Central Pennsylvania is where anglers pursue wild trout when fishing gets difficult most other places. Whether too much fishing pressure in the spring, too hot in August, or just tired of weaker hatchery planted fish everywhere else, the cool limestone and spring-fed streams of north central Pennsylvania are a refreshing escape. With quality wild trout fishing akin to states in the Northwest, you’ll find a number of sister streams all within easy reach of Penns Creek:
Among many other quality streams in Pennsylvania, in this post we’re highlighting the area around State College PA, which receives much less fishing pressure and has more designated miles of catch and release and wild trout than anywhere else in the state.
Specifically for Penns Creek, if you’re willing to take the extra few hours it takes to get here, including 10+ miles on gravel roads and hiking a bit deep into the heart of Bald Eagle State Forest and White Mountain Wild Area, you’ll be rewarded not only with tranquility, but with wild brookies, browns, and an occasional rainbow more than willing to strike and fight hard. In lieu of a “how to get there section,” suffice it to say you’ll get your best advice and fly selection from “The Feathered Hook” in Coburn, a fly fishing inn and shop, featured below. For those who want to camp right near the River, check out Poe Paddy State Park or nearby Poe Valley State Park, but be certain to do your homework and pick up the right flies at the The Feathered Hook before you commit to driving and/or hiking into the C&R section – you’ll be glad you did.
Penns Creek PA Catch & Release Section
If I were to describe Penns Creek C&R and its wild fish in one word it would be:
gorge (pronounced /ɡôrj/) Verb: to eat a large amount greedily; fill oneself with food. Synonyms: stuff, cram, fill, glut, satiate, overindulge, overfill, overeat, eat greediliy, guzzle, gobble, gulp, devour, wolf (it down), cram, binge-eat
Noun: a narrow valley between hills or mountains, typically with steep walls and a stream running through it. Synonyms: ravine, canyon, gully, pass, defile, deep narrow valley
Night-time Penns brown stuffed with prolific bug hatches. Photo courtesy of The Feathered Hook
The fact is, Penns Creek is a bug superhighway. Penns is so prolific it has not only every mayfly hatch in the East including a couple unique to this region, but also four kinds of stoneflies, and a half dozen species of caddis. Check out this veritable menagerie of bugs that Penns Creek trout gorge on – yes you saw it coming – in the Penns creek catch and release gorge section:
Green Drake (mayfly)
Slate Drake (mayfly)
Light and orange Cahills
Yellow and orange Sulphurs
Blue Wing Olives (small and large)
Caddis: big black, small tan, large green, and more…
Midges of many varieties
And more….plus spinners of all of these…get the idea?
Anglers come from all over the country for the Penns Creek experience, because there aren’t many streams where some, or all, of these mayflies are to be found. What I’ve learned fishing this creek is that the wild trout hone in on what they want to eat, specifically one or two bugs even if there are 5-6 hatches going on simultaneously. Once you find the exact size and color they want, and they’ll seem picky until you do, you’ll land many trout in succession. For example, on my trip just last month I fished what I thought was matching the hatch, but they wouldn’t take my size 10 yellow sally, while they would take my size 12 dry yellow sulpher. Close isn’t good enough, when the hatch is on you need to nail the match. Moreover, they tend to stick to either above or below the water at times almost exclusively, so even if you are a die-hard dry fly fisherman, or nympher like me, switch it up till you know what they want – and then let the fish landing games begin!
In the same trip I referenced above, I fished nymphs for several hours both before and during strong hatch activity. To my surprise, and contrary to other PA rivers I fish, I didn’t have any takers other than bold little guys until I switched to dry flies – then landed several 14-18″ browns in less than half an hour. This focus behavior may serve them well, not only in terms of efficiency of calories per amount of effort, but also in terms of safety. Focusing on one to two bugs makes them more discerning and less likely to make a mistake.
Penns Creek fly fishing is extremely solid all spring long, and the stream also does relatively well through the summer and fall. However, it is the distinctive Eastern Green Drake hatch literally lights up the river from late May through Mid June. Trout activity hastens, with aggressive takes by fish less concerned about your presence than pursuing these large bugs – even close to your legs while wading.
