Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania is as varied as it is accessible. This state has more miles of trout stream than most other states. It also has numerous lakes, and dozens of fish species. Public water is all over. I’ve been going to Pennsylvania to fly fish for a few years and still have hardly scratched the surface of what this state has to offer.
Pennsylvania’s famous rivers offer fly anglers the opportunity to cast at educated wild trout. The Susquehanna is one of the most famous smallmouth bass fisheries in the world.
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All the while there are hundreds of quite little streams, lakes, and ponds that are less pressured. Pennsylvania is a freshwater fly fishers paradise.
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Why Go Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania?
This state has some of the best wild brown trout, brook trout, and smallmouth bass fisheries in the country. At the same it offers great fishing for other species like carp, muskie, pike, walleye, sauger, and panfish.
It’s streams are incredibly varied, from small tumbling mountain streams to limestone spring creeks to big, western-like rivers.
Big hatches, abundant wild fish, and fantastic scenery make Pennsylvania fly fishing a great experience. You could even encounter an elk while driving to a remote brook trout stream in Allegheny National Forrest. It isn’t surprising that such a large, diverse state offers such good fishing.
Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Species
There are a lot of native and introduced freshwater species in Pennsylvania. All of them can be fly fished for, if you try different tactics. Some might not be considered traditional game-fish, but they all offer a fun and exciting variety.
Brook trout are the only native salmonid species in Pennsylvania outside of Lake Erie. Many of the once-famous streams for big wild brook trout in Pennsylania have been taken over by brown trout, but many miles of untouched brook trout stream do still exist in the state.
For anglers looking for a wild experience, some of the back-country small streams in the Poconos and Allegheny National forest are an exciting opportunity.
These are small waters and small fish, best tackled with a 2 weight rod and small dry flies. But there are still some big brook trout left in Pennsylvania too. Big Spring Creek, once damaged by fish hatchery waste, has since rebounded and now boasts a strong wild brookie population and some specimens up to 18 inches. These fish are very tricky and call for fine tippets, long leaders, and small flies.
Pennsylvania has some of the best brown trout fishing in the country. Wild fish inhabit the state’s freestones, spring creeks, and big rivers. The state also stocks numerous brown trout in stillwaters and streams. Spring Creek, Penns Creek, and Letort Spring Run are some of the most famous brown trout rivers in the world.
These rivers offer the chance to follow in the footsteps of some of the most influential fly fisherman and cast to difficult to fool wild brown trout.
There are also lesser known rivers like the Lehigh and Lackawanna that hold big wild brown trout. Though it is urban fishing, these rivers offer a more blue-collar fly fishing experience. These rivers even have some of the best trout fishing in Pennsylania
Pennsylvania stocks its rivers with lots of big rainbow trout. Though the practice of stocking trout is ecologically damaging, some fly fishers may have fun casting dry flies or nymphs to big rainbow trout in Tulpehocken Creek, the Allegheny, or Big Spring Creek.
A handful of places do provide rainbow trout with the necessary habitat to reproduce. Running into wild rainbows is not unheard of while Pennsylania fly fishing. Some Lake Eerie tributaries also hold strong runs of steelhead or lake-run rainbows.
Buffalo, Suckers, and Redhorse
Anglers fly fishing in Pennsylvania may encounter some of the state’s native cyprinid species. Fish like buffalo and greater redhorse can be difficult to fool on an artificial fly. Sometimes though the will take a small streamer or nymph.
Fishing for these species is excellent in the Allegheny watershed. If you catch a buffalo, sucker, or redhorse on the fly you should consider yourself very lucky.
Fly fishing for common carp is quite good in many parts of Pennsylvania. They are in both rivers and lakes across the state. Common carp are not a native fish species but they have been spread far and wide.
Fly fishing for these finicky large fish is an exciting challenge. Common carp in the 20 pound range are not out of the question in some Pennsylvania waters.
Pike and Muskie
Pike and muskie are found in some waters in Pennsylvania. The Allegheny River is a famous muskie fishery and probably the best place for fly fishers to try to catch one. However the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers have muskie too, as well as lakes scattered across the state.
Pennsylvania certainly isn’t know for big pike, but fly fishers just looking to catch a few can cast big flies in places like the Allegheny River, Allegheny Reservoir, And Presque Isle Bay.
Smallmouth & Largemouth Bass
Pennsylvania has strong populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass and a smattering of spotted bass in some places as well. Though Pennsylania’s largemouth fishing is definitely lackluster over all, the same could hardly be argued for their smallmouth fishery.
Some of Pennsylvania’s rivers are genuinely loaded with smallmouth, like the Susquehanna. Fish to three pounds or more are abundant and it is possible to have 50 fish days casting poppers and woolly buggers. It is important to note that intentionally fishing for a spawning bass is illegal in Pennsylvania.
Walleye & Sauger
These under-appreciated fly rod species are abundant in the Allegheny and other Pennsylvania watershed. Fish streamers in deep holes in the spring, or at night on reservoirs to catch this toothy predators.
Woolly buggers and clousers work well. French Creek is a good place to target both species in the Spring.
