Central Pennsylvania may be legendary for its trout fly fishing, but few streams in the region are as legendary as Spruce Creek.
A limestone spring creek close to the Penn State University Campus, the half-mile public access stretch is used for a long-term study of brown trout.
They let anglers fish catch and release on their land though, and the fishing is every bit as good as the legends say.
Better still, the water flows year round, and the trout population is kept high thanks to regular stocking by nearby private fish and game clubs and fisheries that own the lion's share of the banks of Spruce Creek.
Large rainbows, brown trout, and brook trout are the catch and catch them you will.
Fly Fishing Spruce Creek in near State College, PA
The one drawback to making the trek out to Spruce Creek is almost all the creek side is privately held land. Rod and gun clubs, fishing clubs, and private properties all enforce strict no trespassing policies here.
Unless you know a member, owner, or become a member yourself you can't fish but a half a mile of Spruce Creek without paying a fee. Fish stocked in the private section do swim all up and down to the public stretch of water, and so the trout population even on the public access section by the University is always high even late in the year as winter approaches.The local insect population is equally good and provides plenty of food for the hungry browns and rainbows that call Spruce Creek home. Hatches are strong all season long from April to September, and you can even fish in the colder winter months when you can catch fish with simple midge patterns.
Furthermore, if you don't mind paying a fee to fish the private section, you will find that the off-season yields excellent results with minimal effort
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If you are looking to keep your cost low for your excursion to Spruce Creek, you'll need to head to the public access section near the confluence with the Little Juniata River. It's about a half mile of the stream itself, and the public access area is marked with signage indicating where you go from fly fishing to trespassing. It is critically important to be respectful of these private property boundaries, not only to avoid fines and fees, but also to keep the public land open to the public.
The closest town to the stream is the eponymous Spruce Creek, PA, and finding parking a short walk from the creek is relatively straightforward. As for the river itself, make sure you don't park your vehicle anywhere prohibited, unsafe, or on private property.
Part of keeping Spruce Creek fishing free and available to all is ensuring that all interactions with private property owners and public officials are positive and represent the sport of fly fishing in the best ways possible.
Finally, check out the public section of the stream for riffles, pocket water, and undercut banks where the big browns like to spend the day. Your location along the creek is nearly as important as the flies you select, so don't be afraid to walk up and down the bank on both sides a few time to scout out the terrain.
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Spruce Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Axemann, 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.
The large brown trout that lurk in the waters of Spruce Creek don't like to come out during the day, so the best time to try your luck is in the dark early morning or late evening hours of the season. Additionally, cloudy gray days with rain also fish better since the baleful eye of the spring and summer sun don't warm the creek waters as profoundly.
As previously stated, you can fish here year round with the appropriate license and permit, but the best hatches of the year are from May to July. Be prepared to deal with significant fishing pressure while you’re there, as the free public land can get crowded. It may be worth your while to pay for a permit to fish on a private section of Spruce Creek if you can find room in your budget.
As for what flies to pack, here are some recommendations:
Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin #6
Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin #4/#6
Blue-winged Olives #18 and #16, nymph, emergers, duns, and spinners
Green Sedge Caddis #16/14, larvae, pupae and adults.
Cinnamon Caddis #16/18, larvae, pupae and adults
Cream Cahills #16/14, nymphs, emergers, duns and spinners
Sulfurs, #16/18, nymphs, emergers, duns, and spinners
Japanese Beetles #16/14
Carpenter Ants #18/16
Sandwich Hoppers - Green/Brown #4-12
A 9-foot 4- or 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Spruce Creek. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt 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 on-line retailers that publish ABC River fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Spruce Creek fishing regulations are available on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.
The city of State College has the closest municipal airport that connects to both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. You can always fly into one of the major hubs and drive up to State College, but its a 2.5 to 3.5 hour trip.
As far as where to stay, State College is a university town with many hotels, motels, and other accommodations to house visiting parents and family of students.
You can also camp out in the campgrounds of the state forests and parks nearby, or you may rent space at one of the many local RV parks, too.
Don't forget to check out local vacation rentals in the area, also: they're a great way to land a bargain on your stay.
Feature Image by The Nittany Lion Inn
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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