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Tailwater Fishing

Judy Van Put - Columnist
Posted 6/29/20

Our rivers and streams were below average in flows and higher in temperatures than we hope for during the end of June up until Saturday's welcome rain. Water temperatures had ranged from a low of 68 …

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Tailwater Fishing


Our rivers and streams were below average in flows and higher in temperatures than we hope for during the end of June up until Saturday's welcome rain. Water temperatures had ranged from a low of 68 to a high of just about 78 degrees Fahrenheit until that rain, when the weekend temperatures were a cooler 63 to 66*F. The Beaverkill at Cooks Falls had consistently registered below the 105-year average flow, rising after the rains a bit above average and cresting on Sunday at about 250 cubic feet per second; but the river at mid-day had already receded to about 225 cfs. We'll need more good rains, hopefully this week, to carry us well into the month of July.

Recently I was asked (by my editor) what do trout fishers do when the rivers are low and warm? Fish for a different species? Bass maybe? I replied that some do; in fact, years ago many trout fishermen put away their equipment during the summer, concentrating their fishing in the early-season months of April, May and June when rivers and streams were full and cool.

Today, however, with the increased popularity of online information via the Internet and specifically the website of the United States Geological Survey (a scientific agency of the US Government that studies our natural resources as well as the hazards that threaten them here in the United States) savvy trout fishers, whether locally-residing or out-of-area anglers, are able to view the USGS website and check stream flows and temperatures before embarking on a fishing trip, and even tailor their fishing choices to specific rivers and conditions.

Thanks to years of the diligent efforts and hard work of forward-minded conservationists and trout fishermen from back in the early 1970s to the present, the city of New York and the Department of Environmental Conservation came to an agreement to institute cold-water releases from the Catskill Reservoirs into the lower rivers in order to preserve and protect the trout residing there. Also called bottom releases, these carefully monitored flows successfully lower water temperatures, raise river levels and provide a much more conducive environment to the cold-blooded trout. The cold water is released from the bottoms of the reservoirs and is estimated to be only about 41 degrees Fahrenheit (or in the low 40s) when it enters the rivers below, called “tailwaters.”

Favorite destinations for trout fishers during the heat of July and August include the lower Neversink below the Neversink Reservoir; the East Branch of the Delaware below Pepacton Reservoir; and the West Branch of the Delaware below Cannonsville Reservoir. (The Rondout Reservoir near Grahamsville serves as the central collecting reservoir for the other three reservoirs in our area. It receives water from its own watershed, in addition to water from the Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton Reservoirs; and these 4 bodies of water comprise the Delaware system that supplies about 50% of the water headed to New York City. Rondout Reservoir plays a critical role in the City's overall Water Supply System and is not part of the coldwater release program.) The main stem Delaware River can also benefit from these coldwater releases into its two branches, although by the time they reach the main river their cold water can be diluted and have less of an effect much further downstream.

Here are the links to the USGS websites for the three tailwater fisheries in our area: For the Neversink River below Neversink Reservoir, visit https://waterdata.usgs.gov/ny/nwis/uv?site_no=01436000; for East Branch Delaware below Pepacton Reserovir, visit https://waterdata.

usgs.gov/ny/nwis/uv/?site_no=01421000&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060; for the West Branch Delaware below Cannonsville Reservoir, visit https://waterdata.usgs.gov/ny/nwis/uv/?site_no=01426500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060; and for the main stem Delaware near Callicoon, visit https://waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/uv?site_no=01427510

We have fished on many a hot summer day when air temperatures are in the 80s, only to step into a tailwater stream and find that the water temperature is between 45 and 55 degrees - at times you can even see a layer of fog over the water - and after fishing for a few hours in these conditions you are thoroughly cooled off, enough to feel chilly in your waders!

As we head into the summer days of July and August it's a good idea to carry along a thermometer in your fishing vest. Fishing when water temperatures are in the 60s is ideal; but trout fishers should not be fishing when water temps are much higher than 70 degrees. Remember that catch-and-release fishing is stressful on trout, especially when water temperatures are marginal. Play your fish carefully, not excessively, and do not “horse” the trout in. Release the fish with as little disturbance as possible…and when in doubt, try your luck on one of the tailwater streams!


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