Spruce Creek is known as the trout stream of Presidents. Many have come to fish its chalky limestone water which teems with huge brown and rainbow trout. But perhaps the most well-know is Jimmy Carter who continues to make pilgrimages to Spruce Creek each year. Spruce Creek is the Little Juniata River’s largest tributary, but unlike the "J," nearly all of Spruce is privately owned. Penn State University maintains a small half mile stretch that is open to the public, but that’s where the open water ends. TCO is fortunate to offer access to a private section of Spruce Creek that holds some of the largest trout in the Eastern United States. But availability is very limited, so call quickly to assure your spot on some of the most exclusive and productive trout water in the country.
Many consider George Harvey the greatest fly-fisherman in the country. He taught fly tying and fly casting to thousands of students and adults at Penn State University from 1934 to 1972 and coached two presidents-Eisenhower and Carter-on fly fishing. George fished Trico hatches long before any of us knew the hatch existed; he saw the first Tricos in 1927. By 1935 he was fishing the hatc almost daily on Falling Springs. George was the first to effectively imitate the olive-green Trico dun. George recently revolutionized fishing the Trico spinner fall by adding Krystal Flash to the spent wings of the spinner.
Recently Penn State University and the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited designated the section owned by the school as the George Harvey Area. That’s a fitting tribute to a man who has devoted so much time so fellow fly-fishermen can enjoy the sport even more.
Today, every morning from mid-July to late September, you find George fishing and studying the Trico hatch on Spruce Creek, as he has done since 1945. No one knows more about the Trico hatch and Spruce Creek than George Harvey. George has also experienced tremendous Green Drake, Sulphur and Blue-Winged Olive Dun hatches on this fertile central-Pennsylvania limestone stream.
Spruce Creek over the past half-century has evolved into mostly private water. Several fishing clubs own about ten of the stream’s 15 miles, and several other areas around Franklinville contain private water posted by individual land owners. Despite the limited access, however, Spruce Creek is important because of the tremendous hatches on the stream, which produce activity all season, and becuase there are four stretches of water open to public fishing. Besides, Joe McMullen and Wayne Harpster own sections of the stream, and they allow fee fishing. If you get an opportunity try either of these two stretches of private water.
Hatching activity begins early on Spruce, with the appearance of the Blue Quill and a sparse Hendrickson species in mid-to-late April. Blue Duns (Acentrella species) appear in early May, making this one of the few Pennsylvania streams to provide a mayfly hatch this time of the season. Spruce is best noted, however, for its hatches the last two weeks of May, when Green Drakes, Light Cahills, Sulphurs, Gray Foxes, Blue-Winged Olive Duns and others appear.
The Green Drake hatch on Spruce is one of the earliest of the season, usually beginning about May 22. Thirty years agao the Drake hatch on Spruce was much heavier than it is today. I can remember evenings in late May when I had to stop along PA 45 to wipe the dead Coffin Flies (mating spinners of the Green Drake) off my windshield. Those times have long vanished, and the great Green Drake is now only a shadow of what it once was.
Into July and August, Spruce has more hatches. It contains a decent Yellow Drake in late June and an adequate Trico hatch beginning in mid-July. There are many other hatches on Spruce, including several species imiatated by Blue-Winged Olive Dun, a few White Mayflies and multibrooded Blue Duns.
Hatches on Spruce have greatly diminished in the past decade or two. Old timers say that the Trico and Sulphur hatches, like the Green Drake, have also decreased signficantly. Many of these same anglers say that the Spruce Creek’s water level has decreased noticeably and siltation of the stream has greatly increased.
Spruce Creek is easily reached by PA 45. The stream begins about 10 miles southwest of State College, where it emerges from a limestone cavern and enters a large holding pool. The stream then flows southwest through Franklinville, entering the Little Juniata River at the town of Spruce Creek.
As noted, Spruce has only a few sections open to public fishing. A half-mile section just above Grange Hall at Baileyville is open. This water is extremely small, running through open pastureland. The only hatch of any consequence in this area is the Sulphur, which appears nightly from mid-May until early June. Some Blue Quills, Blue-Winged Olive Duns and Little Blue-Winged Olive Duns also emerge on this stretch. The Pennsylvania State University owns a half-mile section below Colerain Park that has been designated as a catch-and-release area. This water is extremely productive, contains plenty of native browns and has abundant hatches.
About 10 years ago, the state stopped stocking the upper end of Spruce Creek. For years prior to that time they stocked a two-mile section at Baileyville. Many of the private sections stock their own trout-but Spruce doesn’t really need any transplanting. It shelters a very healthy population of native brown trout.
On February 3, 1987, the lower end of Spruce Creek was polluted by a liquid-manure spill. The spill emptied into Warriorsmark Creek and entered Spruce just below Franklinville. Jim Bashline, who owns property on the affected stretch, says that the large trout actually jumped onto the bank when the spill passed his section of the water. I fished the polluted area threw months after the acccidental spill occurred. Bashline pointed out at that time that the trout had already moved back into the polluted area from upstream. The pollution seems to have little effect on the hatches.
A second manure spill happened on August 28, 1992. Although this spill didn’t appear to kill any trout, it left athe stream with a strong pungent manure odor.
Even though most of Spruce Creek is posted, there is enough open water to satisfy the angler who wants to experience great hatches, plenty of wild brown trout and hallowed waters. The best spot to fish is one the parcel owned by Penn State University.
Don’t miss the opportunity to fish what used to be one of the best streams in Pennsylvania.
See the Hatch Chart and Stream Maps for more information on Spruce Creek hatches as well as best times and places to fish. Also, please visit Charles R. Meck at (charlesmeck.com) and look at his great selection of fly fishing books and his current schedule of appearances, book signings and educational events.