I’ve been looking forward to writing this piece for a while because I believe Pennsylvania deserves a spot in every fly fisherman’s dreams. It’s a state with opportunities ranging from Great Lakes steelhead to wild, native, brook trout, and all the brown and rainbow trout you could ever want.
This is a state that’s worth visiting for the fly fishing alone. And if you get the chance to go, checkout these 17 spots.
Best Places to Fly Fish in Pennsylvania
1. Penns Creek
Penns Creek is not only one of the best trout fisheries in Pennsylvania, but it’s one of the best spring creek trout fishing streams in the country.
The river begins as a slow trickle out of Penns Cave. From there, it flows through Bush and Penn’s Valley, where it gets refills from a few small streams. When the river reaches Coburn, it gets another couple shots of cold water from Pine and Elk Creeks.
From the mouth of Penns Cave through the 13 miles to Pine and Elk Creeks, the water is rated class “B” by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and is stocked with trout regularly. The Seven Mountains surround the river for its next 15 miles, and this section is rated Class “A.” Some of the best fishing on the river is in this section and the fish here are all wild, naturally reproducing fish.
Downstream from the Class A fishing, the river flows into Buffalo Valley. Here, the water warms up and slows down, making it less conductive for trout fishing. It still holds fish, but most of them will be stocked. So, it’s got a class “B” rating.
While many spring creeks have long, slow flows that make them harder to fish, Penns Creek almost behaves like a freestone stream. It’s littered with boulders and rocks that create the deep runs and pockets that trout love to hangout in.
Penns Creek is incredibly well maintained, beautiful, and full of fish. But what makes it such a fun place to fly fish is its abundance of aquatic insects. It matches up with any other river you’ll find in terms of diversity and population of bugs in the water.
When fat lazy trout have plenty of real bugs to munch on all day, they get less interested in our flies. So, the trout in Penns Creek can be difficult to catch if you aren’t throwing exactly what they’re eating. These aren’t the pickiest fish in the world though, so if you know what bugs are hatching, you’ll be able to catch fish.
On the Penn, there will often be several hatches occurring all at the same time. So if you don’t have a match for one hatch, you can always try another. Paying such close attention to these tiny bugs will test even the most patient angler, but your patience will pay off.
On Penns Creek, one bug reigns king: the Green Drake. This giant mayfly hatches for about 2 or 3 weeks every year, and is a big enough meal to coax even the largest, most particular trout into a feeding frenzy. These buffets are a great time to land your biggest fish of the season, as they usually behave much more conservatively.
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But, luckily for those who pay attention, the Green Drake hatch gets almost all the publicity. This fact leaves the multiple other large bug hatches with a much smaller following. People will drive across the state for the Green Drake hatch, but the other species of mayflies draw half the crowd and fish just as well.
For many of the fishermen on Penns Creek, they decide between fishing the A section of the river for wild trout or fishing the B sections after a stocking. While fishing the A sections, they meticulously pay attention to what’s on the water, what’s under the water, and what’s in fish’s stomachs. They know that these wild fish won’t fall for the attractor or imitator patterns that the hatchery fish so willingly take.
And on the B sections, fishermen are using the ugliest, dumbest flies they have. The hatchery fish aren’t too particular, and are usually eager to take egg patterns, worms, or crazy streamers. But, what many people on the B sections are missing out on is the large, smart hatchery fish that survive throughout the season.
Though the B sections are warmer than the prime class A waters, they usually stay cold enough to allow many of the brown trout to survive the summer. These fish grow larger and smarter through the warm months, and they won’t fall for the same ugly patterns as the hatchery fish.
So, if you’re looking for a challenge on the B sections, try matching the hatch like you would if you were fishing for the wild fish, and you might be surprised by the size of the fish you land. Look at the bugs on the water, the bugs under rocks, and what’s in fishes’ stomachs.
