Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Clarion River in North-Central Pennsylvania

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

September 5, 2019

Clarion River in Pennsylvania

Several years ago, fishing Clarion River in North Central Pennsylvania wasn’t an option.

A nearby paper plant was contributing residue and warm water discharges into the river, a river that was already plagued by acid mine runoff. This made Clarion River Pennsylvania’s most polluted waterway.

But now, things have changed.

The new owners, along with a handful of other organizations, have cleaned up Clarion River,  transforming it into one of Pennsylvania’s best trout streams.

Clarion River is now a designated part of the National Wild and Scenic River Program.

Today, Clarion River is best known for its Green Drake hatch and beautiful scenery. If you love fly fishing, you must check out the new and improved Clarion River.

River Overview

Fly Fishing Clarion River in Pennsylvania

Clarion River is a tributary of the Allegheny River, forming at Johnsonburg in Elk County, Pennsylvania. The river flows west, joining Allegheny from the east in Clarion County.

The East Branch of the Clarion River is a bottom discharged tailwater. Its dam is located approximately six miles upstream from the junction of the West Branch.

It will be tempting to a fly fisherman to stick to the East Branch. After all, the water in the East Branch stays cool throughout the year, so you can tackle this area during any season. Additionally, there is a mile and a half long Delayed Harvest Section below the dam.

Still, the West Branch of the Clarion River is worth checking out as well. It is a freestone stream that begins above Wilcox and flows six miles to Johnsonburg. The stream flows through a scenic valley, making the water warm in the summer months.

At Tambine, located on the West Branch, there is a no wading, catch and release, fly fishing only section. While this might annoy some fly fishermen, it is important for maintaining the trout population.

The main stem of Clarion River has an eight mile stretch of water, from Johnsonburg to Ridgeway, that is classified as “All Tackle Trophy Water.” This stretch is around seventy feet in width and has many pools and riffles.

While there is private property around this section, it is legal to fish the entire stretch as long as you remain within the river’s high water mark.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission heavily stocks the special regulation sections of the Clarion River.

Clarion River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Clarion River in Pennsylvania

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

Best Spots to Fish the Clarion River

Route 219 follows along Clarion River the entire distance below Wilcox. You can access the river from the road, or through nearby state parks, such as Bendigo State Park (click map markers to get directions to access points shown on the map).

Clarion River is completely fishable without a boat, although wading is not permitted near Tambine. The Delayed Harvest section is a great place to catch native brook trout. You might even have the section all to yourself, as not many fly fishermen know about it!

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Clarion River. The USGS stream gauge near Johnsonburg, 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.

Clarion River at Johnsonburg, PA

  • Temperature: 44.42 ° F
  • Streamflow: 2230 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 5.05 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish the Clarion River

The wonderful thing about the Clarion River is that you can tackle this stream all year round. Your decision on when to go depends on what you are looking for.

If you visit Clarion River in the spring, you’ll be rewarded. Clarion River has plentiful insect hatches during this time, with plentiful mayfly and caddis hatches.  Autumn is also a great time to visit as the foliage is beautiful and you have the opportunity catch the largest holdover or wild brown trout, as fall is when they spawn.

If you decide to try fly fishing Clarion River in the winter, you’ll want to stay in the East Branch. The East Branch has warmer water during these months, due to the warm water of the East Branch Dam.

Fly fishing in Clarion River is still doable in the summer, but again, you’ll want to stick to the East Branch, which will have cooler water during this time.

Best Flies for Clarion River

The hatches in Clarion River lean towards Caddis, but that is certainly not the only hatch that the river has to offer. You’ll also find Cahills, March Browns, sulphurs and a variety of drakes. These can emerge as early as April 1.

Standard, full hackle dry fly patterns will work as you are searching the water.  A dry/dropper rig is also effective, along with a tandem nymph rig under an indicator. 

Here are some of the best flies for Clarion River that anglers have reported success with: 

  • Zonker (#4-6)
  • Hawkins’ Hat Trick (#4-6)
  • Double Bunny (#4-6)
  • T.H. Soft Hackle Caddis Pupa (#14-16)
  • Hare’s Ear nymph (#14)
  • Pheasant Tail (#16-18)
  • Soft Hackle PT Nymph (#14-18)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs.  A 6-wt rod will make life easier if you like swinging bigger streamers. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Clarion River Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Clarion River 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.

Clarion River fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.

Trip Planning Tips

The closest major airports to Clarion River are Venango Regional Airport and Bradford Airport. Both airports are approximately an hour’s drive to the River.

However, you can fly to any major or municipal airport in North Central Pennsylvania to access Clarion River, if you don’t mind a couple hours of scenic driving.

Hominy Ridge is only seven minutes away from Clarion River and offers beautiful cabins – it even has a hot tub! To get the best deal, you might want to consider visiting off season.

If you would rather stay in a campground, Kalyumet Campground is only twenty minutes away from Clarion River. The campsites at Kalyumet are spacious and shaded by beautiful pine trees. The rates are reasonable, but again, visiting in the fall will give you the best prices.

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

Feature Image by grendel|khan