Many fisherman still make the mistake of leaving the river at dinner time – so be sure to pack some extra snacks to extend your stay on the river. At dusk the feeding intensifies as this species of mayfly mates, lays eggs on the water, and then dies to complete their brief lifecycle. Fly fisherman who are willing to forgo traditional dinner time to experience this event, and carry spinners (or “coffin” flies) will enjoy fighting even more trout to top off their day. Be sure to make shorter casts and stay attuned to the sounds of trout sipping spinners off the surface, instead of visually looking for trout smashing the surface like during the day.
Near the small town of Coburn, cars can line the river bank pursuing the Green Drake hatch, including visitors from Europe and Asia. However, those who take the time and effort to hike the railroad bed and trails near the catch and release section will have more river to themselves and a more tranquil experience. As a safety precaution, just remember you’ll be hiking out in the dark. So take a good headlamp or flashlight (also key for retying flies at dusk and in the dark), and always hike with a partner for orientation and in case one of you turns an ankle climbing up the bank.
The selectivity of the trout in this stream, and honing in on the best places for Penns Creek fishing are a shining example of why we love to highlight local fly shops. Big online retailers are unlikely to help you match the hatch as closely as you need to, especially for region- and stream-specific bugs such as the Slate and Green Drakes. Would you rather purchase a generalized fly pattern, probably made in overseas with an eye towards general year round sales, or a specific match tied locally that looks exactly like what the fish are taking, today, for a hatch that only lasts several weeks? And, would you rather work off your GPS generalized maps (in an area without cell service), or have a shop representative highlight a stream-specific map they have created and copyrighted to show you exactly where to go – or better yet take you there on a guided trip? For these reasons we don’t include a “how to get there” section, rather, leave it to the best experts you can find.
Featured Fly Shop, Guide Service & B&B
Be sure to stop in at the Feathered Hook, which is not only a fly shop and guide service, but also a bed & breakfast that allows you to fully immerse yourself in fly fishing Penns Creek and nearby streams. Had I not picked up the specific patterns they recommended, I now know my drive deep down gravel roads and hike up the canyon would have resulted in close to being skunked – I started fishing from my own box without luck. As I described above, even with prolific hatches and at least 5 different bugs coming off the stream, the trout were selective until I found the right match – and then I landed fish continuously. Don’t make the mistake I did and take too few flies with you – accounting for a few drowned and soggy flies from landing multiple fish, not to mention lost from errant back casts. Given how much time the drive and hike in take you don’t want to be short (like I became) right when you discover what they want! Then, you’ll become a true Penns Creek Angler.
Friendly, informative service and closely matching the hatch are just the start of what you’ll find at the Feathered Hook. I was fortunate to have a great conversation with the accessible and friendly shop owner, Jonas Price, his partner and employees. While they share a background with me having grown up in the Northwest, it tells you something that they chose this area to stake their fly fishing claim. Not only are the rivers they serve renown, but also be sure to try some of the tributary streams, to catch wild colorful brookies just like bow and arrow casting in the mountains of West Virginia or Maine to round out your experience.
Get In Touch With The Feathered Hook:
The best way to get in contact for up to date Penns Creek fly fishing report, conditions, what’s hatching etc.:
Owner Jonas: Jonas@thefeatheredhook.com or 814-574-9426
Now enjoying their 30th year in business, the stated mission of The Feathered Hook is focused on helping you achieve your fly fishing goals, catch more fish, and enjoy yourself all the more. The shop specializes in wild trout that are “stream bred and raised,” with guided trips to both public and private waters. The Feathered Hook is centrally located to fly fish brown trout and brookies on the world-class limestone streams of Pennsylvania, including Penns Creek, Elk Creek, Pine Creek, Big Fishing Creek, and Spring Creek. Call the shop and they’ll gladly offer current information on not only Penns Creek stream report, but all of the streams they serve.
The shop, guide service, and bed & breakfast are located in the heart of Northern Amish country on the banks of Penns Creek, PA. I didn’t realize it, but the small town of Coburn, population 200, is actually part of Appalachia which I mistakenly thought started further south. As you can tell from the “then and now” photos above, the nature of the small town of Coburn hasn’t changed much over the last century.
An advantage of being not only a fly shop but also a fly fisher’s inn, the Feathered Hook provides a tying area, Penns Creek trout fishing literature to read and an atmosphere that allows you to relax, enjoy yourself and forget about the rest of the world. In a place and a pace that couldn’t be more different than the large metropolises to the east, a saying at The Feathered Hook is “Take your time and take it easy: the only rush should be to get to the stream. Look forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones.”