Hancock New York

Named after founding father, John Hancock, this town sits at the confluence of three great fisheries – the West Branch, East Branch and main stem Delaware Rivers. Close by are three additional fly fishing favorites – the Beaverkill, Willowemoc Creek and Neversink Rivers. The town itself is a compilation of several villages, including Hancock Village, a quaint town square known as the “gateway” to the Delaware. Located in the Catskill region, widely thought to be where the sport first started, Hancock is surrounded by a heavy concentration of fly shops and fly fishing schools, not to mention the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum.

Once home to several Native American Indian tribes, European settlers came to the area to exploit its natural resources including timber and stone quarries. Hancock found a bit of fame by supplying wood for making Louisville Slugger bats. Iconic ball players including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio, scored home runs with Hancock timber. Several New York City icons are made from Hancock bluestone, including the Empire State building and the Statue of Liberty.
Despite these delightful historical notes, even Hancock’s history remains best known for its location at the headwaters of the Delaware and for the surrounding rivers and streams. Once a wilderness, by the late 1800s the region was already attracting anglers in droves. Along with them came writers, conservationists, fly makers, and entomologists, to fish, observe and chronicle the spectacle. Luminaries came to be seen and to experience the fish – brook trout, brown trout, rainbow and steelhead – and developed new flies by imitating insects found in local waters.

Today, visitors to Hancock can drive thirty minutes and visit Historic Roscoe, NY, better known as Trout Town USA or visit the museum and its Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. For anyone tagging along but not interested in fishing, Hancock is located just outside the 650,000-acre Catskill Park. Within the park are nearly 100 mountains 3000 feet or greater. It’s possible to camp, hike, canoe, view wildlife, bike on trails or simply take in the impressive Catskill Forest Preserve. The renowned Bicycle Route 17 follows the Upper Delaware Scenic Highway for approximately 70 miles. Other attractions include the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the Catskill Art Center in nearby Livingston Manor.

There are several options for traveling to Hancock, including:
  • Drive approximately 2 ½ hours from New York City
  • Drive approximately 2 ½ hours from Newark, NJ
  • Drive approximately 3 hours from Hartford, Connecticut
  • Drive approximately 4 hours from Boston, MA
Fishing Waters
New Yorkers can be thankful to the Neversink River for providing a good portion of its pristine water supply. Anglers, in turn, can thank the city slickers for building the Neversink ... moreDam and Reservoir and creating a fantastic tailwater. Beginning high in the Catskills, the river flows in two parallel branches until it reaches the town of Claryville and becomes one large stem. The two branches remain mostly private as are other sections of the upper river. Some easements have been granted and are posted.

Famous for its storied past, the Neversink is thought to be where dry fly fishing came into being. In the late 1800’s Theodore Gordon established a home in the area and is credited with creating imitation flies that appeared so real, the fish jumped for them. Considered the “father of fly fishing” his Blue Quills, Red Quills and Quill Gordons are still in use. Other luminaries fished this river including Edward Ringwood Hewitt, George M.L. La Branche, Justin Askins and Phil Chase to name a few. Ironically, both the Gordon and La Branche properties were flooded over when the reservoir was completed.

The tailwater below the reservoir provides cold water and the water remains cool throughout most of the year. Shade trees along its banks also aid in maintaining a temperature friendly, trout habitat. Brookies tend to dominate the upper river although the river also supports browns, rainbows and the rare tiger trout. The tailwater section is managed as catch-and-release-only and restricted to artificial lures.

There is good public access at the Neversink Preserve, land set aside by the Nature Conservancy to protect the area’s intact, floodplain forest. Designed to protect migratory fish, the floodplain is also home to important wildlife including bobcats, bald eagles and black bears.
Game Fish Opportunities:
People have been drawn to these waters for over 100 years. Both the river and the Roscoe area of the Catskill Mountains were among the nation’s earliest resort destinations, a tradition ... morethat carries through today. Famous fishermen spent time on this river including Theodore Gordon, A. E. Hendrickson, Joan and Lee Wuff, Harry and Elsie Darbee and many more.

Fed from fresh water springs, this freestone river flows for over 40 miles before it joins the East Branch of the Delaware. Its upper section is narrow, rugged and steep. Surrounded by trees, this part of the river remains shaded and cool throughout most of the year. From Balsam Lake to Shin Creek the river widens out and forms numerous pools and riffles. Hikers as well as anglers come here to see Jones Falls, a 40 foot drop into the river. From Shin Creek to the famous Junction pool, the river keeps widening and reaches over 70 feet across at many points.

Arguably it’s at Junction Pool, the place where the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc join, that the real action starts. Doubling in size, the river acquires a colloquial name – The Big River – and the water fills with churning riffles and deep pools. Within a 2 mile long catch-and-release-only section, Horse Brook Run is considered to be the finest pocket water on the river and one of the best in the region. Carin’s Pool, a deep, fish laden, pool of water, is a favorite among locals and visitors.

Last but not least, the remaining 10-miles of the river are comprised of long, shallow riffles and pools. Desirable areas to fish here include Painter’s Bend, Cooks Falls and a section known as the Flats. Below Cooks Falls is a no-kill section with several well marked areas to fish. The last six miles of the river are largely shallow and slow moving although the Beaverkill stops at Keener’s Pool with a happy ending, since Keener’s is chuck full of luscious, big trout.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Undammed, pristine, freestone rivers tend to be rare these days, and may help account for the Willowemoc’s increasing popularity. Located in the southern Catskills and a tributary ... moreof the better known Beaverkill River, the Willowemoc is now often favored for its easier access, numerous cold water tributaries and less educated, easier to catch fish. A large stream that runs over 26 miles, this creek has continuously been a fly fishing destination since the 1870’s.

