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Fishing tips for low water

Judy Van Put
Posted 8/2/22

Thanks to intermittent rain showers, we have managed to stay above drought conditions, with last Tuesday’s flows registering above average. By Sunday afternoon, however, the Beaverkill at Cooks …

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Fishing tips for low water


Thanks to intermittent rain showers, we have managed to stay above drought conditions, with last Tuesday’s flows registering above average. By Sunday afternoon, however, the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls was flowing at 98.1 cubic feet per second, which is below the Median average flow on that date of 146 cubic feet per second over 109 years of record-keeping. The minimum flow recorded on July 31 was back in that historic drought of 1965, when just 36 cubic feet of water trickled past the gauging station! Some can remember, perhaps from their childhood, when many household water sources ran dry and water had to be gathered in pots and pans and bottles from water pipes spewing fresh cold water from abundant springs along the side of the road.  Thankfully this summer we have had just enough rain to keep rivers flowing and gardens watered.

With trout fishing limited to the Tailwater fisheries of the Neversink, East and West Branches of the Delaware, or early mornings and late evenings around twilight in upper waters that are cooler and have adequate water, those fish that are caught are even more precious, few and far between. It’s important to tune up your fishing skills so as not to lose out on the opportunity to land a fish once you’ve gotten it to take your fly. 

Your approach to a rising trout is of great importance. Try to move into position by walking along the edge of the stream rather than in the water, if at all possible. Low and clear water will be most challenging; I remember fishing the headwaters of the West Branch of the Neversink one morning some years ago, during the heat of summer when the water was low and clear (with water temperatures in the mid-60s and still cool enough to fish) and seeing a rising trout. I decided the fish was too dear to chance spooking – and crept low along the bank, never entering the water, lest I draw attention and alarm the fish. Using a 6-foot rod (perfect for fishing a small stream) I decided to try casting and fishing from my knees. Keeping the back cast close, the fly was dropped onto the water only when it was perfectly aligned with the feeding zone that led to the center of where the fish had been rising. Fortunately, the trout took the fly. The hook was set, the fish carefully reeled into the net, then released. It was a beautiful brook trout, made memorable by being my first caught while fishing from a kneeling position.

A few things to remember when fishing (or catching) may be limited – make each cast the best that you can, don’t waste poor or sloppy casts as they will undoubtedly put a rising fish down. Limit the number of false casts you make, especially when fishing a small stream, where your back casts may become hung up in bushes or tree branches overhanging the water. If you plan to fish a smaller stream and have a shorter rod, now is the time to use it. Position yourself across from, and just downstream of a rising fish so that your fly will float more naturally into its “target zone.”

If you are fishing with small flies, which are appropriate during this time of year, be sure your tippet size is small enough. When in doubt, go down a size tippet, from 5x to 6x or if you decide to fish midges, from 6x to 7x. Don’t strike too hard, and after catching a fish, especially a large or feisty one, re-tie the fly on the end of your tippet, as chances are good that it may have stretched out a bit and will not enable your fly to land properly. 

Keep an eye on the thermometer and use common sense when planning to fish during mid-summer; and remember above all that it is a great privilege to be able to fish for Catskill trout. Trout live in the purest, coldest and most highly oxygenated waters, and should be treated with care and respect, and appreciated for how special they are. 

After seeing the daily dire forecasts and photos of much of our country burning up from intense heat and lengthy droughts, we are truly fortunate to be here, in the midst of these beautiful Catskill Mountains, with an abundance of fresh air, green forests, and clean, clear waters inhabited by trout. We have an obligation to be good stewards of our mountains and trout streams, and to ensure they remain clean and clear and protected for generations to come.


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