Pennsylvania is home to some of the best trout fishing in the eastern United States. The commonwealth offers up over 86,000 miles of streams and rivers, including over 15,000 miles of designated Wild Trout Water.
Suffice to say, there’s not much chance you’ll ever run out of places to wet a line in the Keystone State.
Brown trout—both wild and stocked—are the most common species in most PA rivers and streams.
And with the exception of steelhead, which are limited to Lake Erie and its tributaries, brown trout also the biggest trout in the state. Many of the waters listed below offer wild browns pushing 20 inches.
Brook trout are also common in many streams. Though they don’t match brown trout for size, these wild, native Pennsylvania trout are even more prized by many anglers.
Rainbow trout are stocked in some waterways as well, but the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) tends to stock rainbows more in lakes and ponds than in rivers and streams.
When & How to Catch Trout in PA
The months of April through June are usually the best times for trout fishing in Pennsylvania, and fall also offers excellent conditions.
Summer can be challenging on many waters, but quite a few Pennsylvania streams remain cool enough to be fishable even during the hottest part of the year.
For fly fishers, the key to success often lies in matching the hatch; and many of Pennsylvania’s creeks and rivers support a diverse assortment of aquatic insects.
Trout dine on multiple species of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies in Pennsylvania. Midges are also important in some streams, as are scuds (small freshwater crustaceans) and sowbugs (which are similar to the roly-polies you might find in your garden).
Minnows, crayfish, and various terrestrial flies also find their way into trout bellies in various seasons.
Bottom line: the best chance of success comes from being prepared to throw just about anything.
While we’re focusing quite a bit on the best fly fishing hatches and patterns for each stream covered below, conventional anglers will also find some great fishing in many of these waters.
Where allowed, small lures such as spinners and spoons can be excellent, and convincing minnow-imitating crankbaits and swimbaits at times can fool those larger fish-eating browns.
Using natural baits such as nightcrawlers and salmon eggs is probably the easiest way to fish and also very tempting for trout, especially less-savvy stocked trout, as long as bait is legal to use.
It should be noted that trout more often swallow bait deeply, leading to more fatal hookups than fishing with artificial flies and lures. That’s why catch-and-release areas often won’t permit fishing with bait.
More generally, it’s best to use bait-fishing tactics not only where it’s legal, but also where you plan to legally harvest trout.
Trout fishing regulations vary in Pennsylvania, depending on how various stream sections are classified. You can read more about those classifications here, which is always a good idea before you hit the water.
Best Trout Rivers and Creeks
With so many choices, it’s difficult to know where to fish. This guide will help you narrow down the options to some of the most spectacular when it comes to trout fishing in Pennsylvania’s streams.
Offering 35 miles of prime trout water in Central Pennsylvania, Penn’s Creek is a tributary of the Susquehanna River that has its headwaters in Penns Cave. Yep, Penn’s Creek quite literally flows out of a cave.
Penn’s Creek is also Pennsylvania’s longest limestone stream, and given the rugged landscape that surrounds it, it’s about as close as you’ll find in PA to a true ‘wilderness’ limestone stream.
The upper portion of Penn’s Creek is stocked annually with rainbow trout, and also harbors some wild browns. This is the coldest and narrowest part of the stream—15 to 30 feet across in most places—but most serious fly anglers focus their attention farther downstream.
The 11-mile stretch of Penn’s Creek from Coburn (where the confluence with Elk Creek brings a much-needed influx of cold water) down to the little town of Selinsgrove has been designated a Class A Wild Trout Stream by the PA Fish & Boat Commission.
Trout average 12 to 13 inches here, but you may catch some over 16.
This stretch is a maze of rocks, boulders and gravel that offers picture-perfect habitat for wild brown trout and the insects that sustain them.
It’s tricky wading, but the fishing in this area can be exceptionally rewarding. That does not mean it’s easy. Meticulously matching the hatch is often the key to success.
Penn’s Creek famously has a prolific Green Drake hatch in June, which draws anglers from all over the state.
There are a lot of other options too. Grannom Caddis appear in April, and there are also great March Brown and Sulphur hatches. Stonefly nymphs are available year-round.
During a cool, wet year, Penn’s Creek fishes well throughout the summer months, but most years the stream warms up significantly, making it primarily a spring and fall fishery.
Popular access points include the PFBC access site in Coburn, and Poe Paddy State Park in Woodward. Much of the stream flows through Bald Eagle State Forest, and is publicly open to anyone willing to hike in.
The cold, fertile, limestone water of Spring Creek is about as trout-friendly as it gets. Located entirely within North-Central Pennsylvania’s Centre County, this stream is one of the best destinations in the state for wild browns.
