An Expert Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania
Looking for somewhere new to fish this year? Check out these recommendations for the best fly fishing spots in Pennsylvania from Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith!
Table of Contents
- Northeast Pennsylvania
- Southeast Pennsylvania
- Northcentral Pennsylvania
- Southcentral Pennsylvania
- Northwest Pennsylvania
- Southwest Pennsylvania
- Final Thoughts
- Further Resources
Pennsylvania obtained its name by combining William Penn’s surname to honor his father with the Latin word for “woodlands.” The official state fish is the brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis. These two facts alone should put Pennsylvania on the radar of every outdoorsman. But if this was not enough, Pennsylvania has a great variety of fishing. From anadromous species to trout with plenty of warm-water action in between, this state has some of the best fishing on the East coast.
Not only does Pennsylvania boast the fabled limestone streams rich in American fly-fishing history, but its wild, scenic streams also hold native trout populations; and this state has an aggressive steelhead-, musky-, shad-, and stripers-stocking program in addition to its regular trout-stocking program.
This state has it all, but since it is rather large (it takes over five hours to drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh), I will break it down by geographic region and highlight some of the best fishing on the East coast. As laws and regulations change, be sure to check for the latest updates—especially regarding special regulations waters—before your trip.
This region of the state is home to the Pocono mountains, which were formed by the same geologic processes as New York’s Catskill mountains. These hardwood-forest-covered mountains hold the tributaries of the Delaware river. Historically, this area of the state had little industry and was dotted with hunting and fishing camps. Tourism from neighboring New Jersey and New York have since built the area up, but there are still pristine areas. Here is some of the notable fishing in the area:
West Branch of the Delaware River
Nestled right along the New York State border is one of the best rivers for large, wild trout. Multiple hatches will occur at the same time, and these fish are finicky eaters. Because this river is dependent on water releases based on New York City water demands, water levels can vary.
Flooding is also a problem in the spring. Nevertheless, this is a great fishing opportunity: a challenging stream to fish that will frustrate even experts from time to time. For this reason, a guided float trip is often best. Access is from PA 191 from Hancock, NY downriver for about 10 miles. SR4014 takes you to the upper West branch of the Delaware River.
Upper Delaware River
Formed by the merger of the West and East branches at Hancock, NY, this is one of the longest undammed rivers in the United States. Water flows, however, are dependent on NYC consumption. This is a large river and best done on a floated trip. This section is also designated a National Scenic and Recreational River and is managed by the US Park Service.
In addition to chasing large wild trout (measured in pounds rather than inches) with abundant aquatic hatches, you will be sharing the river with canoes and others. The scenery is spectacular and is known for having Bald Eagle nests. Beyond the boundary of Wayne and Pike counties, this river becomes a warm-water fishery with smallmouth bass. The stretch from Port Jervis down to the Delaware River Water Gap is known as a premier musky-fishing location.
Big Fishing Creek
This underwhelmingly named creek has clear, cold water and holds brown trout and brook trout. Even though sections of it do dry up in the summer and run underground, it has over 25 miles of class-A trout water and holds fish all year. As with all freestone creeks, the fishing is better the closer to the source of the water. Access is along SR 487 from Bloomsburg to Benton. North of Benton, take SR4049 to Grassmere Park.
Big Bushkill Creek
A popular stream in the Poconos that offers easy access as it flows through the Boy Scout camp. For a small fee, anglers can have access to this section of water and its breathtaking waterfalls and pristine pools. This section is designated as a delayed harvest, fly-fishing-only section.
In a densely populated area of the state, better known for the Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks, there is a nice mix of warm-water and trout fishing. Limestone and freestone streams dot the landscape—some of them are situated in historical Revolutionary War sites. Despite booing Santa Claus (yes, Eagle fans did), this area has some good fishing and should not be overlooked.
For the urban angler, this creek offers seven miles of stocked fish and is easily accessible from a bike path or trails that run along the river. Ridley Creek State Park and the privately owned Tyler Arboretum surround the creek and provide scenic landscapes. Delco Anglers and Conservationists, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, manage a trout nursery for stocking local streams and are known for promoting brook-trout stockings.
This creek has unfortunately been contaminated with mine tailing and sewage from time to time. The good news is that it always seems to bounce back. As the water is contaminated, this is a catch and release only stream and hosts a vibrant population of wild brown trout. Brook trout have been known to spill into this creek from its tributaries. Access is easily obtained at Valley Forge National Park.