Best Fly Fishing Spots in Pennsylvania
This state offers fly fishers a huge variety of different habitats to explore. This is just a small sample of the best fly fishing in Pennsylvania. There is so much water I could go on for hours.
Fly Fishing Rivers in Pennsylvania
From big brawling rivers to small meandering limestone creeks, Pennsylvania has a lot of good fly fishing rivers.
Directions: Spring Creek, PA
Flowing from State College to Milesburg, this famous limestoner is one of the best trout rivers in the Eastern U.S. It holds an extraordinary population of wild brown trout. Access is very easy and it is comfortable to wade. The fish average about 10 inches and can be over 20.
The most important flies to have for this river are probably scud and sowbug imitations. Small sculpin streamers will work well too. The trico and little blue-winged olive hatches demand accurate flies to match them and good presentation. This stream is some fantastic Pennsylvania trout fishing,
Directions: Allegheny River
The Allegheny from Warren to Pittsburgh is an extremely varied and exciting fishery. It is big water the whole way, though quite wadeable in moderate to low flows near Warren. The tailwater created by the Kinzua Dam means the river is cold enough for about 10 miles to hold trout.
It has both stocked and wild fish and some truly big brown trout. Continuing downstream, the pike and musky fishing gets really good. Smallmouth and walleye can also be found throughout the system. A 5 weight for trout on dry flies, an 8 weight for bass and trout with streamers, and a 10 weight for muskie and pike will have you well geared for this big river.
Directions: Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna is Pennsylvania’s premier smallmouth bass river. Floating the river in a raft might be the best way to fish it, and using a jet boat is also popular in some stretches. Wading is possible because though the river is wide it is mostly very shallow.
That said it is difficult to cover water effectively on foot here so floating it is the best way to fly fish the Susquehanna. Streamers, nymphs, and poppers are great for the smallmouth here. The river also holds carp and walleye. A 6 to 8wt rod and floating line will get the job done.
Directions: Penns Creek
Penns Creek is another famous limestoner. It holds some big browns and rainbows. It is a little more remote than Spring Creek but there are some small towns along it. Some of the best water is between Coburn and Weikert. Fly Fishing Penns Creek may be at its best when the spring Green Drake hatch is happening.
This hatch happens late in the evening and brings up some big brown trout. It draws big crowds so it is important to get to a good pool before the hatch starts.
Directions: Pennypack Creek
Though this isn’t a famous trout water, I feel it is worth mentioning one of the rivers near Philadelphia. Pennypack Creek is a popular spring and fall stocked trout fishery with excellent access. It also holds some smallmouth and largemouth bass, suckers, panfish, and carp.
A five weight rod and a box with nymphs and small streamers is all that’s necessary on the Pennypack. It is one of the best fly fishing rivers in Philadelphia.
Fly Fishing Lakes in Pennsylvania
As is the case with its rivers, Pennsylvania’s Lakes offer a wide range of fly fishing opportunities. Many of Pennsylvania’s popular lakes are large enough to require a boat to fly fish effectively.
Directions: Lake Erie
Though Pennsylvania’s shoreline on this Great Lake is small compared to other states Lake Eerie still offers some great Pennsylvania Fly Fishing. Lake Erie fly fishing offers anglers bass, big yellow perch, pike, walleye, and steelhead.
Presque Isle Bay is a great spot for the warmwater species and tributaries like Elk Creek are the best places to fish for steelhead and big lake run brown trout. This fish require 8 weight rods and flies like small woolly buggers, stonefly nymphs, and egg patterns.
Directions: Allegheny Reservoir
This large lake is best accessed by boat or kayak. It is known for walleye, muskie, pike, and bass. It could be a very fickle body of water to fly fish due to its size and depth so upsize your gear to accommodate this. Sinking lines and big flies are best for pike and muskie, poppers and streamers will work well for bass.
Paying attention to the wind forecast is especially important on a large lake like this one. Fly fishing in the Allegheny Reseroir could be very unpleasant if it is blowing 20 miles per hour out of the west!
Directions: Lake Wallenpaupack
Lake Wallenpaupack is another large lake that offers some unique freshwater fishing in Pennsylvania. This body of water is big enough that landlocked striped bass were successfully introduced there.
Fly anglers casting sinking lines and big white deceivers on an 8wt around the river channel at the west end of the lake stand a chance at tying into a big striper. The lake also offers good fishing for chain pickerel, bass, and panfish.
Directions: Lake Nockamixon
Fly Fishing Lake Nockamixon offers another opportunity for fly fishers to catch an elusive muskie. The lake also has hybrid stripers, big largemouth bass, and carp. Nockamixon State park gives access to a lot of the lake.
An 8wt rod with a floating or sink tip line and a big selection of streamers in a variety of sizes would be a good choice here. Poppers around the weed beds and blow downs would also be a good option to catch some bass and pickerel.
Yellow Creek Lake
Directions: Yellow Creek Lake
This body of water offers not only pike and muskie but their hybrid, tiger muskie, as well. It also has smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Yellow Creek Lake is a bit shallower and weedier than some of the other lakes I’ve mentioned, so flouting lines and weedless Dahlberg Divers would be right at home here. Boats and kayaks offer the best access for fly fishing Yellow Creek Lake.
