Any body of water that’s fortunate enough to receive a blessing from Theodore Gordon, one of the fathers of fly fishing, is guaranteed to have high-quality fishing. Even over 100 years after his death, Esopus Creek in New York is still considered to be one of the premier fly fishing creeks in the country.
Esopus Creek is a 65-mile-long creek that flows from Winnisook Lake all the way to the Hudson River in Saugerties. Around halfway through the creek, the Ashokan Reservoir splits it. This reservoir gives the creek two different personalities. The upper section of the creek is what many anglers would consider a more mountain-style stream. Riffles, small pools, and fast currents are found throughout the upper 30 miles.
Below the reservoir, anglers are going to find deep and slow-moving water. There are plenty of hiding areas for fish in this lower section. Anglers have a bit more versatility in their fly choices as well as diversity in fish.
The combination of the upper and lower Esopus Creek gives anglers plenty of diversity to keep them coming back for more. Below are some of my favorite places to access Esopus Creek. They’re guaranteed to give you a great shot at landing fish.
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Many anglers are well aware of the Emerson Lodge and some of the phenomenal water located near it. The section of water north of the lodge has great access and plenty of fish. The multitude of eddies and smaller pools give fish ample places to sit.
Here, you’ll find jumping rainbows and brown trout waiting to be caught. Feel free to wade through this section of the river. You can work your way through the water or up along the bank.
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Near the small town of Phoenicia, Woodland Creek flows into Esopus Creek. Near the creek, there’s a great access point that gives you the chance to fish both creeks.
Personally, the section right where Woodland Creek intersects Esopus Creek is the ideal place to fish. Rainbow trout will sit near the confluence and wait for the food that enters the creek. Access is plentiful, and it’s easy to wade.
Along Creek Side Road near the town of Shandaken, anglers will find plenty of access to the upper section of Esopus Creek. Here, you can work your way up and down the bank and find a decent amount of privacy. Most anglers look to access the creek from State Highway 28 and don’t bother traversing some more of the backroads.
Creek Side Road is the ideal place to start your day and explore all that this world-famous creek has to offer. Throwing dries and nymphs in this section of water is the way to go.
For one, there are around 20,000 fish stocked into Esopus Creek each year. Anglers will find extremely high fish counts. Plus, the fish are healthy due to the cold, highly oxygenated water and plenty of insect hatches. Plus, the upper section of the creek has a good amount of access despite a large amount of private land ownership. Anglers will also find success fishing in the Ashokan Reservoir.
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Combine quality fishing with the numerous places to stay and the quaint towns, and Esopus Creek is the ideal fly fishing destination. Anglers will have their skills tested, but the fish aren’t unfair. They’re going to reward properly placed flies and be holding in areas where quality anglers would guess they’d find them.
What Stream Flow is Best for Fishing
If possible, you want to fish Esopus Creek around 200 to 400 CFS. Since it’s such a small creek, those higher flows can make fishing a bit more challenging. Wading becomes tougher and the casting lanes are smaller as a result. You want to pick your way around this river, so the more opportunities you have to wade and walk around the banks, the better.
Esopus Creek is a fairly diverse fishery. Fly anglers primarily fish the upper section of the creek in pursuit of the plentiful brown and rainbow trout. The rainbow trout grow anywhere between 10-15 inches. The brown trout fluctuate a bit more in size. Anglers will also find both largemouth and smallmouth bass in the lower sections of the creek. The fish are eager to eat.
There are plenty of hatches that happen on Esopus Creek, so a variety of flies work well. However, the three listed are some of the most productive.
Rusty Spinner- Size 14
A bit larger Rusty Spinner is the ideal Pale Morning Dun representation. However, they represent a variety of mayflies, so it’s a wonderful search pattern if you’re curious as to what’s biting.
Bead Head Prince- Size 14
Sometimes, a flashy nymph is what you need on Esopus. The Bead Head Prince Nymph is buggy and flashy enough to attract all sizes and types of fish within the Esopus. It’s the ideal stonefly and mayfly representation.
Yellow Sally- Size 18
Yellow Sallys are some of the most underrated flies you can use on Esopus Creek. They’re stonefly imitations, but they can represent a variety of mayflies.
|Fly Name||Size||Time of Year|
|Blue Winged Olive||14-20||April 15-July 15|
|Hendrickson||12-14||April 15-May 15|
|Red Quill||12-14||April 15-May 15|
|March Brown||12||May 15-May 31|
|Gray Fox||14||May 15-May 31|
|Olive Caddis||14||May 15-May 31|
|Sulphur||14-16||June 1-July 31|
|Light Cahill||14||June 1-July 31|
|Slate Drake||10-14||June 1-September 30|
|Brown Caddis||14-16||August 1-August 30|
Esopus Creek isn’t overly large, so you don’t need a heavy setup. Most anglers will use a 4-weight 8’6” or 9’ fly rod when they’re fishing it. You want the added length to gently lay down your flies, but you don’t need a ton of power. Make sure you find a reel that matches the weight of your rod.
Catskill Outfitters– Catskill Outfitters is a fly shop located in Phoenicia that offers guided trips and the gear you would need for a day on the water.
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Esopus Creek is everything anglers want in a fly fishing experience. You have beautiful runs and seams, but enough challenge that it’ll keep you humble. You’re going to have the freedom to explore a ton of water throughout the day on the Esopus, and as soon as you leave, you’ll be eager to come back for more.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) – The DEC is the state agency responsible for most matters related to outdoor recreation and conservation, including fishing. Look for their official website where they have a comprehensive section dedicated to fishing, including licenses, regulations, and information about specific fishing locations in the state. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html
- New York State Parks – The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees many state parks where fishing is available. Look for their website for information about fishing in state parks. https://parks.ny.gov/
- I Fish NY – This was a program of the DEC aimed at promoting fishing in New York State. If still available, it would provide a wealth of resources including information about where to fish, how to fish, and various fishing events throughout the state. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/89362.html
- The New York State Fishing Regulations Guide – This was an annual publication of the DEC detailing fishing regulations for the current year. Look for the latest edition of this guide for the most current regulations. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7917.html