People flock to the Penn for its prolific hatches, and when they get there they think the only way to catch fish is with dry flies. While I will never attempt to persuade another fishermen to avoid the purest form of fly fishing, I will say that Penns Creek does reward a well placed nymph, streamer, or wet fly more often than the dry flies- especially immediately before, or in-between, big hatches.
Where to Fly Fish on Penns Creek
The trophy waters around Coburn have the best trout fishing on the Penn. About 4 miles of this area are catch and release only, so the fish here are both plentiful and large. To fish there, you’ll want to go upstream of the town along Penns Creek Road, around here:
There’s also great fishing along Penn’s Creek Trail by Poe Paddy State Park. You’ll be able to access the river around here:
Recommended Flies for Penns Creek
- As we said, the Green Drakes are what people come here for. If you’re there in the summer when they hatch, bring plenty of big mayfly patterns
- From March to May, BWO’s pop off like crazy. I like a size 10-14 purple Adams.
- February and March bring little winter stoneflies.
- Blue Quills and Quill Gordons hatch from March through April.
- Chocolate Duns, March Browns, Gray Fox, Sulfur Duns all hatch in June and July.
- Eggs, sowbugs, scuds, and midges work great.
- Big, meaty, articulated streamers help coax out the buck-nasty browns.
2. Lake Erie
This spot may upset the fly fishing purists who only target trout in rivers and streams, but Lake Erie is an incredible fishery and who cares what other people think?
Lake Erie holds not only brown and rainbow trout, and steelhead, but it also has what is quickly becoming one of the most popular fly fishing targets in the country: smallmouth bass. The Lake has an incredible population of smallies, and they grow to sizes unseen in other systems. Lake Erie smallmouth are commonly 5 pounds, and 6 or 7 pound fish are often caught as well.
With 46 miles of coastline on Lake Erie, Pennsylvania is the perfect place to go to take advantage of the trout and smallmouth fishing opportunities.
But, many strictly trout fishermen won’t know how to target smallies with their fly rod, so here’s a few quick tips. First of all, you’re going to have to pay attention to the depth the fish are holding in. You won’t always be able to coax the smallies into hitting your flies on the topwater.
The springtime is your best bet to land big smallies with your fly rod. That’s when they’ll leave their hiding places in the deep water where they’re safe from accidentally eating a fly, and into the shallows where you eagerly await. When I say shallow though, I mean realtively shallow. They’ll still usually be feeding at around 15 feet deep.
With that kind of depth, you’re stuck choosing between giving up your dignity and fishing with traditional spin tackle, or fishing with the heaviest sinking line you can cast. I trust you’ll know what to do.
The other thing to know when fly fishing for smallies on Lake Erie is to focus on fishing around drop offs, underwater ledges, and any other sudden depth changes. Smallmouth love hanging around these areas because they provide structure to funnel baitfish into.
Smallmouth are ambush predators- they don’t like chasing after food for long distances (quite like the brown trout who feed on baitfish). So, they also love hanging around deep stumps, trees, boulders, and anywhere else they can hide.
Where to Fish on Lake Erie
Wadefishing on Lake Erie is going to be tough, since the depth most fish hangout in won’t be easily accessible from the shore. But there are certain situations that open up the possibility of catching fish right off the beaches.
You can also fish the drop-offs and ledges off Persque Isle State Park. This public land will give you access to some more productive waters. It can be found right here:
But certainly, the best way to fish Lake Erie is to go out on a boat. Find a local guide, or rent a boat, and you’ll be on your way to landing that trophy smallmouth.
Recommended Flies for Lake Erie
- Buggers, zonkers, heavy streamers that help you reach the depth the fish hold.
- Articulated streamers and other big stuff for targeting bigger, more aggressive fish.
3. Spruce Creek
Spruce Creek is a beautiful little limestone spring creek that holds some quite large brown trout. It’s small and narrow, covered with trees and bushes along its edges that make casting a fun challenge.
