Penns Creek offers unique experience

Any credible list of the best trout streams of Pennsylvania, or even the eastern United States, will always have Penns Creek near the top.

Although the fishing is rarely easy on this outstanding waterway, Penns Creek possesses a character all its own and has enjoyed generations of dedicated fans. It originates from Penns Cave, a limestone cavern in Centre County. For the first few miles, the stream is rather small and flows through private property with no public access.

Near Spring Mills, Penns Creek gains volume and is stocked with trout from the bridge on Route 45 downstream to the confluence with Elk Creek just downstream of Coburn. Downstream of the confluence with Elk Creek, Penns Creek is managed as a wild trout fishery, and the next seven miles of the stream are under a unique set of special regulations. From the opening day of trout season until Labor Day, a slot limit for trout is in effect, which allows angler to keep two trout per day between seven and 12 inches long.

During the remainder of the year, all trout caught in this section must be released. Penns Creek then flows through the northeast corner of Mifflin County and into Union County. Here, nearly four miles of the stream are under “catch and release artificial lures only” regulations.

In this section, fishing with live or natural bait is not allowed. Fishing must be done with artificial lures or flies, and both spinning and fly tackle are permitted. Fishing is permitted year-round, but no trout may be killed or had in possession at any time.

This section of the stream tends to be highly popular with many Penns Creek devotees. No roads parallel the water in this area, so access is largely walk-in via streamside trails.

The spectacular forest scenery provides a hint of wilderness unlike any other trout stream in central Pennsylvania. Large, deep pools, expansive riffles and roiling pocket water affords ample habitat for a substantial population of wild brown trout and serves up endless challenges for the anglers who seek them.

Few streams in Pennsylvania offer the opportunity to catch a wild trout measuring 20 inches or more as this part of Penns Creek. Penns Creek has long been a favored destination for fly anglers because of the amazing diversity of aquatic insects that live throughout the stream.

Dozens of species of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies inhabit Penns Creek and not only provide an abundant food supply for its population of trout, but those insects also afford fly-fishermen with ample opportunities to “match the hatch.”

Despite the remarkable variety of hatches, Penns Creek offers throughout the fishing season, one in particular outshines them all. That one is the green drake, a huge mayfly that typically hatches for several days around Memorial Day.

Many other trout streams in Pennsylvania and the Northeast also have a green drake hatch, but none can rival Penns Creek for the size and sheer abundance of these enormous mayflies.

The green drake hatch can bring even large trout to the surface to feed on the glut those big bugs, which offers fly anglers a unique opportunity to catch a big trout on a dry fly. Green drake time on Penns Creek is an amazing natural spectacle that every fly-fisherman should experience at least once.

But don’t expect solitude, as throngs of anglers make the annual pilgrimage to Penns Creek for this impressive event.

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 about fishing, hunting and nature. Young was selected to participate in the first Fly Fishing Masters Tournament on the Outdoor Life Network. He is a highly skilled professional fly tier who won both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Fly-tying Championships multiple times.