New York is the birthplace of fly fishing in America. The Catskill Mountains were the playground for some of the most famous fly anglers of all time.
Dry fly fishing techniques, catch-and-release policies, and many other aspects of this great sport were established early in the 20th century in New York. There’s even a museum in Livingston Manor dedicated to American Fly Fishing.
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I had the privilege of spending a semester in New York City during college, and the first thing I packed in my suitcase was my fly rod.
Despite the wonderment of the city, I knew how special the fly fishing was across the state. On weekends and other breaks from school, I traveled all around New York seeking out places to fish. I was rarely disappointed.
The free-flowing, secluded streams filled with sizable trout were unlike any I’ve seen in the United States. If you take the time to explore the parks, mountains, and back roads of New York like I did, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Why Go Fly Fishing in New York?
On top of the fascinating history and beautiful streams, the purist mentality of the fly fishing community is unlike any other. New York fly anglers have created a culture of respect and diligence when it comes to caring for their landscape.
On top of it all, you have a chance to visit one of the best cities in America in the middle of your trip!
Fish Species in New York
New York offers access to any sort of freshwater fish a person would want to catch. The variety gives anglers a chance to land multiple species in a single day. Don’t pack only hoping to catch trout. You’ll miss out on some of these other beautiful fish species.
Brook trout are New York’s state fish. They’re native to the state and are mainly found between one or two pounds. I’ve caught these fish in the legendary Delaware, the Beaverkill, and the Neversink River.
Quill Gordons, Slate Drakes and Hendricksons all ranging from size 18-26 are smart choices for your flies.
All trout in New York are spooky. A good 3 weight fly rod, light leader and tippet are the name of the game. Leaders ranging from 4-6x with tippet near 7x may have to be used.
Brown trout were brought to New York in the 1880s. These are some of the heartiest trout in the world, so they’re able to tolerate more diverse water conditions.
I’ve hooked into them upwards of 10 pounds on a regular basis. Some of my favorite spots include Esopus Creek, AuSable River, and Wiscoy Creek.
I’ve always had great success using Woolly Buggers size 4-8, March Browns, and Tricos ranging between 10-16.
Rainbow trout were brought to New York in the late 19th century. I’ve caught them all over the state, ranging from 1 to 15 pounds.
They’re quite acrobatic and always lead to an entertaining fight.
For rainbows, I like to use Blue Quills, Black Caddis Flies, and any sort of mayfly pattern. They’ll also respond to smaller baitfish streamers.
Salmon are some of the most prized fish to catch in New York. Many of the salmon in New York live their whole lives in freshwater. I’ve found them well over 10 pounds in many different lakes and rivers across the state.
I’ve caught Atlantic, chinook, coho, and even pink salmon. Some of my favorite spots to target salmon are in the St. Lawrence River, Oak Orchard Creek, and Salmon River (no surprise there).
I suggest using the Eggstacy Egg, Red Tag or an Egg Sucking Leech in sizes 4-8 to catch these fish.
You’ll want at least an 8 weight fly rod for the larger size salmon that you can catch fly fishing in New York.
Steelhead are heavily targeted fish in New York. They’re deemed to be one of the most riveting fish to catch on the fly, and anglers are anxious to catch them.
I’ve fished for steelhead of upwards of 10 pounds in many rivers. Some of the best times I’ve had fly fishing in New York were on the Salmon River during the fall steelhead run and also on the Lower Saranac.
Dead drifting larger Woolly Buggers, baitfish streamers, and even a Crystal Bugger will help you catch these fish. They always live up to their reputation.
The extremely rare times I’ve grown tired of targeting finicky trout and salmon, I’ve gone after bass in many of the warm-water lakes and rivers across the state.
I’ve caught more than my fair share of largemouth and smallmouth between three and five pounds. Some spots I like are the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ronkonkoma, and Kissena Lake.
Throw poppers when they’re surfacing and large baitfish streamers the rest of the time. Gutless Frogs and Crayfish patterns are always smart to use.
