Updated 2000-07-11
Swedish version


Fly Fishing in
Central and South Eastern Pennsylvania

Article and Photography by Roger Kloos


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Located nearly in the center of the East Coast of the United States and just inland from New York and New Jersey is the beautiful State of Pennsylvania. Steeped in history, Pennsylvania served as one of the core states during the formation of this Nation and is blessed with a wide variety of interesting opportunities for exploration. If your interests lie in areas of culture, history, or nature, it would be hard to top a visit to this region.
Other pursuits not withstanding, the Central and South Eastern Pennsylvania Regions are blessed with another, perhaps more significant feature, to those reading this article…an outstanding array of fly-fishing opportunities. If you are smitten with the "fly-bug" and visit this area of Pennsylvania, you will have a chance to cover fly fishing’s fabled spring creeks and freestone streams which harbor our cold water species, and lakes, rivers and ponds which hold warm water species. The major fly rod species inhabiting this area’s waters include, Brook, Brown and Rainbow Trout and Smallmouth Bass. Generally, public access to this fishery is ample and can be sampled easily, with several major International Airports and a system of roadways serving this area.

South Central PA Streams

Let’s begin our journey with a look at five streams located in the South Central part of the State. This area includes Berks, Lancaster, York, Dauphin and Cumberland Counties and covers the Southeast Quadrant of Pennsylvania.

Tulpehocken Creek:
The "Tully" is located in Berks County near the city of Reading approximately one and half-hours drive northwest from Philadelphia. The stream is a tailwater fishery created by the formation of an impoundment at Blue Marsh Lake. The outflow from the bottom of the dam produces cool water year round, which enables Rainbow and Brown Trout to thrive. Access to the "Tully" is excellent with a series of public parking areas set up for recreational users.
Major hatches include Caddis, Tricos and Sulfurs. Fish will feed very selectively when hatches occur. Between hatches, prospecting with streamers and terrestrials will produce. An average Tully trout is about twelve inches in length, with the chance to take larger fish very good. Because of the close proximity to somewhat dense human populations, this stream is fished very heavily; however, a park and trail system lines the river giving it a feel of seclusion. In fact, it is not unusual to encounter Whitetail Deer and Blue Heron while fishing this stream.

Clarks Creek:
Clarks Creek is another tailwater stream emanating from the impoundment of the stream by Dehart Dam and it is located in Dauphin County, northeast of the State Capital of Harrisburg. It is primarily a freestone stream with a classic riffle and pool configuration and flows through a combined conifer and mixed hardwood forest. The stream features Brown, Rainbow and Brook Trout and is stocked by the state. Hatches on Clarks consist of the classic freestone mayfly hatches with Hendricksons and March Browns being the primary contributors. In May and June, Inch Worms are available in large concentrations and the trout feed actively on imitations of these insects. As with most of the streams in Pennsylvania, Caddis are found and terrestrials will work when hatches are not on.

Yellow Breeches Creek:
The Yellow Breeches is renowned for the long lasting contribution it has made to fly angling in the U.S. Since Colonial times, this stream has played a part in producing trout for local piscators. In fact, the name of the stream is based on the fact that British Soldiers in Colonial times would have their white trousers stained yellow by tannic acids when wading through the stream.
The Breeches is a limestone stream flowing through Cumberland County east of Carlisle and it eventually empties into the Susquehanna River below Harrisburg. Some notable hatches on the stream include Caddis, Hendricksons, Sulfurs, and other mayflies. In Mid-August, a significant event on this stream is the arrival of the Whitefly hatch. Evenings toward dark produce strong hatches of this minute mayfly and seem to garner the attention of most of the trout in the stream. Fishing can be both exciting and also frustrating during this event as the stream becomes more crowded that usual. The Yellow Breeches may be fished year round, and special regulations apply in the most productive locations. Check with local fly shops for information about this stream before donning your waders.

