Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lehigh River

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

April 7, 2024

Lehigh river in Pennsylvania

The Lehigh River was featured in Eastern Fly Fishing (Volume 7, Number 6, November/December 2011) in an article by Beau Beasley aptly titled “Lehigh River, PA—Understanding an Underated Fishery”. And underrated it is.

The Lehigh River flows over 100 miles through Pennsylvania and serves as the largest tributary to the Delaware River

Trout fishing on the Lehigh River consists of 20 miles of small, easy-to-wade water flowing through a series of glacial bogs and marshes surrounded by scenic state forest near Goulsboro, Pennsylvania, and a 35-mile stretch below the Francis E. Walter Dam from Whitehaven to Walnutport.

Fly fishing for wild brown trout on the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania

Lehigh River Tailwater Below Francis E. Walter Dam

The dam, built in 1961 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is managed primarily for flood control and whitewater rafting. As a result, the lower Lehigh River sees significant fluctuations in temperature and depth. Both take a toll on the wild trout and aquatic insect populations.

Despite this, the river contains a robust population of wild browns and rainbows augmented by several private organizations that stock the river, most notably the Lehigh River Stocking Association. In addition to trout, the Lehigh River contains a healthy population of smallmouth bass that fight like hell and are a blast to catch.

Lehigh River Fishing Map

The Lehigh River is big, with over 100 miles of fishable water. To make the most of your time, you need to know where to go! Below are the best spots to fish the Lehigh River.

map of fishing spots on the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania

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

Lehigh River Access Points

The Lehigh River is a formidable river filled with slick bowling ball-sized boulders. It is treacherous to wade in some locations and darn near impossible to wade in others. Caution is advised. With that in mind, ample locations along the river from Whitehaven to Walnutport provide access to wade fishermen.

Wade access points include:

  • Francis E. Walter Dam
  • I-80 Bridge in White Haven
  • Tannery
  • Hayes Creek
  • Leslie Run
  • Rockport
  • Glen Onoko Boat Ramp
  • Jim Thorpe Boat Ramp
  • Packerton Yards
  • Dunbars
  • Lehighton Sewer Plant
  • Pohopco Creek
  • Bowmanstown Boat Ramp
  • Palmertown Horseshoe
  • Lehigh Gap Boat Ramp
  • Szokes
  • Walnutport Canal Boat Ramp

The Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance put together a nice map detailing the location of wading access points and fishing tips for each location, which were incorporated into the map above.

Lehigh River Boat Ramps

The Lehigh River is well known for whitewater rafting through the Lehigh Gorge, but several excellent float trips, particularly from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport, are also well suited to fishing.

The Wildlands Conservancy has put together an excellent guide to floating the Lehigh River called the Lehigh River Water Trail. It details boat ramp locations, river reach maps, and detailed descriptions of major rapids (particularly handy for us fishermen trying to avoid them).

This information is included in the map above. Click on the map icons for more information and river mileage to the next boat ramp for planning float trips.

Lehigh River Tributaries

The Lehigh River has numerous tributaries that provide clean, cold water vital to trout. In the heat of summer, trout in the Lehigh also take refuge in these tributaries, making them excellent trout streams to explore.

Below are Lehigh tributaries worth checking out from below the dam downstream to the confluence with the Delaware River. Several spring-fed limestone creeks in the Lehigh Valley provide cool water year-round and are awesome trout streams.

Lehigh River Stream Gauges

Three USGS stream gauges on the Lehigh River are from the Francis E. Walter Dam downstream to Walnutport, the river’s most interesting to trout fishermen. As you can see in the graphs below, the river picks up volume from several tributaries along the way. On the map above, USGS stream gauges are marked with a dark green icon.

The Lehigh fishes best at 200 to 300 cfs up near the dam and up to 750 cfs as you head downstream toward Lehighton and Walnutport.