It terminates into the Little Juniata River, and flows alongside Highway 45 the entire way. It’s as beautiful as any other trout stream in the state, and the valleys that surround it provide the perfect backdrop for your grip and grins.
The water in Spruce Creek stays cold enough to support trout populations throughout the year, so the fish here grow to be quite large. Some of the private fishing clubs even stock the river with more fish on slow years.
Spruce Creek’s downfall is that a large portion of the river is privately owned and access is somewhat limited on the public sections. Most public access is limited to a half-mile long section owned by Penn State University. They use this water to study the naturally reproducing brown trout population, and they allow the public to fish it.
The rest of Spruce Creek is privately owned, but there are a few different fishing clubs that allow fishermen to go into their waters for a fee. I usually hate these kinds of places (keep public lands in public hands), but on Spruce Creek the fishing is worth it.
Spruce Creek reminds me of my favorite trout stream, the Middle section of the Provo River in Utah, in that it holds only one species of trout- brown trout. Since you know exactly what you’re casting to, you can alter your tactics to suit your target.
Big browns in Spruce Creek (and most other places), hangout in thick cover when the sun is above them. Their number one priority is not dying, and the key to successfully avoiding death, for a trout, is avoiding birds of prey. So, the trout in Spruce Creek hangout under logs, rocks, cut banks, and anything else that shelters them from the death in the sky.
Brown trout also tend to feed near the surface more readily in the early mornings and late afternoons, and in the deeper waters while the sun is above them. But, a big hatch can break the fish out of these patterns, so be sure to , as always, pay attention to the bugs.
All of the fish in Spruce Creek are wild fish, so they follow the natural reproduction habits of brown trout. That means that every fall, the brown trout get full of testosterone and aggression while they protect their eggs during the spawn. I certainly don’t advocate targeting redds, as I think it is unethical and harmful to fish populations, but you can still take advantage of the increased opportunity without taking the fish off their beds.
Where To Fish on Spruce Creek
As mentioned earlier, public access to Spruce Creek isn’t great, and is limited to the Penn State owned sections around the town of Spruce Creek. You’ll find that area around here:
Recommended Flies for Spruce Creek
- BWOs and Blue Quills in early spring
- Little Black Caddis and American Grannom caddis in late winter
- Cinnamon Caddis in June
- Green Drakes around the end of May
- If nothing is hatching, throw streamers and terrestrials at the cut banks.
If you need help selecting flies for Spruce Creek or anywhere else, checkout this FREE Downloadable Hatch Chart.
4. The Allegheny River
The Allegheny is a beautiful and productive tailwater fishery located in the Allegheny National Forest that has some monster trout. It’s formed by the Kinzua Dam, which provides it with a year long flow.
While the river has many good fishing spots, including in the tributaries that feed it below the dam, the best area is the 9 mile long Trophy Section. These fish aren’t wild, but they’re usually holdovers from previous stockings. Here, you’ll find plenty of brown trout over 18 inches, and every year fishermen catch fish surpassing the dirty thirty.
Public access is easy to find on the Allegheny, especially right below the dam. You can drive along its edges on Highway 59 and Hemlock Road.
The key to success on this river is watching the water levels coming out of the dam. Low water slows the fishing down, and high water makes it too unsafe to wade.
5. Yellow Breeches Creek
The thirty mile long Yellow Breeches Creek begins near Lees Crossroads and terminates into the Susquehanna River. Along the way, its fed by multiple tributaries including Fishers Run, Mountain Creek, and Spruce Run.
The entire river receives large stockings of trout, but most of these die off each summer. Most of the fishing occurs around Boiling Springs in the catch and release areas, but there are other spots to be found.
Because most of these are stocked fish, they aren’t too difficult to fool. Just tie on big ugly attractors and imitators, and go to work. The key is to focus on fishing around the streams that bring in extra cold water. These are the areas where the trout will be the most active, especially during warmer months.
