Now's the time to go for some great spring trout fishing near Pittsburgh. Generations of Keystone State anglers have enjoyed these proven waters, as the author explains. (April 2008)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
After a long winter, no matter what the weather is like on opening day, it's always a thrill to make that first cast of the year. In western Pennsylvania, that tradition still runs deep.
Bill Jeffers grew up on the north side of Pittsburgh. As an adult, he worked at marinas at Pymatuning Lake and the Allegheny Reservoir, which made him one of the better-known anglers around. He was also known as one of the better fishermen.
SLIPPERY ROCK CREEK
Many of Jeffers' more memorable early fishing days were along Slippery Rock Creek: "The first time I fished Slippery Rock, somebody took me up there in a car. I was probably about 12 and I caught my limit. I enjoyed that trip so much!
"In the early 1950s, it wasn't uncommon for people to hitchhike. There wasn't so much fear as there is today. I had another friend who fished with me, and he and I decided to hitchhike to Slippery Rock.
"In those days, the season opened at 5 a.m. We started out at about 1 a.m., heading for Portersville on Route 19. There was an all-night restaurant there, and we'd grab a bite to eat. Then we walked down the dirt road to Slippery Rock, which was a few miles away.
"We hoped some other fisherman would come down through there, see a couple of kids with their poles and tackle boxes and be nice enough to take us down to McConnells Mill.
"To me, it was not only a great fishing creek. McConnells Mill was the most scenic place along the creek with the mill, the bridge, the big rocks, the white water and the water coming over the dam."
For a few years after Jeffers' early experiences, the stream suffered from mine pollution. But for several years now, it has been back again as one of the finer trout streams in western Pennsylvania.
That area where Jeffers fished is now part of McConnells Mill State Park. The park provides excellent -- though not always easy -- access. Fishing is allowed everywhere in the park, except at the dam structures. Long stretches of the creek are remote from roads, but there are hiking paths along the creek.
Slippery Rock Creek flows southward through Butler County and Lawrence County. It is stocked downstream from Crolls Mill Dam in Butler County downstream to the Armstrong Road Bridge in Lawrence County.
Trout are also stocked in North Branch Slippery Rock Creek and in Wolf Creek, a major tributary. Thanks to a formula used by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission that factors in access, the size of a stream and its popularity, the stockings here are generous.
A 0.5-mile section From Heinz Camp property downstream to 0.25 mile downstream of the state Route 2022 bridge in McConnells Mill State Park is a Catch-and-Release, Fly-Fishing-Only Special Regulations area.
This section -- at the downstream end of the stocked section, in a downstream tract of the fragmented state park -- is open to fishing year 'round. Fishing hours are from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. No trout may be killed or kept in possession.
Fishing may be done with artificial flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials, on a single hook. Any bait or lure other than these items is prohibited.
Fishing must be done with fly rods, fly reels and fly line, with a maximum of 18 feet of leader material or monofilament line attached. Spinning, spincast and casting rods and reels are prohibited. The use or possession of any natural bait -- fish bait, bait paste and similar substances, fish eggs (natural or molded) or any other edible substance -- is prohibited. Taking baitfish or organisms for bait is prohibited.
To reach the section of Slippery Rock Creek within the state park, take U.S. Route 19 north from the Pittsburgh area and turn west in the Portersville area.
Often overlooked among the finer trout streams in western Pennsylvania is the Clarion River. For many years, it had water quality problems that have now largely been corrected. It provides good trout fishing from its headwaters down into Clarion County near the center of the state.
Adult trout stocking in the Clarion River begins in both the East Branch Clarion River and in the West Branch Clarion River. The Clarion River is stocked with fingerling trout, which is a big part of the success of this fine trout fishery.
Fingerling stocking does not attract the big opening-day crowds. Fingerling trout become virtually wild trout -- catching them is a challenge, and they tend to grow larger than standard put-and-take trout. There are sections of the Clarion River where 20-inch brown trout are reasonably common.
