Beginner’s Strategy for Locating Small, Wild Trout Streams in the Wilds of Pennsylvania

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By Matt Yancheff ("Swattie87"- Images Courtesy Author)


I often see a common question come up early in the learning curve for anglers looking to get into small stream, wild trout angling: How do I find good streams to fish? It can be an intimidating first hurdle to overcome, but once over it, the way is open to a very rewarding angling experience. It requires some homework, often good for a cold evening in the dead of winter with your beverage of choice. You’ll swing and miss sometimes, but the home runs you hit will be well worth the strikeouts.

Below is the method that I’ve developed and relied on, and that has led me to many good small stream days in the woods of Pennsylvania:

1. Locate via some simple Googling, the following three lists published, and regularly updated by the PFBC: 1) Natural Reproduction List. 2) Class A Wild Trout List. 3) Wilderness Trout Streams List. They contain different information, and there is some overlap between them, but it is all useful. They all indicate the county the stream is in, so you can use that to begin to narrow things down.

2. (Optional, but not necessary. Good for a beginner with this method, but the more successful you get, you’ll find you’ll rely on these less.) Purchase a couple of PA stream guide books. Dwight Landis’ is very good, and is my personal favorite, but there’s several other good options out there as well. Again, some simple Googling will head you in the right direction if you wish to purchase these. They all run about $20-$30.

3. Review the above-mentioned lists and books and locate some streams in a given area that you think interest you. Cross reference those stream’s locations with a good mapping software. Google Maps works very well for this, and of course, is free. Are the streams on publicly owned land? If not, who owns the land? What are the potential access points? Of course, it goes without saying, always be respectful of private and posted land. Toggle between topographic and satellite views. Is the stream in a remote forested area, or is it running through folks’ back yards? How big does the stream look? How steep/rough does the terrain look? State and National Forest maps are available online for more information. Kudos as well to the Pa. Game Commission as they have recently updated and published detailed maps online of every single State Game Lands tract in PA. They’re very useful for helping confirm access and parking locations for streams on SGL.
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4. After your research in Steps 1-3, pick three or four potential streams in an area and head out for a day to check them out. This way you have a couple back up plans if you get to a stream and find unforeseen access problems, or another angler already there. Or if a stream just turns out to be a dud, which happens sometimes.

5. Once you’ve fished a few of these streams and located a couple good ones, start to think about what they have in common. Take note of what you saw on the maps, and what the stream turned out to actually look like when you got there. Was it what you expected? How big was it? What was its gradient? Did it have lots plunge pools, or was it more riffles and runs? What kind of water fished best? Then look for those similar characteristics in other areas using the lists, books, and maps. You’ll find you’ll quickly become pretty good at it. Before long, you’ll start working backwards – looking at the maps first for good potential spots based on what you’ve learned, then cross referencing with the lists and books….This is when you know you’ve figured it out.

As long as you’re willing to make a bit of a drive sometimes, do a bit of homework first, and be willing to strike out once in a while, this will work, if you try it. We are very fortunate to live in a state with the amount of small, forested wild trout water Pennsylvania has. Get out there and enjoy it!
 
JeremyW
I feel like there is a whole video series here, gear, navigation, etc... a few quick things I might add:

- Using GaiaGPS to plan your route, sync to phone to mark notable pools or landmarks, this is especially valuable for off trail route planning. Also, they have several versions of topo layers, for example google maps may not show a stream, or the base map may not show one. But you may find them on a 1980's topo map layer.
- We have a few threads on gear, that could probably be a video series all to it's own....
 
L
Good article Swattie! Gave enough information and tips to get someone started and able to find streams and have success. Glad you kept some secrets of the trade from the limelight to still allow for the sense of discovery upon finding an interest in seeking these streams out.
 
L
I just found this site and it looks like it’s a great one to find lots of information. I live in Asheville,NC. I am coming north middle of July and looking for some good fly fishing and possibly a guide. First week I am there I will be visiting my son outside of Scranton. The following week myself and a friend, also from NC will be looking for some places to fly fish. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
 
JeremyW
I just found this site and it looks like it’s a great one to find lots of information. I live in Asheville,NC. I am coming north middle of July and looking for some good fly fishing and possibly a guide. First week I am there I will be visiting my son outside of Scranton. The following week myself and a friend, also from NC will be looking for some places to fly fish. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
North to PA? I'd say except for spring creeks there won't be much trout fishing worth doing IMO, I'd say to do some fishing for bass, bluegill, crappie instead. There are many wild fisheries that have loads of fish in every state, they just aren't trout.

The wild trout that are remaining in the mountains often suffer due to predators, water temperature and flows, etc. I live in VA, and so I leave the trout fisheries alone starting in May until after Oct / November.
 
wildtrout2
The wild trout that are remaining in the mountains often suffer due to predators, water temperature and flows, etc. I live in VA, and so I leave the trout fisheries alone starting in May until after Oct / November.
If that's been your experience, I'd say you're not looking hard enough in the right places. There are plenty of mountain wild trout streams that maintain decent flows/temps through the summer. I fished a Sullivan county freestone a couple days ago that was at 52F with a great flow.
 
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JeremyW
If that's been your experience, I'd say you're not looking hard enough in the right places. There are plenty of mountain wild trout streams that maintain decent flows/temps through the summer. I fished a Sullivan county freestone a couple days ago that was at 52F with a great flow.
I've found the brook trout fishing is better in VA in SNP and GWNF, in terms of drive time for me, so sullivan county is like 5 hrs probably. There's a reason I've not searched it out, because the brook trout fishing is likely better in places like VA and WV... even factoring in the 5-6 hours for me to get there.
 
wildtrout2
Follow the t-storms, they're the only salvation this time of year.
 
JeremyW
It's hard to want to drive somewhere beyond Shenandoah NP in terms of access, and mountain trout for me.
 

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JeremyW
I might take you up on it, bring a thermometer tmw morning and hit one of the streams....
 
wildtrout2
I've found the brook trout fishing is better in VA in SNP and GWNF, in terms of drive time for me, so sullivan county is like 5 hrs probably. There's a reason I've not searched it out, because the brook trout fishing is likely better in places like VA and WV... even factoring in the 5-6 hours for me to get there.
Sullivan is a 2.5 hour drive for me. None of my wild streams are close, so a road trip is the norm. I'll be driving 4 hours on Wed to chase some natives. I enjoy the road trips.
 
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