Lehigh R bl Francis E Walter Res nr White Haven PA

  • Temperature: 59.54 ° F
  • Streamflow: 821 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 4.32 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Lehigh River at Lehighton, PA

  • Temperature: 59.54 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1350 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 3.81 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Lehigh River at Walnutport, PA

  • Temperature: 59.54 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1620 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 3.04 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Francis E. Walter Dam Water Release Schedule

As mentioned earlier, the Francis E. Walter Dam regulates water flow on the Lehigh River below White Haven. It is best to avoid fishing during whitewater releases as they usually disrupt the fishing. It is recommended to go fishing early before the wave of water and boaters arrive. To better prepare for your fishing trip, you can study the USGS stream gauge data during a whitewater release. This will enable you to predict when water levels will start to rise in the area you intend to fish.

Below are excerpts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Francis E. Water Reservoir Recreation Operations Plan, which is available here.

The U.S. Army Corps Engineers’ Philadelphia District posted the 2024 Recreation Plan for the Francis E. Walter Dam. The plan specifies dates and actions associated with whitewater and fishing releases from the dam from late March to early October of 2024. USACE coordinates the plan with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

In 2024, the plan includes 24 whitewater releases and 22 fishing enhancement releases (unchanged from prior years). One significant change for the coming year – fishing releases previously schedule for March have been moved to the last three weekends in September based on feedback.

Dates for fishing releases and whitewater releases are noted below. Several dates are dependent on adequate water storage in the reservoir. It’s important to note that the need for flood control operations could result in the cancellation of any scheduled dates.

Whitewater Release Schedule

Planned whitewater release dates (24) are (*dependent on adequate water storage):

  • May: 11, 18, 25, 26
  • June: 8, 9, 22, 23
  • July: 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
  • August: 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 20, 24*, 25*, 31*
  • September: 1*

Note: You want to avoid fishing on Whitewater Release Days!

Fisheries Release Schedule

Planned dates (16) for fishing releases (target 400 cfs) are:

  • March: 23, 24
  • April: 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28
  • May: 4, 5, 19, 12

Planned dates (6) for fishing releases (target 350 cfs) are:

  • September: 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22

Please note that the reservoir releases water to match outflow with inflow once it reaches the recreation season’s target pool height. So, it’s crucial to double-check the stream gauges before heading out in case of a significant rainfall event, even if there’s no plan for whitewater release.

Lehigh River Wade Chart

The Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance compiled a handy flow and wading chart for the Lehigh River. Use the USGS flow gauge data and wading chart to determine when it is safe to wade or float the river. Heed the chart’s warnings—the Mighty Lehigh is extremely dangerous at high flows!

Lehigh River Wading Chart

Lehigh River Hatches

The Lehigh supports an impressive variety of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies.

Little Black Stoneflies begin in early April and can hatch in tremendous numbers. At the end of April, we will see Little Black Caddis, Grannoms, Hendrickson, and several Caddis species.

May and June are “Prime Time” on the Lehigh, and the March Brown, Grey Fox, Sulphur, and Caddis hatches can be phenomenal. Hatches of Blue Wing Olives, Light Cahills, and Isonychias begin in earnest in June.

As summer begins, Caddis hatch in good numbers along with small Blue Wing Olives, Isonychias, and summer Stenonemas (Sulphurs). Mornings can produce good trico hatches in the Lehighton to Bowmanstown stretch.

Come fall, Isonychias and evening hatches of Sulphurs can be outstanding. Caddis and Blue Wing Olives will be the flies the fish will key on as late fall approaches. Fishing with streamers and Wooly Buggers can be quite productive during this time of year as well. Wooly Buggers and streamers fished with a sinking line will produce fish all year long.

The LRSA has published one of the better hatch charts for the Lehigh River (reproduced below).

Lehigh River Hatch Chart

Give the Lehigh River a chance for fishing the next time you are in the area – you might be surprised at how well it fishes.

Visit our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania for information on other fly fishing destinations.