What’s better than wading out into a stream teaming with steelhead and casting a line? Not a whole lot, if you ask the average fly fisherman! Fortunately, you can find a lot of great fishing without spending a fortune on guided trips and tours.
With our guide to fly fishing Walnut Creek in Pennsylvania, you’ll be able to plan the best outing and figure out where to go to get hooked up. Whether you’re coming to get your hand in the steelhead game or maybe some lake-run brown trout, here’s what you need to know.
Some hot action fly fishing for steelhead on Walnut Creek in Steelhead Alley
Walnut Creek is a medium-sized tributary that runs for about eight miles off of Lake Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s notorious for its steelhead fishing, and will also offer decent runs of brown trout early in the season. As with any Lake Erie tributary in Steelhead Alley, the fish population is subject to water flow and levels, which is why you’ll see better numbers during the fall and early winter months.
Walnut Creek flows across several major routes and through-ways, offering easy access to several public fishing rights easements. The fly fishing here is similar to the rest throughout Steelhead Alley, the term for this region that’s popular for steelhead angling. Most of the bridges that cross the creek provide access to the water.
Although steelhead run from October to April, there may be some early summer holdover to capitalize on. There is a great area upstream that offers riffles, pools, and runs that are ideal for fly fishing.
Being on the edge of town near the lake, Walnut Creek offers easy access to local travel accommodations and more. It can also make the creek busier than some other streams in the area that are more rural. However, you can still find some quiet spots later in the season if you know where to look.
The steelhead and lake-run brown trout in the creek are a mixture of wild and stocked, although they tend to lean toward the wild population during peak season. Be careful of visiting when the water levels are too low or you’ll struggle to find too many fish.
Walnut Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Places to Fish Walnut Creek
While the exact best location varies depending on the season, you’ll have good luck right outside of the inlet as the fall brings the beginning of the steelhead concentration. They will rarely make it past Route 90, and you’ll enjoy most of the best fishing below Route 832.
There’s a waterfall located below Route 5 that makes it difficult for steelhead to migrate when water levels are low, so it might not be easy to find anything past that point. While Walnut Creek runs for miles down and around Erie, there are only about eight miles of it that are worth considering for fishing.
Some steelhead anglers are fond of the concrete wall near the marina at the lake, but this area doesn’t do much for those who are fly fishing. You’ll be far better off sticking to the upstream headwaters. There may not be as many fish upstream but it will be less busy.
You can find walk-in access from most of the bridges that cross the creek, as well as parking and lakeside access up near the mouth of the creek where it spills into the river. The bottom of the creek is shale, so you’ll want to pack cleats for wading so that you don’t have trouble getting around.
Best Time to Fish Walnut Creek
If you’re coming for the steelhead, your best trip will be in November or December. While they start coming in during the late fall, the populations peak during this time and ensure that you’re going to catch at least a few. You will find steelhead as late into the year as mid-April, but the numbers dwindle as the season goes on.
The late spring and summer in this creek are far too warm for any good steelhead runs but smallmouth bass are plentiful and fun to catch on a fly rod. If the water levels are low in this shale-bottom stream, it makes it impossible for fish to migrate much further than the headwaters near the lake. It’s best to save your trip for another time.
In the fall, lake-run brown trout start to run in October and will be plentiful through November, which is when the steelhead start to appear. The best fishing can happen earlier or later in the season, depending on the weather, water levels, and other details.
January and February can be a little rough in some areas, but in general, winter is the absolute best time for steelhead fly fishing in Walnut Creek.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Walnut Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Erie, PA provide 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.
Walnut Creek Upstream Pool, near Erie, PA
- Flow: 60.2 ft³/s
- Water Level: 3.43 ft
Fly Box - What You'll Need
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Walnut Creek:
- Glo Bug (#8 - 16)
- Sucker Spawn (#8 - 12)
- Nuclear Roe (#10 - 16)
- Black Stonefly (#12 -18)
- Brown Stonefly (#12 -14)
- Hare's Ear (#10 - 12)
- Woolly Bugger (#6 - 10)
- Muddler Minnow (#6 - 10)
- Pink Panther (#6 - 10)
- White Bunny Spey (#6 - 10)
- Pot Bellied Pig
- M.C. Hammer (#4)
- Spawntruder (#4)
A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers on Walnut Creek.
Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need.
A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 10- or 8-pound-test is pretty standard. In super clear water conditions you may need to taper down to 6-pound-test.
A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:
- 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
- 2 feet, 20-lb mono
- 2 feet, 15-lb mono
- 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
- 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
- 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro
A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:
- 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
- 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima
Walnut Creek Fishing Report
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Walnut Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:
The state of Pennsylvania requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.
You can purchase a Pennsylvania State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission website.
Trip Planning Tips
Walnut Creek is located between Fairview and Erie, PA, right on Lake Erie. You’ll be able to fly into Erie or drive to the region, with easy access from I-90. This creek runs through several outlying areas and residential regions, with hotels and dining options all over.
This isn’t a creek where you’ll find a lot of camping or wilderness, but it’s a great weekend getaway. Even if you’re driving in from Pittsburgh or Cleveland, you’ll find that there’s plenty to make it worth the drive. Make sure that you check water level reports before you go.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania
Feature image Days Best Catch