Making its headwaters in Pennsylvania's only water cavern, Penns Creek extends 35 miles downstream from Penn's Cave.
The state game commission stocks the stream annually with rainbows, but it is better known for its population of wild brown trout.
The coldest waters are right by the mouth of the cave, but fishing conditions are exceptional all along Penns Creek, mainly when the larger hatches of summer and fall are in full effect.
If you are looking for the fast brown trout action that makes Pennsylvania trout fly fishing world famous, you need to visit Penns Creek.
Fly fishing Penns Creek in north-central Pennsylvania
Situated in north-central Pennsylvania, Penns Creek is located just outside the town of Coburn PA. A little way east of State College and south of Lock Haven (both big college towns for Lock Haven University and Penn State University), Coburn is the nearest town to the middle section of Penns Creek.
The first 4 miles of Penns Creek from Penns Cave to the town of Spring Mills is relatively narrow, at times no wider than 15 feet. The further downstream you venture, the wider Penns Creek becomes and the better the conditions for both trout and aquatic insects that make up their diet.
The PA Game Commission stocks the colder upstream waters with rainbows yearly before fishing season opens. You will find, however, that the hungrier and larger populations of browns, rainbows, and brooks that call Penns Creek home prefer the lower reaches of Penns Creek thanks to its many rock pools and large hatches of every type of fly you can imagine.
It is indeed one of the top-rated fly fishing streams in Pennsylvania, and it maintains that title consecutively and consistently. Any angler looking to test the quality of their flies and presentation skills should stop off below Coburn and try their luck on Penns Creek.
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While the colder headwaters are the primary spawning ground and stocking point for Penns Creek, that isn't actually where you will find the best fly fishing.
The further downstream you travel, the larger the trout in the waters and the more massive the hatches. The rainbow trout added to the river each season seem to know this instinctively as they head downstream towards Coburn and Bald Eagle State Forest.
When Penns Creek reaches Coburn, its flow converges with Elk and Pine Creeks. Excellent wild trout streams in their own right, this confluence of three creeks creates a perfect trifecta of conditions for large hatches that support sizeable wild trout populations.
Furthermore, the terrain of the stream itself offers far more variety in population size and type of fishing conditions. With tumbled boulders and gigantic rocks that create rapids, pools, and riffles, Penns Creek below Coburn to Weikert, PA is where the aquatic insects love to breed and the trout love to feed.
The larger browns generally congregate among these faster-moving waters, though you will also find rainbows in and among the rough and tumble sections of the Penns Creek tailwater.
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Penns Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Penns Creek 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.
Like many northern streams, Penns Creek fishes best during June and July when the weather is warmest, and the hatches are at their peak. Expect more fishing pressure due to competition with other anglers since Penns Creek is close to several other excellent wild trout streams.
Due to reasonably easy access from the roads and easy to follow trails, Penns Creek can be a hot spot in the summer.
If you don't mind the cold, you can also wait until the latter half of summer right before Labor Day (end of regular trout season) or as late as October/November (extended season). Fall is when the trout are busy feeding to store up for the cold months of fall and winter.
Regarding flies, here’s a listing of recommended general patterns and specific flies from hatches and angler success rates:
Blue Quill (#16-18)
Tan Caddis (#14-16)
Light Cahill (#12-14)
Light Cahill (#12-14)
Blue Quill (#16-18)
Elk Hair Caddis Tan (#12-16)
ISO Dun & Spinners (#8-12)
Sulphur Comparadun (#16-18)
Bird of Prey Caddis
Biot Body Stonefly (#6-10)
Hares Ear (#14-18)
McKee's Rubberlegs Stone (#6-10)
BH Prince (#8-12)
Pheasant Tail (#14-20)
GTI Caddis Larva (#12-16)
Sculpin Patterns (#4-10)
Green Weenie (#12-16)
Sunken ant (#12-16)
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Penns Creek. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
There are a number of area fly shops and online retailers that publish Penns Creek fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Pennsylvania requires anglers 16 and over to have a standard fishing license as well as a special permit for trout and other salmonids. They can be purchased at sporting goods stores and Wal-Mart anywhere in PA.
Penns Creek fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.
The nearest airport is in State College, but you can fly into any of the northern PA major or municipal airports if you don't mind driving a few hours to Lock Haven or State College.
The college towns offer the most variety in the way of traditional accommodations, and since parents aren't generally visiting students during the summer months, there isn't usually a premium on pricing or bookings.
There are also many private rental cabins and homes in the area that cater to the fly fishing/hunting crowd during the summer and fall.
You can also check into local vacation rentals which are usually fairly busy during the summer, but as the fall sets in and the weather turn colder, you may find a bargain.
Feature Image by WiiWillieWiki
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help encourage and assist the average angler to get out and find new places to fish.
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