Little Lehigh Creek
This limestone creek is famous for its Trico hatch. This 20-mile creek has a special Heritage Trout Angling section 1 mile from the Fish Hatchery Road bridge downstream to the 24th street bridge. A delayed harvest section is upstream from Laudenslager Mill Dam to T 508. SR 3001 provides access to the upper reaches of the creek.
A tailwater creek that flows out of Blue Marsh Dam; easily wadable and fished, water levels do fluctuate, and anglers should check them prior to fishing. A delayed harvest section runs from the first deflector below the dam for 3.8 miles to the covered bridge. Though these rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked, rumors have it that some are wild, and they all certainly behave as such.
Also known as the “sure kill” to locals, this river has made a turnaround from its pollution days. The upper section of the river, near the confluence with the Little Schuylkill, holds trout. Musky fishing is excellent around Pottstown, and there are smallmouth bass in the river as well. For the more urban anglers, stripers and shad also make runs from the Delaware River up to Fairmont Dam in Philadelphia (a fish ladder supposedly works around this, but no real fish runs exist beyond this dam). As dams are decommissioned, hopefully these runs will progress further upstream, as fry are stocked much further upstream in hopes of returning someday.
The East Branch of the Brandywine River is stocked with trout and is a zoo of suburban anglers around opening day. Once the commotion has died down, the East branch is a good warm-water fishery with occasional hold over trout near underground springs; and the main river is known as a great smallmouth bass fishery.
Lower Delaware River
This is the warm-water fishery section of the Delaware River. In addition to smallmouth bass and musky, anadromous shad and striped bass run up this river as well and can be targeted at the lower ends of the river. Access can be had at many different points along the river. At Washington’s Crossing (where on Christmas day in 1776, Washington led his forces to defeat the Hessians in the Battle of Trenton) there is a state park that offers easy access and fishing.
This portion of the state holds the best-known trout streams. With the Bureau of Forestry and the Pennsylvania Game Commission owning a large majority of the land, there are plenty of wild trout streams that hold native brook trout. To best fish this area, an investment in a topographical map and some good detective work will pay off with small creeks full of native Brookies and scenic sights. Bring your ultralight set up and have fun.
This creek is arguably the best trout fly fishing on the East Coast. Situated in central PA, this creek should be on your bucket list of places to fish. This spring creek starts at Penns Cave and picks up cold water near Coburn from Pine and Elk Creeks. The next 15 miles of this creek are rated class A trout waters and host naturally reproducing brown and rainbow trout.
Near the mouth of this river, it turns into a warm water fishery with excellent smallmouth bass fishing. Although this creek has an abundance of aquatic life with many different hatches, do not forget nymphs and streamers while focusing on dry flies. Of note, the Green Drake hatch is worth the trip. Fishing Coffin flies at twilight will produce large trout.
This is a tree- and bush-lined little limestone creek that terminates into the Little Juniata. The water stays cold here, so the wild brown trout can become quite large. The only downfall of this creek is that much of the creek is privately owned, so access is limited. Penn State University does own a half mile section that has public access.
One of the best fisheries in northern PA. This freestone creek contains brown, rainbow, and brook trout. The best fishing is the delayed harvest area, which starts below the SR 144 bridge and goes two miles upstream.
This freestone creek is a tributary of Pine Creek. The seven-mile creek runs through a gorge and access is not for the faint of heart; but the scenery mixed with browns and wild brook trout make hiking into this hidden gem worth it.
This is a beautiful tailwater stream that is in the Allegheny National Forest. Kinzua dam is responsible for the water releases, so anglers should keep an eye on this as high water makes wading unsafe. Easy access is off Highway 59 and Hemlock Road.
Upper Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna is the longest river on the East Coast. Although the North and West branches of this river do not get the same respect as the lower portion, this is a great warm-water fishery with plenty of musky and smallmouth bass. In late July, a large white mayfly (Ephoron lukeon) hatch occurs and even catfish can be caught on a dry fly.
Another great area of the state for fly fishing. Unlike the mountainous landscape to the north, here the landscape is more rolling farmland. A limestone belt runs through this area, and many limestone streams have their headwaters in this section of the state. As limestone streams stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than freestone streams, trout in these streams tend to grow bigger.
Little Juniata River
The “little J,” as it is affectionately called, is a freestone river with many cold-water tributaries. Downstream of Tyrone, the river is surrounded by towering cliffs that make for breathtaking views. Ample aquatic insect life provides for the brown trout that grow to large sizes. The fish here are known to be picky eaters.
