Winnisook Lake, Origin of the Esopus Creek

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It’s truly extraordinary that one of the most majestic creeks in the Catskills – and possibly about a quarter of the drinking water supplied to nine million New Yorkers – begins with a tiny spring originating on Slide Mountain in Oliverea just over the apex of the Catskills Divide. This spring was dammed at its source by the Winnisook Club in 1886 to create the now 8-acre Winnisook Lake, so that members of this private club would have somewhere to fish. (This is a private club with no public access).

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Spilling from this pristine lake, is the start of the Esopus Creek, which travels about 65 miles through the northern Catskill Mountains and is revered as the source of some of the America’s best fly fishing.  It is dammed for the second time to create the Ashokan Reservoir and then continues on from there to empty into the Hudson River at Saugerties. We have so much water here in the Catskills, and so much rain, that it really feels like a rain forest in humid periods. The precipitation occurs because we’re high up in the path of clouds moving east from the comparatively flatlands of Ohio.

The Catskills Divide runs over Slide and over the other side of this Divide from Winnisook Lake begins another river on Slide’s west and south flanks, The Neversink River. The “Divide” is basically the backbone of connected ridges that snakes through the Catskills separating two river basins: The Hudson River Basin and the  Delaware River Basin. The Neversink flows into the Delaware River. The Esopus (below) flows into the Hudson River.

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Hikers can view the Ashokan Reservoir from the summit of Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills that towers over the mountains like Mother Aquarius, the chief water bearer, watching the water flow north and then turn south east all the way to the reservoir and on to the Hudson.

This week, the autumn foliage at Winnisook on Wednesday was a lot more colorful – more yellows and orange, (pictured top) – than the foliage further downstream in places like Mount Tremper (pictured above), where it’s still much greener.

Anglers were still out on the Esopus despite the plunge into low temperatures this weekend. This fall we’ve experienced very few sunny days, but the sun made an appearance yesterday late afternoon.

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There are many public access points to the Esopus for fishing that afford breath-taking views of the autumnal scenery. Look out for the road-side signage.

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You can still fish the Esopus in Ulster County until November 30th. Go here to learn more about fly fishing in the Catskills.

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