Esopus Creek, located in Ulster County, flows 65 miles from Winnisook Lake in the Catskill Mountains to the Hudson River in Saugerties. The Ashokan Reservoir, a NYC drinking water reservoir, splits the creek near its midpoint. Lower Esopus Creek is below the reservoir and is managed as a warmwater fishery. Conversely, the Upper Esopus extends 26 miles upstream of the Ashokan Reservoir and remains cold throughout much of the year, supporting one of the most productive wild trout populations in the Catskills.
Access Upstream of Lost Clove Road Bridge
Limited to NYSDEC Forest Preserve lands extending from the confluence with Giant Ledge Stream upstream roughly 0.5 miles along Oliverea Road.
Access Downstream of Lost Clove Road Bridge
Multiple access opportunities are available through NYSDEC Forest Preserve lands, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) lands, County and Municipal lands, and private property via Public Fishing Rights (PFR).
How to Find Access Sites
Use the web-based Trout Stream Fishing Map on DECinfo Locator or the "Tacklebox" feature in the HuntFishNY mobile app to find access sites and designated parking areas in this section of the Upper Esopus. For assistance on using the DECinfo Locator, check out the Trout Stream Fishing Map User Guide.
Special Access Permit Required for NYC DEP Lands. To get an access permit, visit the NYC DEP Recreation website.
Respect Landowners When Fishing on PFR. PFR are conservation easement agreements between DEC and landowners. Please respect these landowners and their property at all times. Without their generosity, much of the Upper Esopus would not be publicly accessible. Learn more about fishing on streams with PFR.
Although brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout are found in the 'Wild' section of the creek between Winisook Lake downstream to Lost Clove Road in Big Indian, NY, this section provides the best opportunity to catch native brook trout in the mainstem of the Upper Esopus.
The 'Wild Quality' section of the Upper Esopus runs from Lost Clove Road downstream to the Ashokan Reservoir. Wild rainbow trout are predominant throughout this stretch, with fish averaging 8-12 inches, and an occasional individual reaching trophy sizes greater than twenty inches during late fall and early spring. There is also a decent population of brown trout in this stretch and, although not as common, they can add a nice bonus to a day of fishing.
The Upper Esopus watershed also hosts many smaller tributaries that run into the mainstem such as Birch Creek, Stony Clove Creek and Woodland Valley Creek. Exploring these streams can also result in outstanding trout fishing, including for native brook trout. Anglers fishing these tributaries should follow the same 'Wild' regulations described for the Upper Esopus above Lost Clove Road Bridge.
For fly anglers, the average 9 foot, 5 weight fly rod would work perfectly in the mainstem and a shorter 6-8 foot, 2-4 weight rod would be ideal in the smaller tributaries. As far as fly patterns, the Upper Esopus and its tributaries produce some sizable hatches of insects throughout the season and matching the hatch can be important. The most notable are the Isonychia, blue-winged olive, and sulfur mayfly hatches as well as late season stonefly hatches; however, because the timing and frequency of hatches are variable season to season, contacting one of the local fly shops is the best way to get up to date information on hatches and fishing conditions. Not to worry, if there aren't any hatches occurring when you plan your trip, fishing can still be quite productive with classic nymph and streamer patterns.
For helpful fly-tying tips matched to hatching seasons, visit the Catskill Angling Collection website
For spin anglers, small spinners, spoons, and jerk baits are effective methods for catching wild trout. Bait fishing is also allowed during the harvest season from April 1 to October 15. An ultralight/light action rod with light 2-8 lb. line would work nicely for both lure and bait fishing.
Flow Conditions and Safety
Large rain events in the Upper Esopus Watershed can drastically increase flow rates and reduce water clarity, often leading to unfishable and unsafe conditions. Furthermore, flows through the Shandaken Tunnel Outlet (the Portal) can have dramatic impacts on stream conditions as this NYC DEP-controlled aqueduct has the capacity to deliver up to 600 million gallons a day of mostly cold water from Schoharie Reservoir to the Esopus Creek at an outflow just downstream of the Shandaken Town Hall. When open, the Portal releases heavily influence flows, water temperatures, and turbidities from Allaben to the Ashokan Reservoir, especially during the dry season.
Check the USGS gage near your desired fishing location before venturing out:
- Lost Clove Road Gage in Big Indian, NY (furthest upstream)
- Fox Hollow Road Bridge Gage in Allaben, NY
- Coldbrook Road Gage in Boiceville, NY (furthest downstream)
- Shandaken Tunnel Outlet Gage (the Portal)
Water Temperatures and Fish Stress
Despite coldwater inputs from the Portal, the lower portion of the Upper Esopus can reach high temperatures in the heat of the summer. Because trout are coldwater fish, temperatures approaching 70°F can result in heat stress, especially if caught and handled by anglers. In fact, many trout anglers don't fish in water that is over 68°F. If you're planning a catch and release outing in the summer months, it is advised that you scan the previous day's Coldbrook Gage hourly temperature readings (see link to gage above), bring a portable thermometer for accurate readings in your specific location, and avoid fishing in areas where temperatures exceed 70°F. That said, when the mainstem gets too hot, you can still try the cold mountain tributaries where the trout are a bit more comfortable. For additional details, check out Help Trout & Salmon Beat the Summer Heat (PDF).
The Upper Esopus Creek has historically been split into two management areas, with Lost Clove Road Bridge in Big Indian, NY as the delineation point. The management regime of both areas was recently re-evaluated per the 2020 New York State Inland Trout Stream Management Plan (PDF). Based on this evaluation, the reach upstream of Lost Clove Road is currently managed as 'Wild', while the lower reach is managed as 'Wild Quality'. Both management areas have enough documented wild trout reproduction to support a trout fishery without supplemental stockings. View more information on Inland Trout Stream Management in the Upper Esopus Creek and statewide.
Check for the latest survey reports on the Region 3 Fisheries Management and Research page to find out more about the Upper Esopus Creek fishery, as well as additional waters managed by DEC within the lower Hudson Valley and Southern Catskill area.