Eldred Preserve: Trout, bass close to millions

Happy boys with trout at Eldred Preserve. 

One July morning in the summer of 2002, I watched a boy catch a free-swimming trout with nothing but a net.

The netted trout wasn't a wild specimen hugging the bottom of a swift-moving stream. A 14-inch rainbow, it was slow-cruising near the shoreline of a small, stocked pond at Eldred Preserve in Eldred, N.Y.

Nevertheless, when the youngster snared it — after others had tried unsuccessfully — he caused a commotion.

Some 90 boys and girls ages 7 to 14 converged on this pay-to-fish establishment that day as guests of Eldred Preserve and the New York Metropolitan Outdoor Press Association, which organized and primarily funded the event.

City and suburban children from lower New York and eastern New Jersey, some with ties to the family tragedies suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, were treated to a day of fishing in the country.

Most had never fished before. Shakespeare provided spincasting outfits, Stren provided line, Eagle Claw provided hooks, Uncle Josh provided baits and somebody upstairs made sure that it was a delightful, sunny day.

Nearly 100 nice-size trout, as well as a few catfish, suckers and sunfish, were captured by the youngsters; almost all were legitimately caught on rod and reel.

Anytime that a visible trout swam near the shoreline, there was a commotion among the shore-based children, all rushing to drop their baited hook into the water ahead of it or try to scoop it with a long-handled net.

Those trout weren't interested, of course, but excitement among the children was obvious, as it was when any one of them actually hooked, played and landed a fish.

As one of the adult helpers said at the end of the day, "The smiles on the faces of the kids after they caught a fish was just tremendous."

It was indeed.

Although fishing for captive, stocked trout in a private pond may not sound like the kind of fishing experience that a seasoned angler would enjoy (in fact, many would look down their nose at this), Eldred Preserve is much more than this.

Located in a lovely wooded town in the southwestern Catskills, it has bass lakes (more on this in a moment), turkey and deer hunting and clay target shooting.

Given that it is a two-hour drive from Manhattan and within easy reach of millions of New York metropolitan-area anglers, I submit that this is a place where the future of fishing can be propagated.

OK, that's a bit of a reach, but just about every angler knows that the future of sportfishing lies in getting more people involved. And that begins with youngsters.

On their first fishing forays, young anglers need positive experiences if they are to become interested in the sport. They need to catch something. They need a smile on their face at the end of the day.

There are few places in southern New York, northern New Jersey and western Pennsylvania better than Eldred Preserve to get a boy or girl interested in fishing.

My first exposure to this facility occurred when I was living and working in New York City and went to Eldred to take part in a flyfishing school put on by Fenwick, a major flyrod manufacturer.

Indeed, I was among two-dozen people who quickly and easily learned how to cast, learned the rudiments of flyfishing for trout, and, thanks to the stocked ponds, caught fish on a fly despite initially clumsy casts.

Although those were not my first fish caught on a fly, nor was it my first time flycasting, the experience clearly proved that a beginning adult angler, especially a beginning flyangler, can find Eldred's trout ponds an excellent place to get started, have success and learn to play and land a decent-size fly-caught trout.

That was more than three decades ago, and it was a very enjoyable experience for all of the participants.

I've been back to Eldred Preserve occasionally, especially to fish on its two lakes for bass. The larger lake, Steges, is long, narrow and full of shallow weeds, stumps and fallen-tree structure. It is especially good for largemouth bass, pickerel and sunfish.

The other lake, Sunrise, is more bowl-shaped and deeper, with no surface cover. Although it has a good population of largemouth and smallmouth bass, it also has some enormous crappies and was stocked years ago with hybrid stripers.

The stripers are not easy to come by, but they have grown to large sizes. Aluminum bass boats with electric motors are available for rent at both lakes.

The bass lakes really complement the trout ponds, as they provide a different set of challenges and no guarantees of success.

Bass fishing is strictly catch and release, and some bruiser largemouths and pickerel have been caught, photographed and released.

Like at the trout ponds, a lot of people have come away from these lakes with smiles on their faces.

For more information on angling, see Ken Schultz's Fishing Encyclopedia, available through www.kenschultz.com.