Luckily for us here in Westchester, a river isn’t the only thing that runs through it. Across the region, waterways abound in the form of streams, lakes, reservoirs, the Long Island Sound, and, of course, the Hudson River. But how best to maximize the unique scenery and amusements that each one holds? Here, we offer up our picks for the greatest ways to exploit all that is aquatic.
Whether you’re looking to get out on the water or cast your line from shore, there are plenty of opportunities to be had (and fish to be caught) in the county. The area’s reservoirs—Kensico, Cross River, and Croton Falls—are great options when you want to break out that dusty fishing pole and get out on the water, says Todd Cronin of The Bedford Sportsman. They’re easily accessible, and with their tree-lined scenery, you’ll feel like you’re out in the wilderness, not a short drive from your suburban backyard. (Note: You’ll need both a New York State fishing license and a watershed access permit to fish in these waters.) If you’re not looking to sit out on a boat all day, throw on a good pair of waders so you can wander around the edge of the reservoirs, allowing you to cast your line a little deeper than you could from shore—and up your chances of getting some bites. If you’re intent on finding the trout, it’s possible to get a permit for a rowboat at the DEP office in Mahopac and fish the reservoirs’ deeper waters.
Wampus Pond also rents rowboats on weekends in the summer, and a park pass isn’t required. The added bonus here, of course, is catching all the yellow perch, largemouth bass, or pickerel that inhabit the pond. Another great resource for anglers of all types is Rockefeller State Park Preserve, which offers the choice of either fishing for brown trout in the Pocantico River or bass in the 22-acre Swan Lake. The Ward Pound Ridge Reservation has an area specifically for fly-fishing, making it the perfect place to test your skills and try to land a trout. If you’re looking to make more of a day of it, Shamrock Charter (43 Harbor Lane, New Rochelle 914-235-0677; www.shamrock charterboat.com) takes groups fishing from Fort Slocum dock in New Rochelle in search of bluefish, striped bass, porgies, and fluke throughout the summer months. You can either catch it as a private charter during the day (for groups of 10 to 50 people; $40 to $60 per person depending on group size and length and time of trip) or during its open boat trips on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings through Labor Day ($42 for adults; $25 for children). The sunset fishing trip includes bait, poles, and having your fish cleaned afterwards—so you can enjoy the excitement of fishing out on the open water without having to do the dirty work, and still come home with something for dinner.
The Bedford Sportsman (759 Rte 35, Cross River 914-666-8091; www.bedfordsportsman.com) offers lessons in general fishing, beginner and advanced-level fly-fishing, and guided trips to the reservoirs, though managers Charles George and Todd Cronin will welcome anyone looking to just talk shop and learn a thing or two. Family-run Croton Bait and Tackle (65 N Riverside Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson 914-271-3675) has everything you’ll need for your fishing trips, and proprietors Richard and Ina Ferris are more than willing to offer free advice (and it pays to listen to someone who’s been in the business almost 50 years).
Tom Connor, a Katonah resident who has been fishing local waters since 1979, recommends taking a short time out prior to your first cast. “Sit on the bank and study the water for at least 10 minutes using binoculars if you’re on the reservoir,” he says. “It seems like an eternity, but, in that time, the fish and their world reveal themselves. Finding the fish and knowing where they are speeds up the learning curve immensely.”
The county offers two major bodies of water to choose from: the Hudson and the Sound, each with disparate options for sailing aficionados and novices alike. If you’re lucky enough to have your own boat and are yearning for time spent on the Sound, head out to Great Captain’s Island off the coast of Greenwich, Connecticut. Access is available only by ferry or private boat, but, once there, you’ll find boat moorings, a recreation area complete with space for swimming, and picnic tables, making it the perfect spot to while away the hours. Another destination sure to be worth your time in the rigging is Louie’s Oyster Bar & Grille, which sits right on Manhasset Bay in Long Island and allows you to dock your boat for free. The food is good, yes—you’ll have a chance to refuel with all the seafood your heart desires—but it’s the sereneness of the Sound’s open waters that makes this two-hour sail from Larchmont a must for any sailor.
To sail the the Hudson, Croton Sailing (2 Elliott Way, Croton-on-Hudson 914-271-6868; www.croton
sailing.com) runs a two-day program every weekend that schools you on the basics of sailing for $395 per person. On the flip side, New York Sailing School (22 Pelham Rd, New Rochelle 914-235-6052; www.nyss.com), run by Navy veteran Marc Hohenstein, offers lessons and courses on the Long Island Sound, which, Hohenstein says, “is more protected and enclosed [than the Hudson] and has very little current.” NYSS, in operation for 25 years, offers one-day courses for $200 per person, along with lessons, boat rentals, and a basic certificate program, which starts at $850.