Surveys of Spring Creek have found more wild brown trout per mile than any other stream in the state. While the Fish & Boat Commission operates two hatcheries at Belafonte and Banner Springs, these days those fish don’t get planted in Spring Creek.
Spring Creek’s brown trout are not only abundant. They’re big too. Plenty of chunky 16- to 20-inch browns reside in these waters, often lurking beneath logs, boulders and undercut banks.
Access is plentiful too, but that can be a double-edged sword. At popular spots like the legendary (and promisingly named) Fisherman’s Paradise stretch in Belafonte, it’s common to see anglers lined up along the banks on prime spring and fall weekends.
If you don’t want to rub shoulders with your fellow anglers, there are also plenty of opportunities to beat the crowds. The Spring Creek Canyon Trail provides foot access to several miles of Spring Creek south of Belafonte.
A lot of different insect species hatch here throughout the year. Blue Winged Olives are a big one, usually hatching from March through May and again from late August to mid-October.
That being said, just about every species of mayfly that lives in Pennsylvania will hatch here at some point.
Bring some streamers too; the biggest browns often dine on sculpins and other minnows.
The entirety of Spring Creek is catch and release, so all those big fish end up right back in the water.
Spring Creek is also fed by several smaller limestone feeder streams, including Cedar Run, Slab Cabin Run, Logan Branch and Buffalo Run. These are all solid trout streams in their own right.
Little Juniata River
Often referred to by local fly fishers as the “Little J,” the Little Juniata River is a major tributary of the Juniata River that begins in Altoona at the confluence of several smaller streams. It flows about 32 miles through Blair and Huntingdon Counties.
The Little Juniata is a river that fishes well year-round, but spring offers a bonanza of insect hatches that makes the months of March through June a truly special time to be on the water.
Grannom and Tan Caddis, March Browns, Sulphurs, Blue-Winged Olives and Tricos are all on the menu. Come armed with an assortment of dry flies so you can properly match the hatch.
The Little Juniata can also be an excellent nymphing river.
The Little Juniata River is generally divided into two sections, above and below the borough of Tyrone. As it reaches Tyrone, the river bends sharply, and also changes significantly in character.
Above Tyrone, the river could best be described as a freestone fishery. It flows through the picturesque Logan Valley, and there’s excellent fishing here for stocked trout, including some great opportunities to get off the beaten path.
Below Tyrone, the Little Juniata is fed by several cool, nutrient-rich limestone streams, and the river’s character changes something more closely resembling a limestone river.
Wild brown trout dominate this lower section, which is made up of deep pools up to 100 yards long, interspersed with moderate riffles and runs.
The scenery changes too. Several historic stone railway arches span the river, and the section below the confluence of Spruce Creek tumbles through a rugged gorge within Rothrock State Forest.
There are numerous pull-offs from Tyrone to Spruce Creek along State Route 453 as well as secondary roads. One can also hike into the roadless state forest section.
Next we come to Spruce Creek, a small tributary of the Little Juniata River that has a big reputation for kicking out brutish brown trout.
Despite its small size—little more than 30 across feet in most places—trout in Spruce Creek average much bigger than in its parent river.
Anglers have a real chance to tangle with 20-inch-plus browns here. And aside from a few fish that are stocked by local fishing clubs, they’re all wild.
Spruce Creek is a rich limestone stream that stays cool and fishable year-round. There are quite a few major insect hatches, including Blue Winged Olive, which appear in April through mid-May and September through mid-October.
Blue Quills and Hendricksons are important spring hatches here too, and several Caddis species hatch from March to June.
The fishing can be easy or incredibly difficult, depending on your ability to match the hatch.
Of course, brown trout often go for nymphs and streamers here as well.
The biggest browns, in particular, seem averse to sipping flies from the surface (especially midday) and are more likely to feed lower in the water column. The best fishing tends to be on cloudy days.
The problem with Spruce Creek is public access, or rather the lack thereof. The vast majority of this stream is owned by private fishing clubs or individuals.
If it’s in your budget to do so, it can be well worth the effort to book a stay and some guided stream time at one of these fishing clubs. If not, the only real option is the half-mile public section of Spruce Creek that is owned by Penn State University.
Slight though it may be, a lot of big trout are caught from the public access section, which is located on Spruce Creek Road in Spruce Creek township.
Though just 7.3 miles long, Slate Run offers some impressive trout fishing opportunities in the north-central part of Pennsylvania. It’s a freestone stream, and a great place to pursue wild trout in a wild setting.
