Get Hooked: A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing in Happy Valley

By Scott McKee 

Spring is a wonderful time to try new outdoor recreational activities and if fly-fishing has ever piqued your curiosity, this is the perfect season for wetting a line.

As the length of daylight increases and temperatures, both air and water begin to rise, entire aquatic ecosystems kick into gear; insects become more active and trout’s metabolism increases, requiring more frequent feeding activity – exactly what we fly fishers love to see.

Central Pennsylvania boasts some of the best trout streams in the eastern United States and the range of options is mind-boggling, from small babbling mountain brooks to the larger limestone valley streams such as Penns Creek, Spring Creek, the Little Juniata River and Big Fishing Creek. 

Like any new endeavor, the first time is usually the most difficult. That is, unless your first time wielding a fly rod is with a skilled instructor, such as Charles “Vance” McCullough, my first fly fishing mentor and the third “fly fishing professor” of Penn State’s highly popular course, Principles of Fly Tying and Fly Fishing for Trout. As one of his undergraduate students in the early 1990s, I was excited to go on our first field trip to Fisherman’s Paradise, the fly-fishing-only section of Spring Creek. I was the only student to show up for that Saturday outing; according to Vance, “I was the only one who didn’t let Friday night activities get in the way of my fishing.” 

A One-to-One Lesson Births a Lifelong Passion

Whatever the reason, I benefited immeasurably from the one-on-one experience, learning more in that one day than I probably did during the next six months on my own. By the time we were done, he had worked out the major glitches in my basic casting, helped me to understand the basics of fishing nymphs (submerged wet flies) and dry flies, as well as how to approach and “read” the water. These last skills were ones I thought myself reasonably good at, as I had been trout fishing with spinning tackle since age three; however, the skills Vance demonstrated and explained quickly showed me how much I had to learn. I even caught three wild brown trout on nymphs I had tied during our classroom sessions.

Encouraged by my day with Vance and his guidance to “get on the water as much as possible,” I fumbled my way forward, diving into the sport that quickly became a lifelong passion for me. I’d say it’s the best-spent money for anyone interested in getting started in fly fishing.

Find the Best Guide for You

When choosing a guide for an introductory outing, look specifically for those who have an interest in teaching beginners.  Some excel at teaching more experienced anglers advanced skills but struggle with instructing rudimentary basics. Always talk directly with the individual guide and honestly let them know what your skill level is and what you hope to accomplish. Their response should be enthusiastic and encouraging – if it’s not, move on to the next potential candidate. There are a number of skilled guides and instructors available; finding a quality instructor should not be difficult.

Don’t Forget the Basics

An additional benefit to beginning with a guide is they are usually willing and able to supply the appropriate tackle if you don’t yet have your own. The client is generally expected to provide his or her own waders and must have a valid Pennsylvania fishing license with the appropriate trout stamp. Your guide should be able to tell you where to get this or it can be purchased online via the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s online store.

On a related note, the Fish and Boat Commission requires guides to be licensed and this includes mandatory first aid and CPR certification. If it isn’t obviously apparent, make sure your prospective guide meets this basic requirement before proceeding.

Make a Day of It

You might seem like light-years away from civilization, but the beauty of fishing local waterways is that you are, at most, thirty minutes from the best of our local eateries. Whether you are charging up your introvert soul, watching your son or daughter's first perfect cast, or catching up with old friends while you search for that perfect palomino trout, end the day someplace delicious. Try a homegrown favorite like Port Matilda Hotel and Tavern (try the wings and bay fries!) and go home happy. 

As your spring begins to unfold and you anticipate new adventures, why not consider fly fishing? In the end, it may be you who gets hooked.

Fly Fishing Shops Central PA

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission – fishing and boating licenses, information regarding these activities around the state

The Feathered Hook – located in Coburn, PA on the banks of Penns Creek
814-349-8757

TCO State College
814-689-3654

Flyfisher’s Paradise, State College
814-234-4189

Spruce Creek Outfitters – located in Spruce Creek, PA on the banks of The Little Juniata River 
814-632-3071

Fly Fishing Guide Services – all fishing guides in Pennsylvania are required by law to be licensed by the Fish and Boat Commission, which includes mandatory first aid and CPR training.   

Lance Wilt’s Outcast Anglers
570-660-0285

Dennis Charney
814-280-8171

George Daniel’s Livin On The Fly

John Stoyanoff
814-944-0911

Fly Fishing Instruction – If you are new to fly fishing or simply want to try it for the first time, I recommend hiring a guide for specific skills instruction, either one-on-one or as part of a small class. All of the guides listed also offer fly fishing skills instruction to some degree and pride themselves in helping even experienced anglers improve their skills.  For beginners, I particularly recommend Lance Wilt’s Outcast Angler’s, Dennis Charney and George Daniel’s Livin’ On The Fly services.

For more experienced anglers interested in improving your skills or becoming more familiar with central Pennsylvania waters, I feel confident any of the listed guide services can be helpful to you.

AREA WATERWAYS

If you are a DIY’er or an experienced angler new to the central Pennsylvania area, here are a few of our best waters to begin your exploration: 

THE BIG FOUR: These are our best (and best known) limestone trout streams; each have substantial portions (and the entire length for Spring Creek) with self-sustaining wild trout populations. To compliment these sections, portions of Penns Creek and Big Fishing Creek are also stocked with trout, both before and during the season.

Spring Creek

Penns Creek

Big Fishing Creek

Little Juniata River

 STOCKED WATERS: These streams and lakes are some of the most popular stocked trout waters in central Pennsylvania. Though the abundant wild trout are truly gems of the commonwealth, fishing for stocked trout is a lot of fun and can be a bit easier for beginners. The small lakes are a great place to take children. If you fish from a watercraft, be sure to adhere to all safety regulations (see Fish and Boat Commission web site). 

STREAMS: Bald Eagle Creek, Black Moshannon Creek, Big Poe Creek, Standing Stone Creek

LAKES: Lake Perez (Stone Valley Recreation Area), Greenwood Lake, Whipple Lake, Seven Mountains Boy Scout Pond

Please note this is only a small portion of stocked waters – for a full listing visit the following links:

NORTHCENTRAL REGION: http://fishandboat.com/fishpub/summary/troutregs_nc.htm

SOUTHCENTRAL REGION: http://fishandboat.com/fishpub/summary/troutregs_sc.htm

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