There are three Special Regulations sections in the Clarion River and its major branches in Elk County. All three of these sections are renowned for their outstanding trout fishing. The section on the main stem of the Clarion River is particularly good for big brown trout.
For 8.5 miles from the confluence of the East Branch Clarion River and the West Branch Clarion River, the Clarion River is managed under Catch-and-Release, All-Tackle regulations and is open to fishing year 'round. No trout may be killed or had in possession. Fishing may be done with artificial lures, flies or streamers, natural bait, baitfish, and fish bait. Spinning or fly-fishing gear may be used in these areas.
On the East Branch Clarion River, Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only rules apply for a 1.15-mile section from 100 meters below the outflow of East Branch Clarion River Lake. Fishing is allowed year 'round.
Fishing hours are one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. From one hour before sunrise on June 15 to one hour after sunset on Labor Day, the minimum size for trout is 9 inches. The daily creel limit is three trout, combined species, from one hour before sunrise on June 15 to one hour after sunset on Labor Day.
From the day after Labor Day until one hour before sunrise on June 15, no trout may be kept. Fishing may be done only with artificial lures constructed of metal, plastic, rubber, or wood; or with flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials. All such lures may be used with spinning or fly-fishing gear.
The use or possession of any natural bait -- baitfish, fish bait, bait paste and similar substances, fish eggs (natural or molded) or any other edible substance -- is prohibited. Taking fish bait or baitfish is prohibited.
A 0.5-mile section of the West Branch Clarion River, from a wire across the stream to the intersection of state routes 219 and 4003, is under Catch-and-Release, Fly-Fishing-Only regulations. (See Slippery Rock Creek, above.)
Cook Forest State Park, which offers cabins and camping, lies toward the lower section of the better trout fishing in the Clarion River, but it makes a perfect headquarters for a trout-fishing vacation. There is also good fishing in Tom's Run, a smaller stream.
To reach the park approaching from the west, take Exit 60 off of Interstate Route 80, and then take state Route 66 north to Leeper. From Leeper, follow state Route 36 south for seven miles to the park.
Get park information by contacting the Cook Forest State Park office, P.O. Box 120. Cooksburg, PA 16217; or call (814) 744-8407.
Camping and cabins are also available at nearby Clear Creek State Park, which may be contacted through the Cook Forest State Park office.
The Clarion River is one of the relatively few good trout streams in western Pennsylvania that may be float-fished. Canoe rentals are available at the park and in the surrounding area.
For generations, trout anglers from the Pittsburgh area have headed north to open the annual trout-fishing season. One of their favorite destinations is Tionesta Creek and its three main tributaries, the East Branch, West Branch and South Branch.
Tionesta Creek is in the major drainage basin of Allegheny National Forest. The main stem begins where the three branches meet near Barnes, and then flows southwest into Tionesta Lake before emptying into the Allegheny River at the village of Tionesta.
The best trout fishing ends near Kellettville, where the creek widens and becomes better smallmouth bass habitat. The water surrounding the bridge at Henrys Mills, where many trout fishermen camp between state Route 666 and the creek, is excellent. This stretch may be float-fished.
Access is excellent along Route 666, although there are several tracts of private land below the bridge at Lynch.Access to most of the main stem is along Route 666 between Barnes and Kellettville. Approaching from the south, follow U.S. Route 62 north then turn onto Route 666 at East Hickory. From the north, turn off U.S. Route 6 at Sheffield onto Route 666.
The West Branch Tionesta Creek begins in the heart of the national forest near Hearts Content. Stocking begins in this section. It flows through Chapman Lake in Chapman State Park and then continues eastward to Barnes. The best access on this branch is above Chapman Lake.
The South Branch flows westward along state Route 948. Access is excellent. It is stocked from the mouth of Fork Run down to its mouth, where it meets the East Branch.
The East Branch is the most remote water in this area. It begins west of Kane and winds westward toward Barnes. Long stretches are remote from roads. It is stocked from the Jojo area down to Pigeon Run.
Numerous smaller tributaries of the main stem and three branches have wild brook trout populations.
