Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Little Juniata River

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

June 26, 2016

fly fishing the Little Juniata River in PA

The Little Juniata River is a 35 mile tributary of the Juniata River that begins humbly in Altoona, PA when several small streams merge. 

Below Tyrone, the Little Juniata flows against high limestone cliffs and receives in-flows from dozens of large limestone springs which cool the river and add nutrients.

This is where the magic happens.

The river’s deep, chalky-green pools and numerous riffles create the perfect environments to grow truly large trout.

Love seeing the next generation getting it done on the Little “J” in PA – nice job Happy on the Fly!

Known locally as the “Little J” or simply the “J,” the river flows northeast from Altoona through the Logan Valley.

The Little Juniata River is a beautiful river, dotted with hand-cut stone railroad arches. But it becomes particularly scenic below Spruce Creek’s convergence, as it flows through the roadless “gorge” section within Rothrock State Forest.

By eastern standards the Little Juniata is a large limestone river, ranging from 30 to 60 feet wide with a moderate drop of 15 feet per mile.

The Little Juniata is characterized by riffles and moderate fast water with many pools up to 100 yards long.

Little Juniata River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Little Juniata River in Pennsylvania

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

Best Spots to Fish the Little Juniata River

The Little Juniata is easily accessible by PA-453 and secondary paved roads from Tyrone to the confluence of Spruce Creek.

Parking is available at numerous road-side pull-offs. From Spruce Creek to Barree the Little Juniata flows through the Barree Gorge in Rothrock State Forest and is only accessible by walking trails. 

Note, the first mile below Spruce Creek is private property and posted on both sides of the river. This reach of river is open to the public provided you keep your feet wet.

From Barree to Petersburg the river is again accessible by secondary paved roads.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Little “J”. The USGS stream gauge near Spruce Creek, 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.

Little Juniata River at Spruce Creek, PA

  • Streamflow: 164 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.20 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish the Little Juniata River

There’s really no bad time to fish the Little “J” but as is typical for most south-central PA streams the spring brings a plethora of hatches that can really fire up the wild browns that inhabit the river.

The action kicks off in March with blue-winged olives and early black stoneflies. April brings a variety of heavy caddis hatches include grannom and tan caddis.  The highly anticipated sulphur and green drake hatches kick off in May.  Light Cahills and slate drakes make their apperance in June.

Terrestrials are highly effective throughout the summer months as most of the rivers bank is heavily forested.  Ant, beetle, and inchworm imitation all work well.

The fall is the time to target the larger wild brown trout that call the Little “J” home as they get aggressive in preparation for spawning.  Breakout the biggest, nastiest streamers you got and fish them deep under low light conditions, or even at night! 

Best Flies for Little Juniata River

Regarding fly patterns, here’s a list of the some of the best flies for Little Juniata River:

  • Black Caddis (#14)
  • Blue Winged Olive (#18 – 20)  
  • Hendrickson(#12 – 14)
  • March Brown(#12 – 14)
  • Quill Gordon (#14)
  • Red Quill (#12 – 14)
  • Green Caddis (#14 – 16)
  • Light Cahill (#14)
  • Slate Drake (#14)
  • Sulphur (#16)  
  • Blue Winged Olive (#14)  
  • Blue Dun (#18-20)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Little Juniata.  A 6-wt rod is not too much for fishing streamers, particularly in the fall when the big fish are more active. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Little Juniata River Fishing Reports

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

Fishing Regulations

The 13.5 miles of the Little Juniata River, from the bridge at Ironville to its confluence with the Frankstown Branch near Petersburg, is regulated as Catch and Release – Artificial Lures Only.

The first 10.5 miles of this river reach are Class A wild-brown trout water, the state’s highest wild trout designation. 

This special protection ensures that the river’s wild brown trout are able to thrive and attain proportions that are uncommon in the Northeastern U.S.

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.

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

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

Feature Image by Happy on the Fly