Pennsylvania Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Sinnemahoning Creek in North-Central Pennsylvania

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

July 27, 2019

Sinnemahoning Creek in Pennsylvania

Stretching all the way from Cameron to Clinton County, the headwaters of Sinnemahoning Creek form at the confluence of the Bennett and Driftwood branches. 

The Sinnemahoning and its tributaries are about as backcountry as trout fly fishing gets in North Central Pennsylvania.

The plentiful flows from its two source rivers and its passage through the Sinnemahoning State Park make certain branches of Sinnemahoning Creek an exceptionally productive fishery for wild brown trout.

The trick is knowing which branches to fish which we discuss in this guide.

About Sinnemahoning Creek

Fly fishing the First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek in Potter County, PA

The creek makes it headwaters just outside the borough of Driftwood, a little town on the spur of Route 120 north of Interstate 80. It’s a relatively long drive out from State College, but if you want to be guaranteed solitude in the mountain splendor of Potter County PA, this is the creek to visit.

There’s nothing for miles around, much of it state forest or parkland. There are no less than four state parks nearby, so if you plan on a fishing tour of North Central PA trout streams, you want to put Sinnemahoning Creek at the top of your list.

The chief attraction in this area, as with most fly fishing streams, is the wild brown trout that roam the watersheds of this remote region of Pennsylvania. The Sinnemahoning is sped along by the various tributaries along the creek’s route through the backcountry hills most of which the PBFC classifies as Class A wild trout streams. 

The wild brown trout grow fat during prolific hatches of mayflies, and since many of them seldom see an angler year round they are not too difficult to catch.

Sinnemahoning Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of Sinnemahoning Creek in Pennsylvania

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

Best Spots to Fish the Sinnemahoning Creek

Sinnemahoning Creek is made up of numerous branches including the Driftwood Branch, Bennett Branch, First Branch and East Branch.  Each of these branches contain reaches classified at Class A wild trout water with the exception of Bennett Branch.  The latter suffers from acid mine drainage and is not a productive fishery.

First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek

First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek is by far the most poplar branch.  The upper reaches above Costello harbor a good population of wild brown trout and is accessible via Route 872  and Route 3003 (First Fork Road).

The First Fork continues on down to Wharton where it is joined by the East Branch and gets considerably larger in size.  There is a Delayed Harvest – Artificial Lures Only (DHALO) section below Wharton that is very popular.  The DHALO begins where Bailey Run enters and continues on downstream for 2.1 miles.

Below the DHALO the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek runs south through Sinnemahoning State Park to the George B. Stevenson Reservoir. Here where you can find both parking and boat ramps on the western shore and close to the northern edge where the First Fork empties into the reservoir. The reservoir is an excellent spot for lakers, browns, brooks, rainbows, and even the occasional bass.

East Fork Sinnemahoning Creek

The East Fork joins the First Fork in Wharton and is an excellent trout stream that gets considerably less pressure than its sister stream.  The East Fork flows some 14 miles through Susquehannock State Forest down to Wharton.  The upper ~ 5 miles are classified as Class A wild trout water where you will find a healthy population of native brook trout. The East Fork is accessible via East Fork Road out of Wharton (see map above for access points).

Driftwood Branch Sinnemahoning Creek

Centered around the town of Emporium the Driftwood Branch has ~7 miles of Class A wild brown trout water extending from its headwaters down through Elk State Forest to the confluence with Elk Fork.

One of the main attractions on the Driftwood Branch is the Catch-and-Release – Flyfishing Only section upstream of the Route 120 bridge near Emporium (see map above).

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Sinnemahoning Creek. The USGS stream gauge on the First Fork 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. 

First Fork Sinnemahoning Cr near Sinnemahoning, PA

  • Streamflow: 42.8 ft³/s
  • Gage height: -0.26 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish Sinnemahoning Creek

The big hatches are in the spring and early summer, typically mid-April through early June. The upper reaches of the First Fork, East Fork and Driftwood fish well through the summer. In the lower reaches after about mid-June the water gets too warm for trout and they head for the cool waters of the many Class A tributaries that feed each branch.  Evenings and early mornings, while the water is still coldest, are best, and the hatches of the day typically start just before the sun is over the horizon.

Best Flies for Sinnemahoning Creek

The upper reaches of the various branches of Sinnemahoning Creek have all the major mayfly hatches including:

  • April – Blue quill, quill gordon, hendrickson
  • May – March brown, gray fox, sulphur, green drake, brown drake, slate drake
  • June – Slate drake

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs the Sinnemahoning Creek.  A 9-foot 6-wt fly rod is also a good options, in particular if you like to fish streamers. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Fishing Regulations

Sinnemahoning creek fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.

Trip Planning Tips

State College has the closest airport unless you are willing to fly and drive or ride from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or the Lehigh Valley. There are dozens of little bed and breakfast places around State College and Lock Haven, and since both towns/cities are also major university campuses, there are many traditional accommodations to suit every taste and budget.

You can camp out in the state parks or any of the local RV/campgrounds there too, and plenty of people in the area have vacation rentals available if you check local listings. 

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

Feature Image by  Nyttend