Big Spring Creek
A medium-sized limestone creek known for its clear waters. Although there are rainbow and brown trout in these waters, the wild and native brook trout here can get upwards of 20 inches and are the sought-after fish.
Falling Spring Creek
This small limestone creek has wild brown and rainbow trout. Known for dry-fly hatches, this creek is about 25 feet wide, so practice your roll casting.
The Letort Spring Run, as it is officially known, is a small, clear limestone creek. Ed Shenk came up with the Letort hopper and cricket. The 20-foot-wide creek has a Heritage Trout Angling Section as well, but the crystal-clear water will challenge you. Errant casts or snags on trees will put fish down, and fighting big fish on light tippets in tight quarters is a challenge unto itself.
This 30-mile-long river terminates in the Susquehanna River. It has been designated as one of Pennsylvania’s scenic rivers. Most of the trout fishing is in the catch-and-release areas around Boiling Springs. Much of the fish in the river are stocked, but there are wild fish as well.
Lower Susquehanna River
Probably one of the best-known smallmouth bass fisheries in Pennsylvania. This is where Bob Clouser invented the Clouser minnow. There are multiple access points along the river. Float in a canoe or wade; either way, you will have fun.
This area of the state is famous for being part of Steelhead Alley. Of the 1.9 million smolt that are stocked annually for Lake Erie runs, over 58% of them come from Pennsylvania hatcheries. Accounting for far less shoreline than neighboring Ohio and New York, there are more steelhead returning to Pennsylvania streams than fish that return to these other states. If that does not get you excited, unable to leave Steelhead Alley’s shadow is the fact that this area also happens to have some world-class smallmouth bass fishing as well.
Fishing a Great Lake with a fly rod can be daunting, but this lake can be fished from the shore. This lake holds rainbow trout, brown trout, and steelhead (at what point does a rainbow trout become a steelhead?).
In addition, Lake Erie is a world-class smallmouth bass fishery, and other species can be targeted as well. In the spring, walleye can be targeted near the mouths of rivers and are fun on the fly rod. Do not miss out on fishing this lake.
Part of the fabled “Steelhead Alley,” this is probably the best-known stream for steelhead. Steelhead can get up to seven pounds in size, and errant Coho salmon have been known to show up. This stream is stocked with brown trout that will migrate up from the lake as well.
Another famous creek in Steelhead Alley. This creek has its mouth in Ohio, so anglers need to be aware of which state they are in and ensure they are properly licensed. During the summer months, this creek has a great, warm-water fishery with musky and bass. This creek is the only non-shale bottom creek in this watershed. The sand and dirt bottom can make wading difficult.
This region boasts the city of Pittsburgh and the confluence of the three rivers: Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio. The area was industrialized, but restoration programs have helped, and anglers here can chase trout as well as warm-water species.
The Laurel Hill Creek, which is a stocked-trout water, empties water from the Laurel Highlands into this river. Some hold-over trout do exist, but this is a warm-water fishery. Fishing for smallmouth bass during the Hexagenia mayfly hatch can be adrenaline-producing.
“The Yawk” runs out of Maryland into Pennsylvania at Youghiogheny Lake. The tailwater is the best fishing section and runs to Ohiopyle, where it becomes wider and deeper. Along the way it picks up Meadow Run. Beyond Ohiopyle, the river becomes a kayaker’s dream with class I and II whitewater, and currently there is not a creel limit for kayakers.
“The Mon” is one of Pittsburgh’s three rivers and the best one for fly fishing. This is a warm-water fishery known for its smallmouth bass as well as musky. The introduction of hybrid stripers has also increased the warm-water fishery value. This river can be fished with small fishing boats, making it very attractive for fly fishermen.
This high-gradient mountain stream is stocked with brown and brook trout. One of its tributaries, Beaver Run, has a naturally producing trout population. A private section is managed by the Orvis-endorsed Nemacolin Lodge, and guests can fish there as well.
Pennsylvania has a vast wealth of fishing opportunities for fly fishermen. I hope after reading this, you will consider wetting a line next time you visit the state. If you need help getting gear for your next trip, be sure to chat with an Expert at Curated. We would love to help! And with that, I will leave you with one final thought. As with most areas of fishing, the water quality is the driving factor in making these fisheries prolific. Many of these streams have been brought back from pollution and neglect, but much more needs to be done to expand and preserve our gains. Tight Lines!