6. Elk Creek
Elk Creek is the most popular, and largest, steelhead fishery in Pennsylvania. The Lake Erie tributary enters in Girard Township, and originates around McKean. Along the way, the river flows under multiple roads, bridges, and alongside several roads.
Elk Creek is stocked with brown trout and steelhead and receives a lot of fishing pressure. That’s no surprise, though, since the steelhead average around 7 pounds in Elk Creek. While other rivers in the area hold some larger fish, the Elk Creek populations tend to be some of the largest.
They enter the creek in the early fall, and most fishermen target the fish around the mouth of the river. Because of that, the fish further upstream receive much less pressure. If you’re not interested in rubbing elbows with a stranger while you hold your rod, put in the work to find a secluded spot upstream.
7. Little Juniata River
The Little J as the Pennsylvanians call it, is a tributary to the larger Juniata River. But while the Little Juniata maybe smaller than its larger namesake, it is one of the best fly fishing rivers on the East Coast.
The river’s upper reaches flows through the Logan Valley. This section is a stoked, freestone stream with multiple cold water tributaries. The fishing here is decent, but it’s not worth making a long trip for.
On the Little J, the best place to fish is just downriver of Tyrone. Here, the water’s nutrients are enriched by a few large limestone streams and the river’s banks are surrounded by beautiful, towering cliffs. The water is saturated with trout food and the eager brown trout in the area take advantage of the buffet.
Brown trout in the Little J grow to serious size, but they can be quite particular about their feeding. You’ll want to know exactly what they’re eating, and have plenty of fly options available in case of potential hatches.
8. Big Springs Creek
Big Springs Creek is a medium sized trout stream located in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Like many creeks in the area, Big Springs is a limestone spring creek with crystal clear water.
Under the glassy surface, you’ll find brown trout and rainbow trout – both wild and stocked fish. But what people really come to Big Springs for is the brook trout fishing. The wild and native brook trout in this stream are plentiful and sizeable- growing up to 20 inches. I don’t know about y’all, but the thought of a 20 inch brookie gets me pumped.
To be successful fishing Big Springs Creek, you’ll have to account for the clarity of the water. Clear water makes skittish fish, and skittish fish are hard to catch. You’ll need to fish long, thin leaders, make perfect presentations, and be prepared to fish large fish with low drag.
9. Kettle Creek
In Northern Pennsylvania, one of the best trout fisheries is Kettle Creek. The freestone stream has humble beginnings in its upper reaches, but it becomes a large stream towards the end. Its lower reaches contain healthy populations of brown, brook, and rainbow trout. The browns and brookies are wild and stocked fish, with some of the brookies being natives.
The best place to fish on Kettle Creek is in the delayed harvest fly fishing only section that starts below the SR 144 Bridge and goes upriver about 2 miles. This section stays cold enough to support large numbers of fish in the summer, making the fish in this section bigger and more plentiful than in others.
10. Slate Run Creek
Slate Run Creek is a tributary of Pine Creek located in a remote area of the state. It’s a freestone stream with fantastic pocket water holding brown trout and wild brook trout. These aren’t the biggest fish in the area, but fishing for them with the company of only the squirrels is truly a pleasure.
Its seven miles of flows cut through a gorge that makes access difficult in spots, but his only helps to keep out the uneager. The river is regulated for fly fishing only with single, barbless hooks. I won’t talk about it much more to keep from ruining a local spot, but give it a few hours of fishing if you get the chance.
11. Big Fishing Creek
Along with a strikingly unoriginal name, Big Fishing Creek has clear, cool water, beautiful scenery, and healthy populations of good sized brown and brook trout. During the summer, the creek dries up in portions, flowing underground, but this shade helps to keep the water cool enough to sustain the fish even through the hottest summer days.
The Creek has 25 miles of Class A trout waters. That means the fishery is healthy enough to hold fish year round without the help of stocking.
The most productive flies on Big Fishing Creek are sowbugs and scuds, which the trout feed on throughout the year. There are also spurts of incredible dry fly fishing that can touch off in an instant.