Anglers can pursue wild brook and brown trout here, and various sections of Slate Run offer very different fishing experiences. As is often the case, brown trout favor warmer water than brookies, and are most common in the lower half of the stream.
For that reason (and because of its easier access) most anglers fish the lower portion of Slate Run. Browns often fall for nymphs and streamers, and some fish up to 20 inches are caught.
A lot of the usual PA insect hatches happen here, with Little Black and Brown Early Stoneflies starting in March. Blue Winged Olives will start to come out toward the end of that month, and continue hatching on-and-off through fall. Blue Quills and Quill Gordons get going when the water warms to about 50 degrees.
Farther up, Slate Run is a very different stream. The upper portion offers great pocket water, interspersed with riffles and pools. Wild brook trout are the dominant species up here.
These brookies usually max out at about 11 inches, but anyone who goes into the backcountry in search of wild trout will tell you that it’s not about size.
Upper Slate Run traverses some wild and rugged country, and exploring it requires a sense of adventure and a willingness to leave the road behind.
The best way to get to the water is to follow Slate Run Road west from the community of Slate Run. There are several pull-offs along the way, with angler-made trails leading to the stream.
Slate Run is formed by the confluence of its Francis Branch and Cushman Branch, both of which also offer some quality, if somewhat remote, trout fishing opportunities.
In turn Slate Run feeds Pine Creek, which is also a decent fishery for stocked brown trout and smallmouth bass.
Standing on the banks of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, it’s hard to imagine that this broad, plodding river has anything resembling prime trout water. But go far enough upstream, and that’s what you’ll find.
The tailwater below Kinzua Dam—which holds back Allegheny Reservoir within Allegheny National Forest—is one of Pennsylvania’s best fishing spots for trophy brown trout.
The 9-mile Trophy Section below the dam has produced trout up to 30 inches.
Some big holdover rainbows up to 20 inches are caught here too.
The outflow from the dam maintains a fairly steady flow year-round and regulates the temperature to allow trout fishing even during the hot summer months.
The most popular section of the Allegheny River for trout fishing is from the outflow immediately below the reservoir down to Dixon Island, which is the first major island below the dam.
In general, channels along the river islands are the most productive areas throughout the 9-mile Trophy Section.
There’s ample access along Kinzua Road, which follows the river from the dam down to Warren. A boat ramp is also located right below the dam.
Most anglers who fish here are after big trout, and they catch them using big trout tactics. Live minnows are favored by many, and fly fishermen tend to fare best with streamers that mimic baitfish.
The tailwater section below Kinzua Dam also is a favorite spot in Pennsylvania to catch walleye.
A very different fishing experience is available on the Upper Allegheny River, way up above the dam and reservoir. Anglers in search of a more traditional trout stream environment can find it in the section of the river around Port Allegany.
This section resembles a classic trout fishing stream, and has all the classic Pennsylvania insect hatches, which provide excellent fishing from April through June.
There are also some deep pools with cold enough water that some huge brown trout may be encountered even in mid-summer.
Allegheny Reservoir just above the tailwater section also has excellent fishing, although species such as northern pike are often the top targets.
Pennsylvania has a lot—and we mean A LOT—of great trout streams.
The waters listed above are widely regarded as the best of the best, but these honorable mentions could just as easily put some beautiful fish on the end of your line.
Fishing Creek (Big Fishing Creek)
Pennsylvania has at least two streams called Fishing Creek, and they’re both solid trout streams. It can be confusing. We’re focusing on the Fishing Creek that flows through Clinton County in North-Central Pennsylvania.
It’s sometimes referred to as Big Fishing Creek, presumably to differentiate it from its namesake, which is in Northwest PA’s Columbia County.
Anyway, this Fishing Creek is the northernmost limestone stream in the state with public access. It’s a unique waterway that packs a lot of different trout habitat into a fairly small area.
Along with wild brown trout in the 12- to 16-inch range, there are also decent numbers of wild brook trout here.
In fact, Clinton County’s Fishing Creek produced the state record brook trout, a 7-pound behemoth of a brookie.
Fishing Creek has an abundance of riffles and pools in addition to more traditional limestone stream habitat, and a lot of it more closely resembles a freestone stream. About 25 miles of Fishing Creek is designated a Class A Wild Trout Stream.
A lot of the typical insect hatches happen here, but nymphing tends to be more productive than dry fly fishing. Crustaceans like sowbugs, scuds and even small crayfish are part of the year-round menu.
The most popular spot on Fishing Creek is known as “the Narrows,” and it’s accessible from pull-offs along Narrows Road west of Tylersville.