Letort Spring Run:
The Letort is a beautiful spring creek located in Carlisle in Cumberland County. Small in size, it is large in stature due to the place it has occupied in the evolution of fly-fishing in this county. Noted angling authors Vince Marinaro and Charles Fox used the Letort as a laboratory in developing many of the fly patterns and techniques employed in bringing trout to fly. This stream also played a major part in the evolution and development of terrestrial fishing in the U.S. and continues to produce some surprising Brown Trout each year. The Letort can be a very challenging stream to fish and will require the angler to be both precise in presentation and diligent in approach. The water is small, rich, clear and filled with aquatic vegetation making trout wary and selective.  

Susquehanna River:
This mighty river emanates from branches both in Pennsylvania and upper New York State, and finds it’s way after traveling many miles, south to the Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace, Maryland. The name Susquehanna was given to the river by Native American Indians and is translated to mean "from the smooth flowing stream." The section of this river, which flows through South Central PA, provides excellent water and habitat for Smallmouth Bass. Wading the river and fishing the pocket water can produce fine catches both above and below the surface. It is advisable to hire a guide for first time Susquehanna fly fisherman as this is a very large river and many hours might be wasted in locating fish. Guides will put you on fish quickly and also provide flies that will produce. If you have not sampled Smallmouth Bass on a fly rod, you need to try it. It is not uncommon to catch twenty-five or more fish in an evening and some may be sizable. In August the large Whitefly hatches are very thick on the Susquehanna, and bring some of the wary old-timers to the surface. A three to five pound Smallmouth on a number twelve Whitefly is about as good as it gets!

Central Pennsylvania Streams

We will now focus on the streams located in the central part of the state. These streams are located in the counties along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. The geography contains alternating valleys in which some of the best streams in the state are found. There are several excellent waters to fish in this area and the stream types are varied. Spring creeks, freestone rivers and mountain streams provide habitat for our three primary species of trout. Most of these streams are within a four-hour drive of Baltimore or Philadelphia and only two hours from Harrisburg. Let's look at four prominent water of the Central Pennsylvania Region.


Penn’s Creek:
Rising out of the ground in Centre County is one of the best and most remote rivers in the state. Penn’s is a limestone stream that is abundant in nutrient and habitat. It is the home of some of the state’s best hatches and features a variety of fishing conditions. Eventually, Penn’s empties into the Susquehanna River near Selinsgrove, PA, but before doing so it runs through some very remote and rugged country. Penn’s is a stream of multiple personalities. In areas around Coburn, PA, it looks like a meadow stream similar in character to the Chalk streams of England.
In the area from Poe Paddy State Park to Weikert, it turns into a sizable freestone stream with plenty of structure to create fast runs and pockets. It holds a very nice population of both Browns and Rainbows and has some of the classic mayfly hatches. The predominant insect hatches include Caddis, March Browns, Gray Fox, Tricos, Isonichia and the Green Drake. Fishing the Drake hatch in late May is somewhat of a festival. This hatch of large mayflies not only gets the attention of the trout, but also that of legions of anglers bent on capturing large fish with large dry flies. It can be both exhilarating and challenging, but definitely worth the trip. Again, due to the size and complexity of this water, it is advisable to hire a guide to help improve your measure of success.

Spring Creek:
This limestone creek is located in Centre County in the area of State College and Bellefonte. It is a classic limestoner with riffle and pool configuration and due to its nutrient content can appear slightly colored, as do many of these limestone creeks in the area. Hatches on Spring Creek include the classic mayflies and caddis hatches, and terrestrials can play a major part in feeding the Browns and Rainbows in the stream. Hendricksons and Sulfur hatches are strong in most areas of this stream, and fishing Sulfur imitations in the Fisherman’s Paradise area in Mid to Late May can produce some vary exciting dry fly activity. Streamers and nymphs should not be overlooked if surface feeding is slow. This stream has the ability to produce some very fine trout and raise some eyebrows with its productivity. It is definitely worth a try!


