completely undeveloped.
So what you have are charming little rivers all by themselves, for the most part, in the woods, and that is ideal. Nothing is more important to a trout stream than the shade of its trees, the nutrients the trees’ rotting leaves provide to its insects and the cleansing effect of the forest soils.
You need a New York City water supply fishing permit for most of these streams, but once you have that, there’s plenty of access. Even though the streams have been well-known for generations and are located within a couple hours’ drive of 20 million people, it’s usually possible to find uncrowded water.
The East and West branches of the Croton, the Muscoot River below Amawalk Reservoir (often called the Amawalk Outlet), the Titicus River, the Cross River, Beaver Dam Brook — they’re all exquisite. Certain sections of them are not stocked, but rather managed for wild trout, but you’ll have to find them on your own. I’ve already said too much.
Just last fall, I learned an interesting thing about the Croton network of reservoirs: it hasn’t been used in years.
New York City never went far out of its way to say so, but this reservoir system has basically been sitting idle while the city met its water needs from the reservoirs in the Catskills. But that’s going to change this fall.
A big filtration plant for Croton water is nearing completion in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Once it’s completed, the Croton system will again provide water for the city.
Here’s the kicker: Bringing these little reservoirs back online could have a significant effect on the biggest tailwater in New York, the mighty Delaware.
Anglers, guides and environmentalists have complained for decades that the city is too stingy with releases of water into the branches of the Delaware. With the Croton contributing once again, the city can afford to release more water from Cannonsville Reservoir on the West Branch of the Delaware, which might help keep the main stem of the river cool in the summer and extend the range trout well downstream.
“When the Croton system comes online, New York City’s going to be receiving up to 290 million gallons per day of high-quality water back into the system that was not there in the past 20 years or so,” said Garth Pettinger, part of a group of Trout Unlimited leaders advocating for more generous releases in the Catskills.
So if we start getting larger releases and better fishing on the Delaware in the next few years, the little reservoirs of the lower Hudson Valley may deserve some of the credit.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.