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Salmon fishing in the Catskills!

Judy Van Put
Posted 7/19/22

It has been a wonderful summer weekend here in the Catskills – warm and sunny with no rain after the deluges of last week – enough dry days to make hay and catch up on all those outdoor …

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Salmon fishing in the Catskills!


It has been a wonderful summer weekend here in the Catskills – warm and sunny with no rain after the deluges of last week – enough dry days to make hay and catch up on all those outdoor barbecues.

Area rivers and streams are a bit low and warm, despite some good infusions of rain last Tuesday and Wednesday; best fishing times are in early mornings. But as mentioned last week, for those who can’t fish early in the mornings, it’s time to try your luck in the tailwater streams – such as the East and West Branches of the Delaware, the lower Neversink and Esopus. Another option is to try your luck in the reservoirs themselves – and did you know that here in the Catskills you can actually fish for Landlocked Atlantic Salmon?

Thanks to the passionate efforts of the late NYS DEC Biologist William H. “Catskill Bill” Kelly, Catskill anglers have the opportunity to fish for landlocked Atlantic Salmon in the Neversink Reservoir; and in the fall, the Neversink River above the reservoir! This writer was fortunate enough to be able to work for “Catskill Bill”, or Kelly, as I respectfully and affectionately called the fellow Irisher, as a DEC Fisheries and Wildlife Technician in the late 1970s to early 1980s, and was with him on the first successful harvesting of landlocked Atlantic Salmon from the Neversink Reservoir during that period.

Kelly was a life-long avid fisherman and was invited to work in New York State’s Conservation Department’s fisheries research department, where he set up the Fish Research Laboratory in DeBruce in 1957. He moved on to the Fisheries Management Unit in New Paltz, and under his leadership, a number of programs were instituted: such as providing a new wild brook trout fishery at Crystal Lake in the Town of Fremont; a Lake trout program in the Rondout Reservoir; and introducing landlocked salmon in the Neversink Reservoir, providing Catskill fishers with the unique opportunity to catch Atlantic salmon.

Kelly was nominated the New York State candidate for the National Science Foundation Award for his work, but was most proud of an award bestowed upon him by the Sullivan County Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs; the engraved plaque stated:

To William “Bill” Kelly

From a grateful Federation of

Sportsman’s Clubs of Sullivan County

For Having the Courage To Try

Something Different

In the 1950s, Edward R. Hewitt, who owned miles of the Neversink River, was determined to see salmon fishing in the Neversink. Despite his efforts to urge the Conservation Department to stock the ‘new’ Neversink Reservoir with thousands of Atlantic salmon eggs from Scotland and l500 landlocked Atlantic Salmon smolts, his experiment proved to be unsuccessful.

Fortunately, some dozen or so years later, “Catskill Bill” Kelly strategized his idea for stocking landlocked Atlantic Salmon in the early 1970s. He surveyed the reservoir, completed thermal temperature and stratification and chemical analyses; studied existing vegetation, fish populations and forage species. In order to be successful, he realized that the reservoir needed forage fish to be introduced, and arranged to obtain rainbow smelt from Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. More than two million of these smelt eggs were placed on wooden trays that were lined with burlap, and DEC Fisheries employees Chris Salvo and Ed Van Put traveled to the Adirondack Hatchery, received and placed the eggs along the shoreline in tributaries of the reservoir in the spring of 1971. A few years later, between 1973 and 1975, thirteen thousand five-to-seven-inch salmon smolts of “sea-run” Atlantic salmon stocks were released into the reservoir. Over the next two years, more than nineteen thousand fingerling salmon from landlocked Adirondack freshwater stocks were placed in the West Branch of the Neversink upstream of the reservoir. Later, a stream survey revealed that the West Branch Neversink was indeed a suitable nursery for the salmon.

In the spring of 1979, an angler fishing from the shore of the Neversink Reservoir reported catching an Atlantic Salmon that weighed 3 ½ pounds and measured 20 inches in length – the first reported landlocked Salmon, confirming the success of the program! And shortly after, this writer who was scheduled to work with Kelly that week, witnessed and confirmed the success of Kelly’s determined efforts, with the netting of several of the “silver beauties” that were harvested after an in-depth survey of the reservoir.

Today, Catskill anglers can look forward to catching a landlocked Atlantic Salmon in the Neversink Reservoir, or in the river above the reservoir during the fall. The DEC Fishing website advertises that Landlocked Atlantic salmon are stocked in West Branch and Neversink reservoirs, advising that “Landlocks look a lot like brown trout. When fishing these waters, make sure you know how to tell them apart as the regulations are different for each.” (Salmon have forked tails, with x-marks across their silvery sides.) Regulations for Atlantic Salmon run from April 1 through October 15. There is a minimum size limit of 15 inches, with a daily limit of 3 salmon. The use or possession of smelt is prohibited, and a NYC DEP access permit is required to access the city-controlled reservoirs and lakes. In addition, special boating permits are available for storing your boat on the shoreline in designated areas. Both access and boating permits are free of charge; visit the NYC Environmental Protection Recreation website for information on obtaining an access permit and finding fishing locations.


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