The Clarion River almost ruined me. My first day fishing there, I landed an even dozen wild brown trout, two of which measured over 20 inches. As I began fishing the river more often, I realized that day was no fluke, and every time there I expected to latch onto a big brown. And more often than not, I did! Soon I neglected all of my other favorite waters. Every spare minute was spent searching the Clarion for the mother of all browns.
That discovery happened one rainy October day when my Black Woolly Bugger landed on a twig sticking out from the bank. I gave it a slight twitch and it dropped free into the water. A huge shadow then moved out from under the overhanging brush, charged toward my fly and then inexplicably changed its mind.
“Whoa!” I said, hands shaking from the close encounter. “Did you see that?!” Of course, nobody saw it. I was fishing by myself.
The Clarion River is perhaps the most underrated fishery in Pennsylvania, if not the eastern United States. Outside of the small towns that dot its course, many folks don’t even realize that the river harbors world class trout and smallmouth bass fishing. Much of that can be attributed to the river’s history. For over a hundred years, deforestation, acid mine drainage, and poor sewage treatment impaired the watershed. However, massive cleanups began around 1980, and in 1990, Willamette Industries purchased the aging paper mill in Johnsonburg and invested $550 million into modernizing the plant and reducing source pollution that once made the Clarion the most polluted river in the state. Since then, water quality has improved every year as new treatment facilities neutralize tributaries that once poured acid mine drainage into the river system.
The comeback has been remarkable, and it happened fast. Within just a few years, aquatic life such as freshwater mussels and hellbenders, both signs of good water quality, began to flourish and the river was stocked with trout. In 1996, the U.S. Forest Service designated a 52-mile section of the Clarion as a National Wild & Scenic River. In 2019, it was named Pennsylvania’s River of the Year.
-- This is an excerpt from my book "Clarion River and its Tributaries." To read more, visit www.firstforkpublications.com.
Access to the All-Tackle Catch & Release section can be difficult, but this book shows you the best places to do so. This book also provides information about hatches, what to expect when you get there, and many of the techniques I've used over the years to land some truly magnificent trout on the Clarion River. This book is the most thorough resource out there for fishing this area. I hope you'll check it out.
As a special thanks for supporting Keystone Fly Fisher, I'd like to offer you a 25% discount on your next purchase, including flies, on the First Fork Publications website. