After Agnes, water quality fishing got better in the Little Juniata River
Until the early 1970s, the Little Juniata River was little more than an industrial sewer, its flows an ugly brown color with an equally unappealing smell.
In just over a decade, however, this long-suffering waterway transformed into one of the most popular trout streams in the Mid-Atlantic region.
A number of factors contributed to that incredible renaissance. Tougher environmental regulations helped control or abate many sources of pollution.
The epic flood waters that resulted in the wake of Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972 flushed out years of accumulated contaminants from the stream bottom. Several tributaries of the Little Juniata were (and still are) high-quality trout streams.
As the water quality in the Little Juniata improved, those smaller streams helped return trout, aquatic insects and other types of desirable aquatic life to the river remarkably quickly.
Currently, the Little Juniata is predominantly a wild brown trout fishery.
For many years, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked the river with fingerling brown trout but discontinued that practice in favor of allowing the fishery to sustain itself via the natural reproduction of the resident population of brown trout.
Rainbow trout are stocked in some tributaries of the Little Juniata, so some of that species also show up in the river as well.
The upper reaches of worthwhile trout water on the Little Juniata are from around Bellwood downstream to Tyrone in Blair County. Here the river is relatively small and mostly shallow, and fishing tends to be somewhat spotty.
Downstream of Bellwood, just off Route 220, is a short section of the river designated “Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only.”
This area is popular with local anglers and receives a preseason and an in-season stocking of rainbows.
Once the Little Juniata River reaches Tyrone, it changes dramatically both in size and character. Bald Eagle Creek, one of its larger tributaries, joins the river there, and numerous limestone springs feed it over the next few miles to increase the flow and make it the premier trout water it is known for.
From the railroad bridge at Ironville just south of Tyrone, the next 13 miles of Little Juniata downstream into Huntingdon County and its confluence with the Frankstown Branch are managed as “Catch and Release All Tackle.”
These regulations provide for year-round trout fishing with any type of tackle, including flies, lures and live bait.
Route 453 and numerous township roads parallel the Little Juniata for the seven miles from Tyrone downstream to the village of Spruce Creek. The lower several miles of the Little Juniata downstream of Spruce Creek flow through the Barree Gorge in Rothrock State Forest and need to be accessed from the village of Alexandria off Route 22 by taking Route 305 to the river.
On some sections of the river, private landowners have recently posted areas that have limited access in spots. Anglers are advised to be respectful of those areas and not to trespass. A busy railroad mainline also runs near and crosses the Little Juniata River at several points. Anglers should be mindful that walking on or crossing the railroad bridges and rights-of-way is both illegal and dangerous.
The Little Juniata River not only offers some excellent fishing for wild trout but also some spectacular scenery as well. In many spots the river flows past rugged and breathtakingly beautiful cliffs like those on some western streams.
The uneven bottom, swift currents and deep pools can make wading this special waterway a challenge but one so many anglers find one worth the effort.
Award-winning outdoor writer and photographer Walt Young, 66, is a lifelong resident of Blair County. Young began fishing and fly tying at the age of 12, and his passion for all things outdoors shaped a career path that has provided him the opportunity to fish throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. He has written and supplied photos for hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper columns. Young was selected to participate in the first Fly Fishing Masters Tournament on the Outdoor Life Network. He is a professional fly tier who won both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Fly-tying Championships multiple times.