Yellow Breeches Creek
A tributary of the Susquehanna River in Southern Pennsylvania, Yellow Breeches Creek meanders across a picturesque landscape that looks like it belongs on a 19th-century postcard. There’s even a covered bridge that dates to 1867.
More importantly, there are trout galore in Yellow Breeches Creek.
Brook, brown and rainbow trout are all stocked here at various times throughout the year, and they’re not picky eaters. There are wild trout here too, though they’re not as easily fooled as their hatchery-bred counterparts.
Yellow Breeches Creek remains cool enough in summer that it’s fishable year-round. Arguably the most popular time to fish it is the end of summer, when anglers come from all over to take advantage of a prolific late August White Fly hatch.
The stream also hosts a lot of the expected spring hatches, including Black Stoneflies, Hendricksons, Sulphurs, Blue Winged Olives, and various caddis flies including Grannoms.
The catch-and-release-only section from Boiling Springs to Allenberry Resort is the most popular and heavily stocked section of Yellow Breeches Creek. There’s plenty of pull-off roadside access throughout this section.
Formed by the convergence of Cool Spring and Otter Creek in Western PA’s Mercer County, Neshannock Creek flows a little over 25 miles until it empties into the Shenango River in New Castle.
It’s a great spot to target stocked rainbow and brown trout. That said, it’s also a well-known trout stream less than an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, so it can be tough to get away from the crowds on prime weekends.
Luckily, Neshannock Creek is usually easy to hike and wade, so breaking away from the pack to find secluded water is very doable if you’re willing and able to hoof it.
Neshannock Creek is a beautiful freestone stream, and fly anglers tend to favor its upper portion, above the community of Volant. There’s also a 2.7-mile Delayed Harvest stretch immediately below Volant that gives up a lot of big trout.
As a general rule, Neshannock Creek fishes best for rainbows in the spring, and browns in the fall.
Warm waters make summer fishing a challenge, but lots of fish hold over, so expect to catch some nice 12- to 14-inch rainbows along with some big brown trout in October.
Trout in the stream tend not to be terribly picky, and a good Pheasant Tail nymph can catch fish almost any time. There are also solid spring hatches of Grannom Caddis, March Browns, Brown Drakes, Olive and Tan Caddis, among many others.
Oil Creek might not be a name that immediately screams “great trout fishing,” but don’t let that less-than-promising moniker scare you off. This Northeast PA stream offers year-round fly-fishing opportunities.
A 46-mile tributary of the Allegheny River, Oil Creek got its name from its use as a transportation route during Northeast Pennsylvania’s 19th-century oil well boom. Today, it’s frequently stocked with both rainbow and brown trout.
Fly fishers might tangle with some big holdover fish, as well as recently stocked catchable trout in spring and fall.
Oil Creek is also a great smallmouth bass stream, and you’re likely to catch a few scrappy smallmouths too, especially while tossing streamers or terrestrials in summer.
The best fishing on Oil Creek is in the section downstream from Titusville, where there are numerous bridges and pull-offs along State Routes 8 and other smaller roads.
This stretch includes both of the creek’s Delayed Harvest sections as well as Oil Creek State Park, where there’s a ton of great access.
Oil Creek has an abundance of classic pool, run and riffle configurations, which makes it a fairly straightforward stream to fish.
It’s also an outstanding canoe and kayak stream, and part of it is a designated PA Water Trail.
Big Spring Creek
Southern Pennsylvania is where you’ll find Big Spring Creek, a 5-mile tributary of Conodoguinet Creek with a reputation that looms large in the myth and lore of Pennsylvania fly fishing.
This is a beautiful limestone creek with crystal-clear, spring-fed waters that stay cool all summer.
Big Spring Creek has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Pennsylvania’s best wild brook trout streams. That being said, the construction of a hatchery on the stream sent wild trout populations plummeting in the 1970s.
Only in the years since the hatchery was shut down in 2001 has the balance shifted back in favor of wild brookies. Brook trout are once again abundant in Big Spring Creek, and occasionally reach remarkable sizes up to 20 inches.
Of course, like a lot of great trout streams, fishing here is seldom easy. The clear waters require stealth on the part of anglers, and the finicky trout in Big Spring Creek often demand hatch-matching precision in the extreme.
Blue-Winged Olives, Sulphurs and Tricos are the only major mayfly hatches on this particular stream (there’s also a solid Cinnamon Caddis hatch in summer) and midges might be the most important insect hatch.
Scuds and Sowbugs are also significant parts of these fish’s diet. For anglers, tiny flies on light leaders and tippets are the rule.