12. Ridley Creek
Ridley Creek is a perfect day trip fly fishing destination if you’re traveling from Philly. It has 7 miles of socked waters that are easily accessible by a bike path that surrounds it.
This isn’t the best place to fish in the state, not even close. But if you’re looking for easy water to fish while your kids and spouse chill on the bank, Ridley Creek is great.
And for what it is, the fishing really is quite impressive. There are decent numbers of fish during the seasons, and the insects hatch with surprising gusto.
13. Falling Springs Creek
Falling Springs Creek is a small limestone spring creek with wild brown and rainbow trout. Some of these fish reach sizes one wouldn’t expect in this size of water- 18 inch rainbows being regularly caught.
Falling Springs is a great dry fly fishery and is usually about 25 feet wide. That means subtly will be your most effective weapon. Pack a 4 or 5 weight and 6 or 7x line.
14. Little Lehigh Creek
Little Lehigh Creek is a nearly 20 mile-long tributary of the Lehigh River. The Creek is, like most in the area, a limestone spring creek that stays cool enough to support trout populations through the summer. It has awesome dry fly fishing and when that isn’t going on the fish are always eating scuds.
From the T-508 bridge to the T-510 bridge is specially designated fly fishing only waters. Here you will find the best fishing for wild and stocked fish of decent size. Just be sure you’re fishing barbless hooks.
15. Letort Spring Run
The water in the Letort Spring Run is so clear that you don’t actually see the water, only what’s beneath it. It’s a small limestone spring creek, less than 20 feet wide in most parts, and stays cold enough for trout year long.
Like Lehigh Creek, there’s a special, fly fishing only section of the Letort. This area is also catch and release only, so the fish here grow much bigger than you’d expect. You’ll only find brown trout around here, but you won’t complain about that while you’re reeling them in.
Small water like the Letort will help you develop as a fisherman, or quickly urge you to quit. Bad casts that are lucky enough to avoid getting snagged in the overhanging trees will spook all of the fish in the pool, forcing you to move on. The wrong fly will be completely ignored. And fighting big fish in small water is a challenge in itself.
16. Tulpehocken Creek
Tulpehocken Creek is a rare tailwater fishery in Pennsylvania that flows out of Blue March Dam. It has six miles of good sized stocked brown and rainbow trout fishing water.
It’s an easily wadable fishery, by tailwater standards, but as flows can fluctuate greatly, be sure to check before you head out. The amount of water affects not only your access to the river but also the quality of fishing, so be sure to check before you head out.
Though the fish in the Tulpehocken are stocked, they are stocked as fingerlings and behave more like wild trout. So you’ll need to match the hatch with your flies, and use effective tactics to be successful.
17. The Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna River is the longest river on the east coast, and the portion that flows through Pennsylvania is a prime smallmouth bass fishery. Fly Fishing for smallies is becoming increasingly popular and if you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to give it a try.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania
A 4-6 weight rod about 9 feet long will be perfect for all of the trout fishing except if you’re targeting steelhead. If you’re fishing the lake Eerie tributaries for chrome, you’ll nee a 7 or 8 weight rod.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania
- The State of Pennsylvania maintains a great website detailing where and when fish are stocked including trophies. https://www.fishandboat.com/Fish/Stocking/TroutStocking/Pages/default.aspx
- If your looking for a book detailing everything about fly fishing in Pennsylvania check out: A Flyfisher’s Guide to Pennsylvania (Link to Amazon)
Popular Fly Shops in Pennsylvania
- Located in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, The Evening Hatch Fly Shop will provide a wealth of knowledge to quickly get an angler up to speed with the area. Check out the website: http://www.eveninghatch.com/home.html
- With four fly shops scattered around Pennsylvania TCO Fly Shop’s is a mainstay for in person or online fly fishing shopping. Check them out online here: https://www.tcoflyfishing.com/