A sailing trip doesn’t have to knock out your entire day. John Lyons, a 68-year-old longtime sailor and Larchmont Yacht Club member, recommends Great Captain’s Island for “a lazy afternoon of swimming, picnicking, and just hanging out.” Since it’s so close, he says, “you don’t have to commit to an all-day excursion. This place is the definition of the words ‘summer afternoon.’”
John Clark, the program director of Croton-on-Hudson-based Hudson River Recreation, recommends the Echo Canoe and Kayak Launch, a free launch located right near the Croton-Harmon Metro-North station. This launch gives you access to the Croton River, which allows for a quieter alternative to the Hudson’s swifter, wider waters. Clark also points to Ossining Beach as an ideal launch site. In addition to the traditional expansive river views, you’ll get the chance to scope out Sing Sing Correctional Facility from the west for a change, adding a dose of landmark spotting to your day on the water. Pat Slaven, a board member of the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club, likes Horan’s Landing in Sleepy Hollow, another free launch site offering both a moderately protected paddle for beginners and also, for more of an adventure, a trip to the Tarrytown Lighthouse, which is about a quarter mile north of the launch site. Though it may seem like a short, easy paddle, since the river is tidal, kayakers need to know and understand the Hudson’s currents, so it’s better suited for those at the advanced-beginner level. According to Slaven, a good rule of thumb for short trips like this one is to paddle out against the current, and paddle back with it.
If you’re just getting your feet wet kayaking (hopefully not literally), you’ll probably want to take a lesson or a guided group tour. The Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club (www.yprc.org) offers free kayaking at JFK Marina—a protected cove in Yonkers perfect for beginners—Thursday nights from 4 to 7 pm until August 28. Rentals, lessons, and tours are available through Hudson River Recreation (914-682-5135;www.kayakhudson.com), as well as Atlantic Kayak Tours (914-739-2588; www.atlantickayaktours.com).
For a quiet, solitary paddle with a dash of nature, Vikki Jones, 56-year-old founder of Hudson River and Beyond Kayaking Club, recommends launching at the base of the Croton River, by the New Croton Dam—especially for nature lovers. “Paddling upstream, you’ll pass Van Cortlandt Park and wetlands, and may even spy an eagle or osprey,” she says.
Get in on what Bill Homer of East Coast Surf, Skate & Snow calls the fastest-growing board sport—Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). While a stand-up paddleboard can be launched in the same places as a kayak, certain locations—like Dog Beach in Larchmont, near Manor Park—lend themselves to the sport, Homer explains. Dog Beach allows for a beautiful paddle on the Sound while still being relatively protected from open water, making it the ideal spot for those just starting out. At low tide, it’s very rocky, so Homer recommends either wearing reef boots or heading out at mid to high tide. Jerry Patterson, the founder of Stand Up Motion, likes Glen Island as a paddleboard location for the variety it provides: You have the choice of a quieter paddle in the marina, or, for a more serious trip (longer distance, stronger current), head out to Pea Island, take a break, and catch some afternoon sunshine before returning to shore. Glen Island charges a $10 launch fee, but when you compare that to the serene sensation of walking on water as your paddle slices its way through the glassy blue sky reflected beneath you, it seems almost negligible.
East Coast Surf, Skate & Snow in Larchmont (144 Larchmont Ave, Larchmont 914-630-2737) offers lessons and rentals, and often holds clinics at yacht and beach clubs. Stand Up Motion (Osceola Beach, 399 E Main St, Jefferson Valley 845-337-5529; www.standupmotion.net) also offers lessons, tours, and even a paddle fit class that combines a beach workout with on-board instruction. Hudson River Recreation rents boards out of Croton Point Park and gives sunset tours on the Hudson, which are geared toward beginners looking to hone their skills while winding down another dog day of summer.
Don’t let the unfamiliar deter you, because you just might discover a new hobby, says Rye resident Tara Czechowski. “SUP itself is very doable on the Hudson—even for newbies like us,” says the 38-year-old, who started out Stand Up Paddleboarding with her husband through one of Hudson River Recreation’s groups. Another bonus, says Czechowski, is the new perspective on your surroundings. “I’d only really looked at the Hudson from land, so it was incredible to view the Tappan Zee Bridge and mountains from atop a paddleboard.”