The fall run is on

Posted 10/19/22

By now, large brown trout have begun their annual spawning migrations from the six large New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reservoirs located in the Catskills.

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The fall run is on


By now, large brown trout have begun their annual spawning migrations from the six large New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reservoirs located in the Catskills. 

Those reservoirs are Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink, Rondout, Ashokan and Schoharie. Each one of these large water bodies is annually stocked with brown trout, with the exception of Schoharie. 

Despite the introduction of hatchery stocks, there are self-sustaining wild brown trout populations that are maintained by natural spawning in every reservoir. 

So each year, as summer beings to fade and fall is on the horizon, browns enter the rivers of their birth, to continue the reproductive processes that will ensure the future of their stocks. 

All the rivers and their respective tributaries in the Catskill region—with the exception of the Esopus Creek—were closed to fishing no later than October 15. Historically, Esopus Creek remained open until the end of November, providing anglers with the opportunity to hook a trophy lake-run brown trout.

Then the DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries, after several public meetings and input from anglers all across the state, changed its trout stream management policy, allowing year-round trout fishing with a variety of new regulations. Anglers should check the state fishing guide for size, lure and bag limits for the particular water they intend to fish. 

Now, the regular trout season begins on April 1 and ends on October 15. The new, extended season begins on October 16 and ends on March 31. During that period, all trout must be released unharmed, and lures are restricted to single hook-point artificials. Bait is not permitted.

Local anglers who do not wish to travel to fish the tributaries of the Finger Lakes or the Great Lakes—which have been open to year-round fishing for years—can now pursue very large trout right here in the Catskills. Each one of the reservoirs I described has a main feeder stream, which has a run of spawning browns of some magnitude. 

While the new regulations were in the proposal phase, there was a lot of controversy over whether or not anglers should be allowed to fish in New York’s trout streams during the normally closed season, when trout are spawning. In fact, most of my associates and fellow anglers were opposed to the new, liberalized regulations. I was not. 

Over the many years that I was a fisheries biologist, managing some of the DEP’s reservoirs on the east side of the Hudson Estuary, my philosophy was to allow as many fishing opportunities as possible without harming the resource. That’s why back in the late 1960s, I proposed regulations that allowed year-round fishing, including ice fishing on several of those reservoirs. All of which were stocked. Those regulations were approved and remain in effect today.

Now as we go forward with year-round—albeit with a period of no-kill—trout fishing, my philosophy remains the same. 

When taken collectively, the New York City DEP’s Catskill reservoirs comprise 23,379 surface acres, of which a significant portion is cold-water trout habitat. Those reservoirs, in addition to hosting wild populations of brown trout, are stocked every fall with a total of 40,500 brown trout. 

The question then remains: who is fishing for all of those trout, and how many are being taken? Those questions are not easily answered, but I believe it is safe to say that many of those trout are not harvested by anglers fishing the reservoirs I described. The logical question then is why. 

Any of the hardy anglers who fish the reservoirs know the answer. First of all, a NYC DEP permit is required. Next, anglers who wish to use a boat will need a permit for that boat, the boat needs to be steam cleaned/sterilized, must be examined by a NYC DEP employee, and must remain at the chosen reservoir. To top it off, access is limited and motors are not permitted. 

So here we have all of this water, with thousands of trout in beautiful Catskill settings, that are hardly being used! 

So for the first time in New York State fisheries management history, Catskill anglers will have the opportunity to go forth as the leaves change color, and the trout run, to try their hand.

There are 10-pound and larger trout on spawning runs from these reservoirs. So anglers need to be prepared to handle a fish of that magnitude, should one be hooked. Stout tackle and large streamer flies are in order for this kind of fishing. 

Fall fishing for spawning browns is never easy. The fish often migrate at dusk as they head to the spawning tributaries of their birth.

Anglers will make a lot of casts for every fish hooked. It will be cold, with a hint of snow some days. But there is a chance, for the first time in the Catskills, to hook into a truly large trout, perhaps a fish of a lifetime. 

All I ask is that anglers fish the main rivers that feed these reservoirs, and not the small tributaries where the trout actually spawn. Those fish do not need anglers chucking flies, as the trout go about the reproductive process, sometimes with their backs out of water. 

DEP, reservoirs, catskills, bureau of fisheries


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