Spring Creek in central Pennsylvania is arguably the best limestone spring creek in the entire state as far as wild trout fishing goes.
Many years ago it was heavily polluted, but conservation and cleanup efforts in the last few decades have made it one of the premier fly fishing destinations in the northeast.
The big score for Spring Creek is the trophy size wild brown trout, which can exceed 20 inches if you are patient and match the hatch accurately.
If you are planning a trip up to Pennsylvania for some trout fishing, definitely put Spring Creek at the top of your list.
Fly Fishing Spring Creek near State College, PA
What makes Spring Creek ideal for trout fishing is partly due to the geology of the area. The limestone spring that feds Spring Creek creates a water pH level that is ideal for breeding and supporting large populations of crustaceans, sculpins, baitfish, and aquatic insects.
The abundance of food year round fattens the wild brown trout population, and the even the local rainbows and brook trout tend to be larger.
The entire 16.5 mile-section of Spring Creek from Oak Hill to the confluence with Bald Eagle Creek in Milesburg is managed as a catch-and-release fishery which helps maintain the healthy population of wild trout.
Spring Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Spots to Fish Spring Creek
There are three or four must-visit spots along Spring Creek where you will want to try your luck. Steer clear of the upper creek (above confluence with Cedar Run) since the most of it flows through private land, and the stream itself can be no wider than 15 feet in places through here.
Below Benner Springs Hatchery though is some prime fishing territory. The Benner Springs provide additional fast water flow and sweeten the downstream habitat for all the local wild trout. The 4.5-mile stretch below the hatchery is known as Spring Creek Canyon and is accessible via the Spring Creek Canyon Trailhead (see map above). This is the most remote and wooded section of Spring Creek and is very beautiful.
Fly fishing Fisherman's Paradise on Spring Creek
Below the canyon is the famous Fisherman's Paradise that is steeped in history, and it deserves a visit. This is a historic Catch-and-Release - Fly Fishing Only area where wading is prohibited but the trout grow large.
Continuing on downstream toward Bellefonte, PA Spring Creek picks up considerable volume from Big Spring, Logan Branch and Buffalo Run and fishes exceptionally well all season long.
Downstream of Logan Branch and Buffalo Run is an excellent spot to land some larger fish. Some anglers say this is the best stretch of Spring Creek thanks to the added limestone and water flow from the branch and run upstream. You can fish from the roadside here for the last 6 miles of catch-and-release water down to the confluence with Bald Eagle Creek.
Bottom line about Spring Creek (as most locals will tell you): the best stretch of Spring Creek is wherever there isn't another angler.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Spring Creek. The USGS stream gauges near Axemann and further downstream in Milesburg, 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.
Spring Creek near Axemann, PA
- Streamflow: 119 ft³/s
- Gage height: 2.56 ft
Spring Creek at Milesburg, PA
- Streamflow: 315 ft³/s
- Gage height: 4.63 ft
Best Time to Fish Spring Creek
Mid-April through mid-July is prime time for aquatic hatches on Spring Creek. The predominant hatches are green and tan caddis but there are some good mayfly hatches too. Blue Wing Olives for example provide some early season action that kicks off in mid-March.
As the summer progresses crane flies, tricos and terrestrials become more prominent. As Spring Creek is spring feed (hence the name) water temperatures remain cool, in the low 60's, and fishes well all summer.
Midges are present year-round as are huge number of cress bugs which make up a significant portion of the trouts diet.
Spring Creek fishes excellent year round as a rule, so if you can't take time off during peak season, you can always give winter fishing a shot.
Keep in mind that this is one of the best promoted and best-known fly fishing streams in Pennsylvania, so competition for a parking or fishing spot during significant hatches may be somewhat intense if you do visit during the summer
Best flies for Spring Creek
- Elk Hair Caddis #12-14
- Bead Head Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail #16-18
- Bead Head American Pheasant Tail #16-18
- Travis Para Ant #14-18
- Beetle #14-16
- Dave's Cricket #12
- Wet Black Ant #12-16
- Humphreys Cress Bug #14
- Sowbug #14-18
- Olive Scud #14-18
- Zebra Midge #18-20
Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere. Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
A 10-foot 4-weight with a 9-foot leader and 5X tippet is ideal for nymphs and dry flies. Breathable waders are best for the summer, as is plenty of bug spray.
Spring Creek Fishing Reports
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Spring Creek fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Spring Creek is managed under Catch-and-Release - All Tackle Regulations from Oak Hill to Milesburg (16.5 miles) with the exception of the 1.3-mile Flyfishing Only section known as Fisherman's Paradise near the Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery.
Spring Creek fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.
Trip Planning Tips
You can fly right into State College via their airport, or you can catch a cheaper flight to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh if you don't mind the long drive or plan to make your way through other favorite fly fishing streams in the area. Since it's a college town, State College has plenty of traditional accommodations that will fit most anglers taste and budget.
Keep in mind that local hotels will be booked solid during early August with parents seeing students off to college at Main Campus for Penn State University.
There are also many state park cabins and campgrounds available in the area, and you can sometimes find private vacation rentals in local listings or online that you wouldn't discover otherwise. Do a little research in advance, and you may find a real bargain on your stay.
Feature Image by Jennifer Shuey, Centred Outdoors