Anglers divide the river into three distinct sections. Similar to many other rivers, its upper section from Fir Brook to the village of Willowemoc, is narrow (15-20 feet wide) and is characterized by clear pools and a silted bottom. Wild brook trout can be found here in large numbers but the fish are typically rather small, from 6 to 12 inches. Its tributaries are slow and gentle, providing scores of wade worthy pools. Spring fed tributaries contribute to keeping the water cold throughout most of the year. Public access in the upper stretch is good although some tributaries are restricted.

From the Village of Willowemoc to Livingston Manor, the river opens up, reaching 50 feet across at many points. The bottom becomes rockier and boulders begin to rise out of the water. In the faster moving water and larger pools, brown trout start appearing in large numbers and soon equal the number of brook trout. Both fish remain small, staying in the 8-10 inch range. There is one, six-mile private segment and a catch-and-release-only section.

Beginning at Bascom Brook, the lower section grows even wider, opening at some points to over 100 feet. Riffles and deep pools are common and here the creek begins to mirror the larger Catskill rivers in the region. Stocked brown trout, ranging from 10-15 inches, inhabit this section.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Rich in fly fishing history and lore, the main stem Delaware is considered by many to be one of the best trout fisheries in the world. Cold water releases from the Cannonsville and ... morePepacton reservoirs create ideal habitat for the fish and the abundance of insects brings them to the surface. Tales of how the river acquired its remarkable rainbow population differ on the particulars, but everyone agrees that after being stocked in the late 1880’s, the fish have thrived here ever since.

Construction of the two dams transformed both the East and West branches into trout friendly, cold water fisheries. Beginning at Hancock, New York, the two branches converge and form the main river, adding water that remains cold for many miles into the main stem. The main stem is comprised of long, slow moving pools that are interrupted by shoals and swift moving riffles.

Anglers find this freestone river both challenging and rewarding – challenging because the fish are savvy and not easily fooled, rewarding because the trout average between 15-18 inches and most are wild. Rainbows here are said to be from the McCloud River strain, known for their willingness to fight and fight hard. Trout in excess of 20 inches are not common but can be found and taken.

America’s Great Waters Coalition, a group founded by the National Wildlife Federation, includes the Delaware as one of only 19 designated Great Waters in the US. The only drawback to fishing here is that while the water is publicly owned, the river banks are mainly private and permission is required to gain access. Limited public access can be gained via Route 97on the New York side of the river.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Many anglers consider the West Branch of the Delaware host to the best trout fishing in the Catskills, and some of the finest wild trout fishing east of the Rocky Mountains. And, most ... morealso agree that action in the West Branch really begins at the Cannonsville Reservoir and continues on the 11-mile tailwater that follows. The dam controls most of the Delaware releases and typically sends enough cold water into the stem to support year round fishing. This constant water flow gives the trout an extended growing season, which may account for their large size, population density and ability to sustain a challenging fight.

Below the dam the river first flows through a few rapids, then around a series of small islands and eventually opens to a wide main channel with long pools and short sections of rifles. One of the river’s main attractions is that it can be easily waded (at times from shore to shore) and has a relatively level bottom. 

While most of the fish in the West Branch are brown trout, there are also brookies and rainbows. All of the fish are wild although a two of its tributaries are occasionally stocked, and in theory it’s possible for these fish to enter the main channel. What’s most important to anglers is that the West Branch has more trout per acre than either the East Branch or the Delaware proper.

Access to the river is excellent with over a dozen well marked public points of entry and parking. One word of caution –sections of the riverbed are privately owned and may need to be floated to fish. On the upper river there is a 2-mile section limited to catch and release. Trout here average over 12 inches although fish up to 18-20 inches are not uncommon. Browns over 20 inches are plentiful and locals will be the first to tell you that many trout over 30 inches have been pulled from these waters.
Game Fish Opportunities:
Originating from an unnamed pond northeast of Hancock, New York, the East Branch runs for 75 miles. What matters though to anglers is stretch below the Pepacton Reservoir, a cold, ... morerich tailwater that provides great habitat for trout. From the Downsville Dam to its confluence with the Delaware, enthusiasts can enjoy 33 miles of truly great fishing.

Like many rivers, the East Branch is thought of in two sections, the upper and lower. Small and narrow, the upper water is cold and clear, assuming many characteristics of a freshwater stream. It winds through a tree lined, scenic valley with long flat pools and braided channels formed by a series of small islands. Remaining cold throughout the summer season, both wild and hatchery born brown trout thrive. Less abundant are wild rainbow and native brook although they are there to be found and taken.

Near the town of East Branch and its junction with the Beaverkill River, the lower section begins. At this point the river widens out, varying from 75 to over 150 feet across. Flows become slower with the appearance of deep pools and limited riffles. During the warm summer months the river tends to heat up, forcing the fish to flee to the cooler, upper Branch waters or the main stem Delaware.

Gravel covers much of the river bottom but there are boulders and ledges where fish can hide. A mix of wild and stocked fish run the river, with browns dominating the upper section, rainbows the lower.
Game Fish Opportunities:
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