I’ve also landed pike and musky all across New York. Double-digit musky aren’t uncommon to the waters in New York. They’re always looking for flashy flies with a lot of movement. I typically tie on Snake Charmers, Peacock Predators, Deceivers and Barry’s Pike Fly to catch these fish.
You’ll find them in the Upper Niagara River, St. Lawrence River, and Chautauqua Lake.
These fish are extremely strong. Be sure you’re equipped with a heavy leader (0 or 1x) and tippet that can withstand the power of these fish.
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Best Fly Fishing Spots in New York
New York has something for everyone. Tight mountain streams, wide flowing rivers, and everything in between can be found all across the state. Despite what many think, New York City only takes up about one percent of the whole state.
There are 70,000 acres of water across the state for folks to explore.
Best Fly Fishing Rivers in New York
New York’s streams and rivers are world class. They’ll test even the most experienced angler. I’ve always been humbled when I’ve fished in New York, but as many people understand, the payoff is always worth it.
No trip to New York is complete without a trip to the Delaware. Many professional anglers describe it as the best river in the eastern United States. It’s broken into three sections: West, East, and the Main Stem.
I’ve found the West to be the most accessible with pools, riffles, and pocket water. This 20-mile portion is located below the Cannonsville Reservoir.
Trees surround most banks, so be sure to bring waders along to allow you to pick the proper casting lanes.
You can use a 5 or 6-weight rod with a Weight Forward line. Attach a 9-12 foot leader to provide yourself with the most privacy.
I’ve caught fish on the Delaware using March Browns, Tricos and BWOs between 12-16.
West Canada Creek
West Canada Creek is a phenomenal trout stream in Central New York. It begins in the Adirondacks near Hamilton County and flows into the Mohawk River.
There are multiple sections that anglers target, and the Trophy Section is catch and release only. It’s a wonderful introduction into New York fly fishing.
Casting lanes are fairly tight, so I always pack waders. Besides waders, you’ll only need or 4 or 5-weight to handle the fish in the creek.
These fish have the potential to spook, so stay low as you approach the river.
I use Blue Quills, BWOs, Stoneflies, and Black Caddis Flies on the creek. This is some of the purest fly fishing water in the United States.
No list of places to fish in New York is complete without the Salmon River. The Salmon River is the most famous river in New York amongst trout anglers, and it’s certainly one of my favorites.
You can find both steelhead and salmon in both the upper and lower sections of the river. The salmon run starts in late August and lasts through October.
The steelhead start to run as soon as the salmon finish. They can be caught in the river until April. The skamania, a summer steelhead, can also be found in the warmest months of the year.
Use an 8-weight if you’re targeting this double-digit fish. Use 1 or 2x leader and dead drift your flies through the slow-moving portions. Also, Egg Sucking Leeches, Wooly Buggers, Red Tag and egg patterns are all necessary flies for the salmon.
The Beaverkill is a dry fly haven. This river is where many dry fly fishing discoveries were made in the early 20th century. It’s a tributary of the Delaware River and holds brook, rainbow and brown trout. I’ve found them in seams, riffles and deep pools.
The upper 25 miles is extremely technical and harder to access. The lower portion has far more access points, and casting lanes aren’t as difficult to find.
Like all rivers in New York, you’ll need waders. Being able to stand near the middle and hit every pocket and seam provides a major advantage.
Use a 4 or 5-weight rod with a floating line. Nine or 12-foot leaders with 6x tippet is best. Blue quills, stoneflies, black caddis, and BWOs all hatch on the Beaverkill, so do your best to match the hatch.
Also, the late summer brings out the terrestrial flies. Be sure to hit this river in July or August.
The AuSable River is a beautiful river in the Adirondack Mountains that holds impressive brook, rainbow, and brown trout.
There are three sections of the river, with the West Branch being the most accessible and successful. Casting lanes are tight due to the heavy foliage along the banks.
In my experience, a 4 or 5 weight was able to handle all of the casting I needed to do in the AuSable. Mayflies, stoneflies, and Hendricksons all hatch on the AuSable. Fish these patterns in size 14-20.
When you fish these, use 5 or 6x tippet to stay hidden from the spooky brook trout.