Spruce Creek:
Spruce Creek is a gem. It is a small valley stream of limestone nature running southwest of the town of State College, PA. Spruce is neatly tucked up against Mount Nittany on most of the eastern side and is mostly open on the west bank.
This stream flows through private land most of it’s length before emptying into the Little Juniata (also a very productive stream) at the village of Spruce Creek. Although public access is limited, there exist a few public areas and these are fished heavily. Local guides have made arrangement with some of the landholders along this creek and access may be gained by using a guide. This is worth the investment! Browns and Rainbows predominate Spruce Creek and it is not unusual to catch and release fish in the twenty inch and above category. These fish are healthy and full-bodied and provide excellent sport on the fly rod. Past U.S. President Jimmy Carter frequented Spruce Creek while in office and continues to visit and fish this area. Hatches on Spruce include March Browns, Gray Fox, Sulfurs, and Caddis. Green Drake activity is present but not reliable, but imagine the thrill of taking a 24" Brown on a number 16 Sulfur with a 5x or 6x tippet! As an added bonus, a trip to Spruce might be followed by a day on the Little Juniata for a superb two-day outing.

Mountain Streams:
There are several opportunities throughout this area in Central PA to fish small mountain streams for native Brook Trout. These trout will not be large, but they are very opportunistic in their feeding habits. Small rods and light lines enhance this type of fishing, and the color and markings of a native trout are incredibly beautiful. Generally, these fish may be taken on attractor patterns such as the Royal Coachman, Mr. Rapidan, Royal Humpies or Stimulators. A good place to prospect for Brookies is in the Bald Eagle State Forest in the area of Penn's Creek. Cherry Run is a likely spot to search for fish and it is located near the state parking area for Penn's above the town of Weikert.


Equipment, Tackle and Flies

You will not need to pack an arsenal of equipment to get the job done on these waters. Most of the fishing will be done in medium to short range; so heavy rods are not required. Even for larger trout and Smallmouth Bass, a typical choice would be a 5 or 6 weight rod. The lone exception to this might be the need for a short rod when fishing the mountain streams for Brookies. My choices include a good graphite rod, nine feet long, rated for a 5-weight line. I would include a small rod…7’6" for a 3-weight for mountain trout and possibly another 9 footer for a 3-weight if fishing late in the season.
This late season rod would be useful for fishing the Tricos, midge and small Caddis hatches of summer. Lines would be floating, weight forward or double taper to match my rods and leaders would be down to 5x or smaller. Leader length is dictated by the conditions, the rule is when waters are low and clear, you should lengthen the leader and use a finer tippet. For Tricos and Midge fishing, I prefer a 14’ leader, tapered to 7x and use a fluorocarbon tippet. A good single action reel with smooth drag is required and you should have 100 yards of backing on the spool. If fishing below the surface, split shot will be adequate to sink the fly. Wading equipment should include breathable waders for spring and summer conditions, along with wading shoes with good felts. Many of these streams have slick streambeds and felt soles will give you better traction and help to you to avoid an inadvertent dunking. Flies required will depend on the time of the season you visit and you should be prepared to match various stages of the appropriate fly's life cycle. Future articles will focus on specific streams and include hatch charts, and I am happy to answer individual inquiries regarding your specific needs. Local fly shops and guides are eager to provide up to the minute details about what the fish are eating.


Getting Here and Other Useful Information

This Region is fortunate to have an excellent system of available airports and highways. Access from anywhere on the planet (or at least most anywhere!) can be through Newark NJ, Philadelphia PA. or Baltimore MD. International Airports.

Harrisburg PA. International Airport (MDT) is the nearest location to these streams, and service to Harrisburg from most of the East Coast International Airports is available.Auto rentals are available at all airports and directions may be obtained from the rental agents. Hotel and Bed and Breakfast accommodations are abundantly available for overnight stays. Fly Shops and Professional Guides are also abundant throughout this area and it is a very good idea to seek current information from one of these sources.
If you are interested in booking a trip with a guide, it is advisable to plan ahead. As is the case everywhere, usually the best guides have a full calendar of client bookings. Many Guides can provide transportation and equipment, so if you do not have your tackle along on you trip, don’t let that be a deterrent to sampling some of the best fly fishing opportunities this country has to offer. If you have read, heard or actually been fortunate to have experienced the excellent angling available in these locations and are compelled to plan a trip, keep in mind that with today’s travel options, you are only a short flight away in most cases. A six-hour flight and four-hour drive is a small price to pay for this adventure. If you need further information or would like some help in arranging a trip, please contact me via email at rgk@head-waters.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

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