Chest Creek, Cambria County
Updated: Jun 13
Chest Creek rises just south of Bradley Junction in Cambria County and flows in a northerly direction for almost 40 miles before joining West Branch Susquehanna River near the town of Mahaffey, in Clearfield County.
When most people think of this region of the state, quality trout fishing isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. Rather, this is the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country, and with that distinction comes certain drawbacks. History was not kind to many watersheds throughout the Commonwealth, as trade-offs were often made for the sake of progress, and this region was no exception.
According to the Cambria County Conservation District, 66 tributaries flow into Chest Creek. Many of these are unnamed little trickles, but a good many are also major water sources. A large portion of these tribs are impacted by huge concentrations of metals, such as iron and aluminum, that get into the water via acid mine drainage. Remediation projects have helped alleviate these effects in recent years, and as this area of the state continues to recover, the fishing opportunities will only improve.
The presence of native brook trout is often the baseline used to assess water quality. That’s good news for Chest Creek, because Section 1 of the stream (approximately 3.87 miles), from its headwaters to an unnamed tributary in Bradley Junction, are managed as Class A Wild Trout, specifically for its brook trout population. From there down to its confluence with West Branch Susquehanna River, Chest Creek is stocked with trout by the PFBC.
Section 3 is my favorite to fish and is managed under Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only regulations. This 2.5 miles of stream is also part of the Keystone Select Trout Waters program and receives both spring and fall stockings. To access this stretch, take Route 36 into the town of Patton and turn east onto River Road. Parking is available at the numerous pull-offs along River Road as well as at the bridge on SR 4022 at Thomas Mills, which serves as the lower limit of the DHALO.
What fascinates me most about Chest Creek is the variety of fishing situations it presents. In some places, it has a classic mountain stream appearance while in others it offers a very low gradient, slow water experience. Both require very different styles of fishing that keeps me on my toes and changing up methods to find what’s working.
Recommending patterns or colors to use in certain streams is always a sketchy proposition. Everybody has their favorites that work for them and that they feel confident using, but I will say one thing. I’ve had extraordinary luck on Chest Creek with three colors more than any others: black, chartreuse, and pink. Much of that, I believe, has to do with water color and clarity (or lack thereof). In the spring and fall, when levels are up a bit, the water has an almost cloudy green appearance, especially in the deeper holes, a common trait of most Cambria County streams.
I also use a lot of flies with sparkle, whether in the form of Krystal flash or a gold or silver beadhead. Friends who have fished Chest Creek with me have done well with all types of spinners, but when water levels are up, gold blades typically produce best. Like fly selection, though, lure selection has a little to do with personal preference and a lot to do with stream conditions on that particular day. Most of the time, the trout will tell you what they want and how they want it presented.
In most places, Chest Creek is easy to wade and you’ll have no issue crossing or changing positions to reach certain pockets or runs. I prefer chest waders over hip waders simply because they allow me to better access many of the huge, slow moving pools that can get real deep real fast. Also, I enjoy fishing Chest Creek most early or late in the season, usually in cold weather, so the added warmth of chest waders is appreciated. However, I do try to fish it at least a couple times in the summer, simply because all of those big stocked rainbows are still there and most fishermen have moved on to other waters.
Like most streams in this region, you won’t find a ton of mayfly activity on Chest Creek, but you will find some. Although I’ve witnessed sparse emergences of numerous species, Caddis seem to be the main fare for trout. You can find hatches of Tan and/or Spotted Caddis as well as Light Cahills beginning in April and running through May.
Railroad tracks parallel Chest Creek for much of its length. Anyone up for a hike can get into some fairly remote, unpressured water with a little effort. Trout move around a lot in Chest Creek, and it doesn’t take much for them to end up in secluded pools between stocking points. If you’re with a buddy and have two vehicles, you can cover a lot of ground by parking one at a bridge or other access point several miles downstream of where you want to begin fishing.
Cambria County is a sleeper for trout fishing. There are dozens of stocked and wild trout streams to explore. Chest Creek is only one, but it’s one of the best, and definitely worth the visit.