Do your best to fish the cut banks on the AuSable. These may not look like much to the naked eye, but there are always fish hiding in them.
Cast upstream a bit and let your nymph drift under the bank. An indicator is never a bad idea to use due to the limited visibility under the bank.
Best Fly Fishing Lakes in New York
While New York is famous for its crystal clear trout streams, there are also over 7,000 lakes filled with a variety of freshwater fish. I haven’t hit all 7,000 yet, but I’m trying.
For fly anglers, the most common targets are landlocked salmon, bass, and pike.
Lake George is located in the Adirondack Mountains and contains landlocked salmon, bass, and pike. It’s a wonderful lake for anglers to try when they’re looking to switch to stillwater fishing.
The beautiful scenery along with healthy fish populations will always provide an exciting day of fishing.
The most productive season to fish Lake George is the spring. The fish are more willing to surface feed and are extremely hungry.
It’ll ice over, so be sure to know when the ice is completely out before you begin fishing.
Casting lanes are fairly easy to find, but you’ll need to wade in a little ways before you are fully clear.
Use a 7 or 8-weight to catch the fish on Lake George. Also, baitfish streamers, poppers, egg sucking leeches, and stoneflies are great options to use. Be aggressive with your stripping!
St. Regis Lakes
The chain of St. Regis Lakes is another beautiful option in the midst of the Adirondack Mountains. The three lakes are all connected and easily accessible. I’ve hooked into salmon, bass, pike and lake trout in the lake.
It’s a wonderful lake to spend the day at with family. If you have a boat, bring it! There’s quite a bit of structure throughout the lake.
You’ll want your 8-weight when fishing St. Regis. Also, sinking tip line is a must.
The fish often sit near the bottom around structure, so be sure you have enough weight to maneuver the depths. You’ll need 1 or 2x leader on a large arbor reel.
As far as flies are concerned, I usually tie on flashy flies like Peacock Predators and Snake Charmers to catch the pike.
Poppers and Gutless Frogs work great for the bass, and leech or Wooly Bugger patterns will help you catch the salmon. Give it a shot on your next trip to the Adirondacks.
Due to the rarity of landlocked salmon, here’s another lake for you to catch them in. Piseco is also home to brown trout and bass.
Piseco Lake is perhaps the best shore fishing lake on the list. With over 21 miles of accessible shoreline and 2,800 acres of water to explore, Piseco is a perfect spot to cast your fly rod.
I like to use small dry fly patterns in the morning and evenings to catch some of the rising brown trout. These fish can grow upwards of 10 pounds in the lake, so be sure to not underestimate these beauties.
Bring along your 8-weight to provide both casting and fighting power. It’s another great place to bring the family due to the campgrounds and other amenities available for everyone.
For flies, bring small stoneflies, Woolly Buggers, minnow patterns and even some poppers. I’ve always enjoyed a day on the Piseco. Its beautiful blue water and views of the Adirondacks are inspiring.
St. Lawrence Lake/River
This may be considered cheating, but St. Lawrence is considered both a lake and a river. The river/lake holds salmon, bass, and steelhead. These fish are all powerful and large.
Regardless of the fish you’re targeting, you’ll need your 8-weight rod. The water and fish will challenge you all day long. The St. Lawrence pulls no punches for anglers.
You’ll be exhausted at the end of the day, but thankful for the opportunity to try your hand at this legendary body of water.
Use popping flies, large baitfish streamers and even some egg sucking leeches. You’ll want to fish the St. Lawrence from a boat. It’s best to cover as much water as you can, and a boat will provide the opportunities.
Depending on the species you target, it’s never a bad idea to hire a guide. These men and women understand the ins-and-outs of the St. Lawrence.
Brant Lake is a true mountain experience. Views of the Adirondacks surround you from all sides. You can find stocked brown and rainbow trout in these waters all year round. If you’re into ice fishing, Brant Lake is always consistent.
Getting to know the tendencies of the fish in Brant Lake is rewarding.
You won’t need anything too special for equipment on Brant. A 6-weight with Weight Forward line will do just fine. Also, be sure to have a 3 or 4x leader along to handle the different types of fish you will catch.