There’s great access along Big Spring Road near Newville. Big Spring Creek is a great stream for wading, provided you can do so quietly. Wear polarized sunglasses to improve your chances of spotting trout before they spot you.
Falling Spring Creek
Alternately known as Falling Spring Branch, Falling Spring Run and Falling Springs, South-Central Pennsylvania’s Falling Spring Creek is ideal for anglers who like to pursue wild trout in small waters.
Falling Spring Creek is seldom more than 25 feet wide, but this spring-fed limestone stream barely warms up above 60 degrees even in summer.
It’s home to excellent populations of wild brown and rainbow trout, and even a few wild brook trout in its upper reaches.
The PFBC also stocks trout in the portion of Falling Spring Creek below I-81, which includes a Delayed Harvest section that is arguably the most popular place to fish on the creek.
Typical of many small limestone streams, Falling Spring Creek has long pools punctuated by short riffles. It’s beautiful trout habitat, though as is often the case in such gin-clear waters, trout here are picky eaters and easily spooked.
Fishing is easiest if there’s a solid hatch going on that you can imitate.
Blue Winged Olives hatch most prolifically in early May and late September (but may also appear any time in-between). There is also a decent Blue Quill hatch in late April through mid-May. Cinnamon and Spotted Sedges are the most common caddis species.
Falling Spring Road crisscrosses the wild trout section from I-81 up to the spring, and provides good access. The Briar Lane Bridge is also popular.
Farther downstream, the stocked portion is easily accessible at various crossings in Chambersburg.
Kettle Creek starts as a small freestone stream, and ultimately becomes a rather large creek by the time it empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River after 67 miles. It’s known for being one of the better trout streams in Northern Pennsylvania.
Stocked rainbow trout are the dominant species in the lower portion of the creek, but wild brown trout also prowl many deep pools, and there are even some good-sized wild brook trout in the upper reaches.
Arguably, the best fishing in Kettle Creek can be found in the fly-fishing-only Delayed Harvest section, which ends 500 feet below State Route 144, and extends 1.7 miles upstream.
But there’s also great water farther up the creek, particularly in the area where Kettle Creek merges with Little Kettle Creek near Oleona. From this point up to the headwaters is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of brook trout.
The best techniques vary, depending on what section of the stream you’re fishing.
For the most part, Kettle Creek is made up of fast riffles and long, slow runs.
Numerous hatches take place throughout the year, starting with Little Black Early Stoneflies in March, followed by several mayfly and caddisfly species.
Cedar Run is located just a few miles from Slate Run in Northern Pennsylvania, and although it might not quite match that particular stream when it comes to epic trout fishing, it’s still a really excellent fishery.
This lovely freestone creek isn’t stocked, and meanders through almost completely undeveloped forest, giving it the feel of a truly wild trout stream.
Brown trout typically measure around 12 inches here, but fish up to 20 inches are occasionally caught.
There are good numbers of smaller wild brookies around too. The smaller fish in Cedar Run are often quite easy to catch, but tricking one of the bigger ones may be no small task.
The best time to be on the water is April through June, when you can match a variety of hatches that include Blue-Winged Olives, Quill Gordons and Hendricksons. Various caddis species are also on the menu.
The majority of Cedar Run flows through Tioga State Forest, and a gravel forest road runs parallel to its banks, providing great access. It has a lot of beautiful pools punctuated by riffles and runs.
Cedar Run is a tributary of Pine Creek, which is also a solid trout stream, albeit one that offers predominantly stocked fish.
The two streams meet in the spectacularly beautiful Pine Creek Gorge, which has been referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.”
Letort Spring Run
Much like the aforementioned Big Spring Creek, Letort Spring Run is a small tributary of Conodoguinet Creek, in Southern PA’s Cumberland County.
Letort Spring Run is also similar to Big Spring Creek in that it is warmly regarded by trout aficionados, but notoriously difficult to fish.
Spring-fed and pleasantly chilly even during the dog days of summer, Letort Spring Run is just over 9 miles long, and less than 20 feet across in most places. The water is as clear as glass and supports ample beds of watercress.
For that reason, coupled with an overabundance of natural forage, the chunky wild brown trout that call this stream home are often less than eager to bite.
Nobody ever said fly fishing was easy! But these trout—some of them well over 20 inches—are worth the effort.
Although there are some decent insect hatches on Letort Spring Run, scuds and sowbugs are the main forage. Try dead drifting scud and sowbug flies much as you would with typical nymphs. Terrestrials also work well in summer.
There’s great access all along the 6-mile Letort Run Nature Trail, which follows the banks of the stream from Letort Spring Garden Preserve down into the village of Carlisle.