A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard

Part of the appeal of fly fishing is the unknown. Often my adventuring cohort, Steven Weinberg (an avid fisherman and illustrator), and I will stumble up a new stream in search of quiet, tucked away pools filled with brook trout or wild browns. Some days it works out. Some days it ends up being just a walk in the woods.

This past June, we invited Todd Spire to join us. Todd is a licensed NYS fishing guide whose Phoenicia-based company, Esopus Creel, provides instructional fishing trips in the Catskills. He spends one hundred-plus days a year wading in the Upper Esopus, so he knows these waters like the back of his hand.

The Upper Esopus Creek watershed covers a 192 square-mile area in the south-central Catskill mountain region of southeast New York State. The entire 26-mile course of the creek flows “clockwise” in a sweeping arc from the headwaters at Winnisook Lake on Slide Mountain to the Ashokan Reservoir.

We met just west of Phoenicia, near Slide Mountain. It was early morning and a foggy haze hung in the valley as we followed Todd up the former Ulster and Delaware Railroad and slipped through the woods and down to the creek. When we made it down to the creek’s bank, we spent a few minutes observing the local bug life in order to “match the hatch” with our flies. Once ready, Todd pointed out a few choice spots and we fanned out across the creek eager to land a big brown or feisty rainbow trout.

We spent the day leapfrogging each other, slowly working our way downstream. At each new deep pocket of waist-high water and every promising creek bend, Todd would remind us: “Tip up, drop down as the fly drifts past you, don’t strip in too early, the trout is still tracking it…”  We followed his advice, and as a result, kept our flies busy and our nets flush with fish while exploring new waters on the Esopus.

Jamie Kennard is an outdoor enthusiast living in Woodstock, NY. He spends his free time exploring the back roads, woods, and streams of the Catskill Mountains. He is an avid backcountry skier and in 2014 became the first person to ski all 35 Catskill High Peaks. When he’s not getting lost in the woods, you can find him at Brunette, a natural wine bar in Kingston, NY, that he co-owns with his wife, Tracy Kennard. Follow his upstate adventures on Instagram at @catskilltracks.

  • Where to Fish: The NYS DEP has a guide to the publicly accessible waters for the Esopus.
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  • Fly Fishing Guiding Services: Esopus Creel
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  • Gear & Rentals: Kenco
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  • License & Permits: Every adult must have a NYS Fishing License. Additionally, some parts of the Esopus (immediately upstream of the Ashokan Reservoir) require a special, free DEP Water Access Permit to both access and fish the waters. Register here.
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  • Conservation and Education: Trout Unlimited (Catskill Mountains chapter)
A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Even in the digital age, paper maps are still a must-have for planning time out in the water or the woods.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Not all water is accessible to the public. Look for these markers along Route 28 and for easy angler access to public fishing spots.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

A short bushwhack through the woods as our anticipation builds. For long days in high water we go out with full gear: boots, chest waders, nets, bug spray, and full fly boxes. You never know what you’ll have to tie on.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

The slow burn of early morning fog off the water is one of my favorite things.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com
A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Local guide, Todd Spire from Esopus Creel, hooks into a fish. A high rod top and tight line ensures the trout doesn’t slip off the fly.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

A quick inspection of a brown trout before releasing back to the water.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com
A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Size doesn’t (always) matter. Sometimes the smallest fish put up the biggest fights.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Steven hooks into a fish while Todd watches the dance play out.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

Scouting pockets of water for areas that might be holding fish. Between tropical storms and seasonal rainfall, the creeks and tributaries in the Catskills are always changing how they run.

A Fly Fishing Excursion with Catskills Adventurer Jamie Kennard. andnorth.com

It can be hard to peel yourself away from the water. Most often it’s prior commitments or the fall of darkness that eventually force us to retreat to our cars. We walk away knowing we are leaving a smattering of unsolved mysteries behind… which is also why we know we’ll be back to fish another day.