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Pennsylvania Fishing Season
There is no month of the year that doesn’t offer good fly fishing in Pennsylvania. The spring creeks don’t freeze and remain cool through the summer and there’s good bass and carp fishing all through the warmer months.
The Pennsylvania Trout season differs depending what river or county you are fishing. Places like Spring Creek are open to fishing year round. Check the state regulations before you go Pennsylvania trout fishing. Look at the regulations for other species as well. Some species, like pike and muskie, are open to fishing year round.
Pennsylvania Fly Fishing January Through March
Winter fly fishing in Pennsylvania is best on the spring creeks. Spring Creek, big Spring Creek, and Letort Spring Run run warmer in the winter than freestone streams will. Hatches are small, mainly midges early and the little blue-winged olives in March. Scuds and sculpins will probably net the biggest trout.
In late winter the suckers run and can be caught on nymphs and eggs. This is also a good time to fish for trout with a sucker spawn fly. On rivers throughout Pennsylvania winter is the best time to try to catch a really large brown trout on an articulated streamer. The Lehigh River is increasing in popularity for this pursuit every year.
Pennsylvania Fly Fishing April Through June
Spring provides some of the best fly fishing in Pennsylvania. Hatches on many different rivers bring lots of trout to the surface, fro the Mother’s Day Caddis in May to the Green Drakes in June.
It is a a great time for dry fly fishing. It is also an excellent time of year for carp, bass, walleye, and other warmwater fish. June fly fishing in Pennsylvania is great on small lakes and ponds. Foam beetles and Chernobyl Ants will bring panfish after panfish to hand.
Pennsylvania Fly Fishing July Through September
Summer fly fishing in Pennsylvania can be tricky at times but is still very good. Carp and smallmouth bass fishing are best during this time, but trout fishing isn’t done either.
The August trico hatch on Spring Creek and the Letort offers some excitingly difficult dry fly fishing with tiny flies and light tippets. Catch a fish during this hatch and you can truly be proud of yourself, these small bugs are not easy to replicate.
Fishing Pennsylvania in September can be really fun. It is a great time to explore small warmwater creeks for bass, panfish, carp, and even catfish. I’ve indicator nymphed for suckers and catfish in tributaries of the Allegheny in the summer and had a lot of fun.
Pennsylvania Fly Fishing October Through December
Fall is a great tie for fly fishing in Pennsylvania. This is a great time to fish streamers and nymphs looking for big brown trout, as well as smallmouth bass. It is also probably the best time to fly fish for muskie.
Pike and muskie feed very heavily through these months, so visiting one of the lakes or rivers mentioned above would be a good choice. 10wt rods a large streamers are a must on the Allegheny. The state also stocks trout again in the Philadelphia metro, so it is a good time of year to visit Pennypack and Wissahickon Creek.
Woolly buggers, eggs, and wet flies should do the trick here in November. Just be careful of wading over gravel beds in trout streams. Most brown and brook trout in the state spawn in these months and protecting their redds (or nests) is important to ensuring there is another generation of wild trout to fish for.
Best Fly Shops in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has dozens of good fly shops all over the state. These are just a few of the many that will have your needs taken care of.
TCO Fly Shop
TCO (Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters) has locations in Reading, Haverford, State College, and Boiling Springs. The shop offers a great selection of flies and gear. It is also a great place to go for a Pennsylvania fishing report, as the shop keeps track of the conditions on a bunch of different rivers.
It is a great place to stop before fishing Spring Creek or Big Spring Creek as they have locations near both of these rivers.
Neshannock Creek Fly Shop
A good fly shop to visit if you are fishing in Northeaster Pennsylvania in the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop. This store is well stocked with fly tying materials and gear. It also offers fishing reports for the Allegheny, Oil Creek, the Clarion River, and many others. If you are ever near Volant Pennsylvania this shop is worth a visit.
The Evening Hatch Fly Shop
This fly shop in White Haven is a great option for those fishing the Poconos. This would be a good place to stop before fishing the Brodhead Creek or Bushkill Creek. If you are looking for a unique rod, this shop also carries hand-made bamboo fly rods. The shop also offers guided float trips on the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.
Fly fishing in Pennsylvania put the angler in some unique places. The unusual geology that gives rise to the limestone spring creeks may be what made Pennsylvania fly fishing famous, but it has so much more than that as well. Small wild brook trout in the Poconos and large muskie sit at either end of the spectrum. There is so much in-between.
I often find myself going to Pennsylvania in the winter when the fishing isn’t great at home because there’s always something to find there. Even in the depths of winter there is excellent trout fishing. It’s also where I intend to go to get my first muskie. This article can barely scratch the surface of what’s there.
The big lakes and rivers are intimidating but conceal some true trophy fish. The Letort allows you to walk in the footsteps of some of the greats of American trout fly fishing. The Lehigh and Lackawanna provide wild trout fishing in urban areas. A number of muskie lakes are spread across the state. Smallmouth inhabit so many creeks big and small. Pennsylvania is really a fly fisher’s paradise.