Mike Stimmell grew up in a fishing family using skills passed down from grandfather to father to son. He spends more time than most plying the trout streams of western Pennsylvania, drawing on those generations of experience.
EAST HICKORY CREEK
"I've always enjoyed East Hickory Creek," Stimmell said. "There's a good stretch where it comes out of Hickory before it empties into the Allegheny River. I think it's a pretty creek and I always catch fish there. It's got a lot of long, deep pools."
Stimmell enjoys fly-fishing, but he is not a purist.
"A night crawler will work real well in the spring," he suggested. "I've caught several good fish on a light Cahill there. I've had good luck with an Adams, too."
East Hickory Creek flows southwest out of the southern part of Allegheny National Forest. Though there is private land along parts of this medium-sized creek, access is generally very good.
The headwaters of East Hickory Creek are in the Hickory Creek Wilderness. This area, which requires a considerable amount of hiking, has some fine fishing for wild brook trout. One of its major tributaries, Queen Creek, is a particularly good stream for wild brook trout.
East Hickory Creek is stocked downstream from the Forest Road 119 bridge. It is one of those ideal creeks of moderate size with good access that gets generous stocking.
From the Queen Creek Bridge down to Otter Creek, a stretch of 1.7 miles, the creel is under Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only special regulations. (See East Branch Clarion River.) This is one of the more popular stream sections.
To reach East Hickory Creek from the south, follow U.S. Route 62 north to East Hickory and then turn right. Forest roads follow most of the creek.
The Clarion River is one of the relatively few good trout streams in western Pennsylvania that may be float-fished.
Contact the Allegheny National Forest office for information about camping and for maps of East Hickory Creek and Tionesta Creek.
An administrative map, which costs about $6, is the most helpful map for getting around in this remote area. It shows all streams, even the smaller roads, hiking trails, and the locations of private lands within the national forest boundary.
Write the Allegheny National Forest office, P.O. Box 36, 222 Liberty Street, Warren, PA 16365. Call (814) 723-5150, or try the forest's Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/llegheny.
Oil Creek doesn't sound like a good name for a pristine trout stream. In fact, at one time during the early days of the oil boom, it was so covered with petroleum that it caught fire! Drake's Well, near Titusville, is the site of the birth of the U.S. oil industry.
But those days are long gone. Today, Oil Creek is one of the state's finest trout streams. Fishermen come here from far and wide for some serious angling in a beautiful setting.
This is another of Mike Stimmell's favorite trout streams, where he got some of his earliest fly-fishing lessons from his grandfather, Dan Stimmell.
Although such things tend to be forgotten quickly, Dan Stimmell was a widely respected name on the local fly-fishing scene. One of his accomplishments was adding a f
ly-tying class to the local school curriculum.
Stimmell recommends the No. 14 sulphur as a good early season fly on Oil Creek: "The first time I went down there fishing with my grandfather, I think that's what he tied on for me," he said. "I've used it since then with success.
"Oil Creek has plenty of room for a fly rod. There are a lot of nice runs and stretches where trout will congregate, and there are a lot of nice hatches," he added.
One of his favorite stretches is downstream from the Drake Well Museum. He also likes the area around Petroleum Center.
Most of the better trout fishing in Oil Creek lies within Oil Creek State Park.
For information about the park, contact the Oil Creek State Park office, 305 State Park Road, Oil City, PA 16301-9733. You can also e-mail email@example.com, or call (814) 676-5915.
DUNLAP CREEK LAKE
Don't overlook the region's numerous small lakes that get stocked with trout. In the southwest corner is popular Dunlap Creek Lake, which receives more stockings than most. It lies west of Uniontown along U.S. Route 40 to New Salem Road. Then take Stoney Point Road.
Get local information through Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 East Main Street, Ligonier, PA 15658. Phone 1-800-333-5661, or visit www.laurelhighlands.org.
For travel information, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call 1-800-847-4872.
To learn more about trout-fishing opportunities, including regulations and stocking information, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Log on to www.fish.state.pa.us, where stocking information is also available, or call (717) 705-7800.