NYC Weekend Angler

Croton River (East Branch)

Just over the George Washington Bridge and less than an hour north on the Saw Mill Parkway is a surprisingly peaceful and productive trout stream. I discovered it when one of my Manhattan-based angling friends invited me to fish it early one season. I had my doubts that a productive cold water fishery could exist so close to a city like New York, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The East Branch of the Croton River barely reaches a width of thirty feet during its 5-mile run between reservoirs below the small town of Brewster, New York. The deepest parts reach perhaps five feet and most of the river is easily waded in hip boots. It bubbles over cobblestones and gravel, twists through wooded hillsides and cuts under heavily rooted banks. There are several nice pools and a number of manmade stream improvements to enhance the trout holding capacity of the river. It's a surprisingly pleasant river considering its proximity to such a large and boisterous city.

The trout were not rising when my friend and I arrived so we suited up and headed down to the first access point we found to see just how educated these"citified" trout really were. As there were no insects hatching, it took us a few attempts to interest the fish, but my friend caught the first one on a Hendrickson sparkle dun, size 12, and not long after I landed a fish on a #14 pheasant tail nymph. We caught several fish that day on those two flies. All of the fish we caught were browns and rainbows between 9 and 11 inches in length. They had probably been stocked from the bridge just upstream from us earlier that week.

We spent the rest of the day fishing as many different spots on the river as we could. As with any first trip to a river, we like to see as much of it as possible on our first visit, and found that the river is most heavily fished where it crosses roads —no surprise there. We also found that the waters just up and downstream from the bridges are every bit as attractive as the most popular pools.

Turning over rocks all along the riverbed, my friend and I found various nymphs and larvae. The most common were olive-colored caddis larvae and slightly larger nymphs which we figured to be Hendricksons. As the day warmed up, so did the water and we began to see some hatching activity. There were some small (size 20) blue winged olives and some larger caddis flies. Below some of the noisier riffles we witnessed some Hendricksons come off the water as well. We were able to land a few more fish this time on dry flies like elk hair caddis and hendrickson imitations until it was time to return to the bustle of civilization.

If you go to the east branch of the Croton or any of the other bodies of water in the New York City Reservoir system, you will need a special fishing permit. In addition to a valid New York State Fishing license, you will need to stop by a New York Department of Environmental Protection office and pick up a special Water Supply Fishing Permit. These are free, but you have to get them in person by showing the DEP representative your current New York State fishing license. New York State fishing licenses cost around $14.00 for residents of the state and $35.00 for non-residents. A temporary license only costs around $6.00 for residents (valid for three days) and $20.00 for non-residents (valid for five days). So if you are a non-resident and plan to fish in New York State more than once between now and October 1st, it pays to get the season license.

If you have access to your own transportation, take the George Washington Bridge out of Manhattan and head north on the Saw Mill Parkway. Get off at Brewster and follow the main drag through town. You will see Borden Bridge just before town and the Sodom Road Bridge just after town. Both of these are good access points with ample parking and clear trails up and down the river. Remember to explore a little so you can escape the crowds. The whole river contains fish and the further away from the popular spots you go, the more likely you are to find eager trout.

If you don't have your own transportation, you can take the train to Brewster Station and then walk about a third of a mile down to the Borden Bridge access point. My friend makes this trip frequently and finds it quite convenient. Trains return to the city about every hour and the ride takes a little more than an hour.

The trout in the Croton enjoy eating all the usual eastern insect imitations. A short list would include caddis and hendrickson dries and nymphs in sizes 14-18, pheasant tail nymphs in sizes 14-18, wooly buggers and muddlers sizes 10 -14, black ghosts and mickey fins in sizes 10-14. Later in the summer be sure to bring some crickets and grasshoppers.

There are a few motels in Brewster and ample places to get a decent meal. Call the Brewster Chamber of Commerce for more information.

I haven't been able to find any sport shops in the Brewster area. It would be best to double check your gear before you leave as there will not be any place nearby to replace something should you forget it.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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