Rainbows on the move

Posted 11/19/19

As most anglers that fish the Catskills soon learn, rainbow trout are not as widely distributed throughout the region as brown trout. However, that is changing. As far as stream fisheries go, …

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Rainbows on the move


As most anglers that fish the Catskills soon learn, rainbow trout are not as widely distributed throughout the region as brown trout. However, that is changing. As far as stream fisheries go, rainbows were historically confined to the Esopus Creek and the main stem of the Delaware River.

Rainbow trout were first planted, privately stocked, in tributaries of the Esopus in the 1880s. Overtime, time the species migrated to and became well established in both the Esopus and the Ashokan Reservoir. By the 1950s, anglers eagerly awaited spring runs of large rainbows from that reservoir into the Esopus. These days, the Esopus is annually stocked with hatchery brown trout; some believe this creates unnecessary competition for rainbows. Keep in mind that most Catskill rivers are managed as brown-trout fisheries—there are no shortage of those.

In 1883, a train traveling along the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River had mechanical problems and was forced to stop. That train was carrying a large number of rainbow trout. The train master, fearing that all the trout on board would die due to the heat, arranged for those fish to be released in nearby Callicoon Creek. Some of those fish eventually migrated to the Delaware River’s main stem, and over time, the Delaware, like the Esopus, became famous for its rainbow fishery. No trout, rainbows or browns, are stocked in the Delaware River these days.

Since their introduction, rainbow trout have slowly moved from the Main Stem of most, if not all, of the Delaware’s tributaries. This means that, overtime, the species has traveled into the East and West branches of the Delaware, the Beaver Kill and, as I learned recently, the Willowemoc Creek. A friend told me that his wife caught a 20-inch rainbow near the NYS campsite on the upper Beaver Kill! Over the years, I’ve caught rainbows from the East Branch at Fish’s Eddy, Peaceful Valley and, just this August, a 21-inch specimen not far from Downsville. So rainbows are now nicely established all through the Delaware system, below the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs. The rainbow fishery in the Esopus system has been isolated to the main Esopsu Creek, its tributaries and the Ashokan Reservoir, although I did catch some small rainbows in the Schoharie Creek many years ago; so there had to be a stocking in that river at some point in the past.

Around 2010 at the Pepacton Reservoir, some of my friends and I routinely began our new trout season, fishing at the mouths of some of Pepacton’s tributary streams. Our goal was to find large lake-run browns sipping mayflies with hope of hooking one. While we did catch some nice browns, we never hooked a really big one. But surprise, surprise! During this period and out of nowhere, we started to catch some nice-sized rainbows. As it was our understanding that the state did not stock rainbows in the Pepacton or its tributaries, I’m wondering where these trout came from? I have my suspicions.

I called the Tuscarora Club, which has access to several miles of Millbrook, an important tributary. I was hoping to learn whether the club had stocked rainbows there as part of its sport fishing program. After several calls with no response, I contacted the DEC’s regional fisheries office in Stamford, where I learned that the Tuscarora Club had indeed stocked rainbow trout in Millbrook. Overtime, rainbows moved from Millbrook to Pepacton and into some of the tributaries. Last May, I landed a few nice rainbows in one of those tributaries several miles from Pepacton. Rainbows are on the move—a welcome addition to our Catskill fishing.


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