Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Elk Creek in Pennsylvania

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

January 12, 2021

steelhead fishing on Elk Creek in Pennslyvania

Next to New York, Pennsylvania is home to some of the best fly fishing destinations in the United States. Come fall each year tributaries to Lake Erie are teaming with steelhead trout, and now you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a guided tour. With our handy DIY guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to plan your perfect fly fishing getaway.

Fly fishing is a relaxing hobby that’s enjoyed by many. It requires a certain level of skill and patience, but it’s worth it if you enjoy fishing. Whether you’re a rookie or you’ve been doing this for years, read on to get the insight to help you plan your adventure fly fishing for steelhead in Elk Creek.

About Elk Creek

Fly fishing for steelhead on Elk Creek in Pennsylvania

Elk Creek is the most popular and largest tributary to Lake Erie in Steelhead Alley. It comes in just west of State Route 18 and south of McKean, following under I-79 and into the town of Fairview and under I-90 and U.S. Route 20, and onto Lake Erie.

It is stocked with brown trout and steelhead and is approved by state boards for trout fishing. In the summer and fall months, you’ll find some catfish, bass, and panfish if you head to the lower parts of the creek. Of course, most of the creek is too low and too warm to catch much in the way of trout after the end of April and before October. There are plenty of areas for public access to this stream, which is wadable at almost all locations.

Elk Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access points on Elk Creek in Pennsylvania

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

There is also shoreline access and small boats can be launched near the mouth where the water is deeper. The wider, slower-moving parts of the creek are best for fishing, although there are runs up and down the entire length throughout the spring and fall months.

Steelhead gather at the mouth of Elk Creek in early fall, but they will quickly move upstream as the water cools down. This creek is one that has more private access areas than many in the region, so be careful to keep an eye out for those when perusing for the best fishing spots. We’ll talk about that more in detail in the next section. 

Best Places to Fish Elk Creek

There is a park at the mouth of the creek where you can find fishing access, as well as another area designated off of Route 5 which is posted with an “Elk Creek Access Area” sign to ensure that people can find their way. Upstream from this area is mostly private land, so you’ll want to get permission before you go anywhere.

If you prefer, you can head downstream to Girard, and you’ll find a few fishing areas where you can cast a line. There is also fishing access from North Creek Road, which intersects with Route 5 past the creek. The railroad bridge offers good fishing, with the permission of Fairview Evergreen Nurseries, who owns the land.

Elk Park Road has a steel bridge that is another popular point of access. You can go in either direction and find a decent catch. Check out the American Legion Hole if you don’t mind a bit of a crowd, which you’ll find off of an industrial road near Route 20.

Folly’s End Campground, Streuchen Flats, and down toward the village of Sterrettania, you’ll find small access points scattered throughout. Then, there’s a large pool south of I-79 near McKean, which is popular on opening day.

Best Time to Fish Elk Creek

The season on Elk Creek is typical of Lake Erie tribs with Chinook and Coho entering the creek in September followed by Steelhead in October.  Steelhead will remain in the system until April and the winter months are typically the most productive.

Brown trout also run up the creek in the fall and often stay well into the spring which can provide for excellent fishing. 

In addition to seasonal considerations, Elk Creek’s trout can be particular about what they eat. Fishing during a hatch will nearly guarantee better catches because the wild brown trout let their guard down with excitement and are easier to fool.

The best way to plan the “when” of your Elk Creek trip is to check the hatch reports and see what’s getting the most attention. You will find the best results early in the morning or during the dusk hours right before dark.

With this in mind, you will find significant trout fishing throughout the spring, as well as occasional runs in the summer. However, the water can get a bit low and warm, so you might have to wait until fall if you don’t make the spring run. Fall into early winter will provide plenty of steelhead fishing, as well.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Elk Creek. The USGS stream gauge on Brandy Run near Girard, 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.

Brandy Run near Girard, PA

  • Streamflow: 1.34 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.53 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Flies for Elk Creek

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Elk Creek:

  • Glo Bug (#8 – 16)
  • Sucker Spawn (#8 – 12)
  • Nuclear Roe (#10 – 16)
  • Black Stonefly (#12 -18) 
  • Brown Stonefly (#12 -14)
  • Hare’s Ear (#10 – 12)
  • Woolly Bugger (#6 – 10)
  • Muddler Minnow (#6 – 10)
  • Pink Panther (#6 – 10)
  • White Bunny Spey (#6 – 10)
  • Pot Bellied Pig
  • M.C. Hammer (#4)
  • Spawntruder (#4)

Gear Recommendations

A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers on Elk Creek.  

Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need. 

A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 10- or 8-pound-test is pretty standard.  In super clear water conditions you may need to taper down to 6-pound-test.

A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:

  • 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
  • 2 feet, 20-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 15-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
  • 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
  • 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro

A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:

  • 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
  • 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima

Elk Creek Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide an Elk Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of Pennsylvania requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a Pennsylvania state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.

Trip Planning Tips

Elk Creek travels across several major interstates and through many towns, making it easy to access from just about anywhere. Those coming from out of town can fly into Erie, although you’ll want to have a car to maximize your access to the creek.

McKean offers plenty of options for lodging nearer to the creek, as does the junction at I-79 and I-90. Plan ahead by checking the water levels before you decide which end of the stream to fish and when to travel.

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

Feature image Tom Hart