You may want to bring a second reel spooled with a sinking tip in case you aren’t able to reach the fish at their depths.
This lake is surrounded by trees so its best fished by wading or boat. You’ll want small streamer patterns, Hendricksons, stoneflies and black caddisflies to catch both the rainbow and brown trout.
You may be surprised at their size, so be prepared for a strong fight!
Heading to the Sunshine State for fly fishing?
Don’t miss our complete guide to fly fishing around Florida.
New York Fly Fishing Season
I’ve gone fishing in New York all year long. The lakes do freeze over, but many of the rivers and streams continue to flow despite the colder temperatures. It’s no different than many regions in the United States.
The fish become more lethargic in the heart of winter, but then become more aggressive in the spring and fall.
Fly Fishing in April
Most trout fishing in New York is allowed to begin on April 1. The streams aren’t full of runoff, and the fish are willing to eat due to the warming temperatures.
Midge flies are hatching along with little black caddis. Try any of the rivers and streams on the list and you’ll find fish.
Fly Fishing in May
May is a great time to fly fish in New York. The only thing to be careful of is the runoff from the snow, which has the potential to cloud the water and raise the levels.
As a result, you’ll need to use darker flies in midge, caddis, and march brown patterns.
Don’t let the cloudier water dissuade you. These fish aren’t as heavily targeted and are more than willing to eat.
Fly Fishing in June
Fly fishing in New York in June is beautiful. The temperatures aren’t at their peak and the fish continue to stay hungry. The water clarity continues to improve, so be sure you stay hidden.
Lighter leader and tippet is needed during this time of year. BWOs hatch along with drake flies.
Fly Fishing in July
Fly fishing New York in July can be tricky. It’s a great time to head to the mountains in search of cooler temperatures. Stonefly hatches are in full swing along with the tricos. Use these flies with some light tippet and you’ll be in business.
Fly Fishing in August
Similar to July, head to the mountains. The fish are starting to become hungrier and the weather is beautiful. Stoneflies, tricos and BWOs are the main hatches happening during August, so be sure to use these. Streamer fishing is starting to improve!
Fly Fishing in September
Fly fishing New York in September is great. The salmon are in full run mode and the trout are looking to feast on some dry flies. Almost every area of the state will be productive during September.
Fly Fishing in October
The salmon are finishing the run and the steelhead are just beginning theirs. Be sure to use your heavier flies and dead drift them in pools and other slower portions of the river. As the weather continues to cool, the most productive fishing will be for steelhead.
Best Fly Fishing Lodges in New York
New York has dozens of fishing lodges across the state. Each specializes in its own technique and fish, so you can’t go wrong with any. If you’re heading to New York to fish for the first time, do your best to stay at one of these.
West Branch Angler & Resort
Located in Hancock, this is an Orvis endorsed lodge. It provides access to two miles of the Delaware River.
It’s full of history and was newly renovated in 2007. The guides at the lodge will put you on fish. A two-night stay with a guided trip will cost you around $700.
Tailwater Lodge is located in Altmar. It’s located on the Salmon River, and you’ll have the opportunity to catch salmon, steelhead, bass, and numerous species of trout. You’ll spend around $800 for a two night trip with a fishing guide.
Located right on the Beaverkill River only two hours from Manhattan, this lodge provides perfect access to the Beaverkill River. You’ll have access to one mile of private water. Rooms will cost you at least $300 a night with options of adding meals and guided trips.
Fly fishing in New York is a surreal experience. You can place yourself in the boots of the groundbreaking fly anglers of our past. Chances are you’ll be casting a fly where legends of the sport have caught trophy fish.
Besides the legends, many less-famous characters, such as myself, have also had life-changing moments while fly fishing in New York. Whether I was shivering on the St. Lawerence or hiking in the Adirondacks, I’ve always had a great time swinging a fly rod in New York.
You’re guaranteed to be challenged, and if you can master the water in New York, you know you’re good. Combine your next trip to New York City with some world-class fly fishing in world-class water.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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