The winter of 2015-2016 seems to have come and gone without much ado - compared to the previous winter of extreme cold and heavy snows that lasted well into the beginning of April. Last year as we traveled to Margaretville on Opening day 2015, we noticed a few hardy souls ICE FISHING on Big Pond, which was still covered with snow (and obviously ice!) This year we seemed to have dodged any significant snowfall, especially in light of how many snowstorms New York City and areas south of us received…and not many were ice fishing as in years past due to the warm weather and thin ice conditions. 

    As a result, rivers and streams are lower than the historical average for this time of year, but should provide excellent conditions for those beginning-season anglers eager to head out this coming Friday morning for the opening of the trout season. Thanks to the mild winter, there was not much anchor ice to speak of, if any at all, with little disruption of the stream bottoms that often happens when the ice leaves the river. And without the snowy and icy conditions of the stream banks that usually occurs in a more typical season’s opener, anglers should be able to easily access their favorite fishing spots (even the ‘secret’ ones) that should result in less congestion on the more popular beats. Thankfully our free-flowing rivers and streams are not dependent on snowpack, as the reservoirs tend to be, but rather on rain - and with this week’s prediction of showers pretty much every day, should be in good shape for the early season.

    A check with the USGS website on Tuesday, March 29, showed that the East Branch Delaware at Fishs Eddy was flowing at 824 cubic feet per second. This is significantly less than the average flow of 1990 cfs over 60 years of record-keeping. The Beaverkill at Cooks Falls registered a flow of 481 cubic feet per second, as compared to the average flow of 1010 cfs over 101 years of record-keeping. And the West Branch Delaware at Hale Eddy followed suit - with a flow registering 616 cubic feet per second, with the average flow 1320 cfs over  51 years of record-keeping. 

    A call in to Mike Flaherty, Fisheries Manager of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 3, New Paltz, revealed that we’ve just experienced the warmest winter from December through February in 130+ years; and despite not having received any significant snowfall coming into the spring, the precipitation we did receive in the form of rain have kept reservoir elevations at a normal capacity.

    The NYC DEP website showed, surprisingly, that the New York City Catskill Reservoirs are at 93.3% capacity, which is exactly what the “normal” capacity is, as of March 25, 2016. It appears that we received enough precipitation (mostly rainfall rather than snow) to keep the reservoirs in good shape. As of this writing, Pepacton Reservoir is at 91.7% capacity; Cannonsville at 93.2% ; Schoharie  89.8%; Ashokan 91.6%; Rondout 95.7% and Neversink 92.7% capacity. Boat anglers will be able to fish on Opening Day since there is no ice cover, unlike last year; new boats will need to be steam-cleaned at an accepted station as well as a permit registration tag. For a list of service providers and more information on registering your boat or securing a permit to fish the NYC reservoirs, please visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/recreation/index.shtml

    Stocking of our Catskill streams will occur on or ahead of schedule, thanks to the favorable weather. In Ulster County, the Saugerties area will be receiving their fish during the first week of the season; in Sullivan County, sections of the North Branch and Main Callicoon Creeks, and the East Branch and Main Mongaup Creeks will follow. During mid-month the remainder of Ulster County will be stocked; with the Esopus Creek receiving the rest of their fish at the end of April. Mike suggested anglers visit the website www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/42811.html for the I Fish New York program, which sponsors fishing clinics and events. The website is updated weekly.

    Fly fishers will be happy to note that one day last week someone over on the East Branch observed a good hatch of stone flies - and trout taking them - so be sure to have a few stone fly imitations in your vest along with the weighted nymphs that are typically used in the early season.

    As always, don’t forget your fishing license - which can now be ordered online or by telephone as well as at license issuing agents. For more information please visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6101.html