Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Big Spring Creek in South-Central Pennsylvania

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

September 17, 2019

Rainbow trout caught on Big Spring Creek in Pennsylvania

They don’t call it Big Spring Creek for nothing. Big Spring Creek is the fifth largest spring in Pennsylvania, and is one of the world’s most productive limestone spring creeks. Native brook trout and wild rainbows in the 5 to 10-pound range were once common here.

Fly fishing Big Spring Creek, however, is no easy task. The water in Big Spring Creek is crystal clear, which makes this a beautiful but difficult fly fishing location.

If you are not afraid of a challenge, Big Spring Creek is a wonderful choice for the adventurous angler.

River Overview

Fly Fishing Big Spring Creek in Pennsylvania

Big Spring Creek is a five mile long tributary of Conodoguinet Creek in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. It emerges near U.S. Route 11, approximately eight miles northeast of Shippensburg, and feeds Conodoguinet Creek near Newville. The creek is fed by smaller streams, which helps keep the water temperature cool all year.

Big Spring Creek was once known nationwide as one of the best brook trout fishing streams in America. Unfortunately, the creek has lost some of its prestige. From 1972 to 2003, Big Spring Creek had its own state fish hatchery at the head of the stream. The effluences from this system took a toll on the native trout and insect population.

But all is not lost! You’ll still find a good population of large brook trout in the upper reaches. There are also plenty of rainbow and brown trout waiting to be caught – but only if you’re sneaky enough!

The crystal clear water in this stream makes it difficult to sneak up on the trout. You’ll want to use light leaders and tippets here. Accuracy is also key so you don’t accidentally spook the trout. The fish here can be picky eaters, so you’ll also want to ensure you have the right flies.

Big Spring Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on Big Spring Creek in Pennsylvania

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Spots to Fish Big Spring Creek

Big Spring Creek is easily accessible from U.S. Route 11. Near Newville and the abandoned hatchery, there is a stretch of the creek that is fly fishing only. The upper section of Big Spring Creek offers large brook trout.

The water is shallow enough for wade fishermen, but you will want to be careful with your movements. The trout will be able to see you just as clearly as you can see them!

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Big Spring Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Big Spring, PA provides a good indication of current conditions.The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

Big Spring Creek at Big Spring, PA

  • Streamflow: 37.4 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.13 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish Big Spring Creek

The special regulation area of Big Spring Creek is open year round but is catch and release only. The remainder of the creek is open from April 4 to September 7. The best time to visit Big Spring Creek would be in the spring, because of the hatches that occur during this season. However, summer is still a great time to tackle this creek, as the water stays cool throughout the year. 

You can also visit Big Spring Creek in the winter, if you don’t mind staying in the catch and release section. As always, the best time of day to fish is early morning and late day.

Best Flies for Big Spring Creek

While the insect population isn’t quite as numerous as it once was, there are still plenty of aquatic insects in Big Spring Creek. The Blue Winged Olives hatch in April and May and then again in September and October. 

The most popular hatch in Big Spring Creek is probably the Sulphurs, which hatch in April and May as well. Tricos will hatch from May all the way to September. If you are fishing off season, it is a good idea to fish midge larva, pupa, and adults on a light tippet. Scuds and cress bugs are also popular with the trout in Big Spring.

Regarding fly patterns, here is a list of some of the best flies for Big Spring Creek:

  • Blue Winged Olive (#16)
  • Tan Caddis (#18 -20)
  • Sulphur (#16)
  • Terrestrials (various) (#14-18)
  • Trico (#24)
  • Scuds (#12-18)
  • Cress bugs ((#12-16)
  • Sculpin (streamer)

Gear Recommendations

A 10-foot 4-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Slate Run.  A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 4X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Big Spring Creek Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Big Spring Creek fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.

Fishing Regulations

Pennsylvania requires all anglers 16 and older to have a standard fishing license, and a special permit for trout fishing, which can be obtained online or in most sporting goods stores in the state.

Big Spring Creek fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.

Trip Planning Tips

The closest major airport to Big Spring Creek is Harrisburg National Airport, which is about 47 miles away. However, you can fly into any major or municipal airport in Central Pennsylvania and arrive at your destination after a couple hours of scenic driving. 

There are a number of locations around Big Spring Creek that cater to the budget minded fishermen. Dogwood Acres Campground is a mere ten minutes away from Big Spring Creek, and has been nationally recognized as one of the best campgrounds in the United States. Moore’s Campground is another affordable rustic option that is only eight minutes away from your destination.

If you would feel more comfortable sleeping with a roof over your head, Rodeway Inn offers reasonable rates and is only twenty minutes away from Big Spring Creek.

Whichever location you choose, you are sure to have a memorable time with the trout in Big Spring Creek!

Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania.