You will find large trout rising on the Delaware and its East and West branches, but they’re fickle. Add to that the difficulty of access (unless you have a drift boat, pontoon boat or kayak, and can arrange a shuttle), and trying to catch a Delaware River trout can be, well, trying, even for accomplished anglers. Think patience, perfect presentation and having the right fly. One more thing: whether you can cast 30 or 80 feet, the fish are usually two feet beyond your best cast.
The Delaware’s three major tributaries, the Beaverkill, Willowemoc and Neversink, are much more angler-friendly, and while they may not have as many large trout as the big river, they’ve got plenty, and a few big ones.
You won’t find much public water above the town of Roscoe, NY (a/k/a Trout Town USA), so look for it from Roscoe down to the Beaverkill’s junction with the East Branch of the Delaware. Since the Beaverkill has such a rich fly-fishing history, and is so easily accessible, you’ll find that most of the pools are named, and that if you fish on a weekend or on a pleasant weekday, you’ll have plenty of company. Drive along Old Rte. 17, and you’ll find some place to slip into the river. Unless you’re an early riser, or the weather is inclement, avoid the most famous pools like Junction, Cairns and Cemetery.
You’ll want to avoid the lower end of the Beaverkill in hot weather (the trout migrate to colder water), and don’t fish when the water temperature is above 70 degrees. There may be closures around the cold-water refuges at creek mouths during July and August.
You’ll find just about every important eastern trout stream insect in the Beaverkill, and it’s said that if there’s a trout rising anywhere in the Catskills, it will be rising on the Beaverkill. Fish in the pools can be tough; maximize your chances—and minimize the company—by fishing the pocket water and riffles. You can improve your luck by fishing a nymph under your dry fly; swinging a soft-hackle fly through the riffles is always a good idea, whether you see fish rising or not. My go-to soft-hackle is a Partridge and Orange, size 14.
If you’re a confident wader, and know the water, fishing the Beaverkill at night can pay big dividends. I’d do it with a friend (and a head-lamp), using big wet flies that move a lot of water, or streamers. Don’t try to cast far; just cover the water methodically. Nice surprises await.
The Beaverkill has two no-kill areas where all fish must be returned. If you want a fish for dinner, make sure it doesn’t come from one of these sections, and please make it a hatchery fish, not a wild one. You’ll catch browns and rainbows, mostly stocked, but there are some wild fish, and sizeable hold-overs.
Willowemoc Creek flows into the Beaverkill at Roscoe’s famous Junction Pool, home of the mythical two-headed trout. It’s a bit smaller than the Beaverkill. From Roscoe to Livingston Manor, access is not a problem; above Livingston Manor you’ll find more posting and private fishing clubs. Generally, the Willow will not be as crowded as the Beaverkill. Although the Willow flows into the Beaverkill, you’ll often find that when the Beaverkill is high, muddy and unfishable, the Willow is clear. You can call any of the local fly shops (or go to their web sites) to learn current information on river conditions.
Old Rte. 17 also follows part of the Willow, although not so closely as it follows the Beaverkill, so you may have to get out and walk a bit farther to find your fishing. Generally speaking, the farther you go, the better the fishing will get. The Willow also has a no-kill section, and the same advice applies as to the Beaverkill. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all the good fish are in the no-kill areas.
The Willow has the same hatches as the Beaverkill, but it’s a little more intimate, and you may want to use a lighter rod. If you want easy access, try behind the rest stop on eastbound Rte. 17 between Roscoe and Livingston Manor, at Hazel Bridge, or in front of the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum. For more solitude, poke around away from the road.
The character of this river is affected by the Neversink Reservoir. Above the reservoir the river is largely private. Immediately below the dam, the water is very cold, and not very fertile. Downstream, fishing improves, as does access. The highest numbers of fish are in the area mid-way between Rock Hill, NY and Fallsburg, NY. The river here is easily waded in most spots, and because of the cold-water release from the dam, the fishing holds up well during the summer. Hatches of little green and yellow stoneflies provide nice dry-fly fishing here in early summer.
The river warms as it flows south toward Rte. 17, and temperatures can be a problem in summer. South of Rte. 17, the Neversink drops into a gorge, most of which comprises the state-owned Neversink River Unique Area. The Department of Environmental Conservation offers a map of the Unique Area and its access points. This area is too warm to fish in the heat of summer (besides, it’s a long and sweaty hike in and out), and the wading is very treacherous, but you might see a bear, an eagle, or a rattlesnake. The hatches are very different from those on the Beaverkill and Willowemoc (mainly stoneflies and caddis, but also large populations of dragonflies and damselflies). The trout down here are wild (browns and brookies), and the fishing is tough but satisfying. If you want to fish this water, find someone who knows it. Bring lunch and a bottle of water, and wade with cleats and a staff; this is an arduous all-day adventure.
Tributaries of the tributaries
I’m not going to give away my secret spots, but there’s some wonderful fishing to be found in the smaller streams of the watershed. Find them for yourself by using USGS topo maps and Google Earth. Ask in local fly shops (you always get better information when you buy a handful of flies), and the next time a Conservation Officer asks to see your fishing license, view it as a learning opportunity and not a nuisance; he or she knows more about local small streams than you do. And if you ever meet a state fisheries biologist, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Tight lines, and happy prospecting!