DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Esopus Creek in New York

Esopus Creek is part of the extensive reservoir system that provides drinking water to New York City. In addition to supplying the City with some of the purest water on Earth, the Creek also provides excellent angling opportunities for intrepid fly fishermen who are intent on exploring the famous Catskill Mountain region.

The pristine waters of Esopus Creek are teeming with rainbow trout, with the rainbows here averaging about ten to twelve inches in length. Here, fish can keep cool year round, because of the constant flow of cold water provided by the reservoir. Of course, the best part of this fishery might just be the breathtaking views of the surrounding Catskill Mountains. 

Fly fishing Esopus Creek in the Catskills Mountains of New York

Esopus Creek is a 65.4 mile long tributary of the Hudson River. It is divided by the reservoir into two sections. The upper portion is more characteristic of a mountain trout stream, and is known for its shallow water and swift flows. The upper section is further divided into two segments by the Shandaken Tunnel. Below the reservoir, the water is deeper and slower moving. The Creek flows out of Winnisook Lake and empties into the Hudson at Saugerties Light.

The name Esopus Creek is derived from the Lenape tribe, who were early Native Americans settlers in the region. The Lenape tribe originally used the Creek as a trade route for beaver pelts, but the tribe was eventually driven out of the region by European settlers. Throughout the years, the forest product industries in the area took a heavy toll on the Creek’s natural resources. After the creation of the Forest Preserve, the Catskill Mountain region gained more attention as a wildlife tourist destination. The City of New York was able to gain rights to the land and build a reservoir and tunnel, but not without a good deal of opposition. 

Theodore Gordon, who is often considered the father of fly fishing, supported the construction of the reservoir, and said building the reservoir would provide “the finest trout fishing in America, if properly treated ... It will be stocked naturally from the Esopus with the rainbow and European trout of the finest quality.” Esopus is not only a popular destination for anglers, but other outdoor enthusiasts as well. Much to the annoyance of fly fishermen, white water rafters make frequent use of the Creek, along with boaters, tubers, and kayakers. However, tubers typically use the Creek during the daylight hours, so if you visit in the early morning, you shouldn’t be too bothered by the intrusion. Additionally, many anglers complain about the water, which stays fairly cloudy and muddy.

In addition to trout, you will also find walleye, bass, and crappies in the reservoir. The Creek is stocked with brown trout, and has native brook and rainbow trout as well. There is no minimum size restriction, and up to five trout may be taken per day.

Esopus Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on Espous Creek in New York

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish Esopus Creek

The upper reaches of the Creek flow through private property, so you will want to be careful where to choose to angle there to ensure you are not trespassing. The section from Winnisook Lake to Big Indian is made up mostly of pocket water, and you’ll find some smaller trout here. 

The next five miles of the stream gradually becomes wider, as it is being fed by numerous tributaries at this point, including Birch Creek, Bushnellsville Creek, Fox Hollow Creek, and Peck Hollow Creek. The Creek continues to pick up tributaries in its path, which include Broadstreet Hollow Creek, Woodland Valley Creek, Stony Clove Creek. There are larger pools in this section. 

The area between Stony Clove Creek and Ashokan is characterized by large pools and big pockets. This is where you will find the largest trout. There are a number of public parking lots along the Creek, making it one of the accessible fisheries that the Catskill Mountain region has to offer.

Best Time to Fish Esopus Creek

The season for fishing Esopus Creek is April to November 30. Because the brown trout here don’t spawn until later in the fall, fishing is extended all the way through November at Esopus Creek, whereas most other streams in the state close much earlier.

Since most of the Catskill aquatic insect hatches take place in the spring, spring is the best time to visit the Esopus. When nymph fishing, you will want to zero in on Stoneflies and Blue Winged Olives. In the upper section, you will want to focus on Caddisflies and Green Sedges.

Fall can also be a great time to visit, as that is when the brown trout spawn. In the summer, you can also have luck fishing due to the cool water discharges of the reservoir. 

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Esopus Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Allaben, NY provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions may not be ideal.

ESOPUS CREEK AT ALLABEN NY

  • Flow: 90.9 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 3.46 ft
.
USGS

Best Flies for Esopus Creek

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Esopus Creek:

  • Light Cahill (#14)
  • Blue Winged Olive (#18)
  • Sulphur Parachute (#18)
  • Bead Head Prince (#14)
  • Bead Head Zug Bug (#12)
  • Elk Wing Caddis (#14)

Need flies? 

Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere.  Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box. 

Dry Flies
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant

Nymphs/Wet Flies
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black

Streamers
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Esopus Creek. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Need Gear? 

Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.

Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.

High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.

Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet.  3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.

Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable.  If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.

Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market.  Excellent foot and ankle support.  Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.

Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!

Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats.  Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish.  Simply the best nets on the market.

Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam.  If you need more storage - you have too many flies!

Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.

Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.

The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes.  Game changer.

Note: DIY Fly Fishing earns a commission (at no cost to you) on sales made using the links above. Thank you for your support!

Esopus Creek Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide an Esopus Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of New York requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a New York State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Trip Planning Tips

If you are visiting Esopus Creek, you will likely want to fly into LaGuardia or JFK International Airport and take the scenic drive to the Catskills. 

You just can’t beat camping in the Catskill Mountain region, and there are plenty of beautiful sites to choose from. New Life Campground provides you with a relaxing chance to reconnect with nature and unwind close to the Creek. If you want to stay even nearer to the fishery, Phoenicia Black Bear Campground is located directly on Esopus Creek. They offer a family friendly location with a wide variety of truly unforgettable experiences, from scenic trade rides to horseback riding.

Feature image by Daniel Case

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New York

Ken Sperry

About the author

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.

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