In the 1870’s, when railroads opened up the Catskills to visiting fishermen, Willowemoc Creek became a tender bit of accessible remoteness. It beckoned and the anglers followed.
New Yorkers rose early, bundled their gear and lunch and jumped the ferry to Weehawken, New Jersey. There they took a 7:35 A.M. New York & Oswego Midland train at the foot of Jay Street. It ran up the Hudson River to Cornwall, then turned westward through Middletown, Monticello and Liberty, arriving at Livingston Manor on the Willowemoc at 12:48 P.M.
If rivers could emote, the Willowemoc would surely envy the Beaverkill. Where they join, the Willowemc gives up its name to its nobler twin. But why should it be the tributary when, before they were named, the Willowemoc was every mile as good a trout river? Not only that, “Whelenaughwemack” was the river’s original name all the way down to East Branch and the Great Beaverkill ending at what is now Roscoe was its northern tributary -as revealed through Ed Van Put’s research for his book The Beaverkill.
From its source to it mouth, Willowemoc Creek is 26.7 miles long. It rises on the south flank of Beaverkill Range at an elevation of 2,900 feet, turns, and flows almost due west, falling over 200 feet per mile in its first few miles. It levels out quickly to one of the gentler headwater grades to be found in the Catskills.
The entire upper Willowemoc basin is perfectly suited for raising brook trout. Plenty of springs seep in from all sides, keeping the streams full and cool most of the year. A rich broth of plant decay, microorganisms, and stream insects is there to support an abundance of wild fish. And there is excellent bank cover with more than the usual number of hemlock and spruce lining the banks. Brown trout appear in great numbers below the mouth of Fir Brook. The state stocks only browns in the Willowemoc. Brook trout thrive without help in the upper reaches and rainbows have never done well in this river.
The middle Willowemoc actually steepens a little after its flat, boggy headwaters, falling about forty feet per mile until it reaches Livingston Manor. Throughout this fifteen or so miles, it ranges from twenty to fifty feet wide, with pools from tow to four feet deep. Fishing the middle Willowemoc usually produces about an equal number of brook and brown trout. These are smallish fish, running six to eight inches for brook and nine to ten inches for browns.
The lower Willowemoc between Livingston Manor and Roscoe opens up and becomes quite a good-sized trout stream. It varies from forty to one hundred feet wide. The wading is easy and there is a good mixture of riffles and pools. The pools are three to five feet deep, the notable exception being the Sherwood Flats pool. It appeared almost overnight when an ice jam forced the water beneath to dig out its fifteen-foot depth. Bankside cover along these last seven and a half miles of the river thins out a lot. Stretches of completely open river alternate with stretches lined by maples, oaks and sycamores. The hemlocks are gone except on a few steep banks that slant sharply into the river.
In the no-kill from April to June, you catch a lot of twelve to fifteen inch trout, a few in the 20 inch range. These are mostly hatchery fish, including holdover – about 90% according to the 1969/70 creel census. In spite of a rich supply of stream insects, the lower Willowemoc depends on hatchery trout. The spawning tributaries are too far away from the no-kill for the young fish to come back with their parents in meaningful numbers
The above are excerpts from Catskill Rivers by Austin M. Francis; used with his permission and our gratitude.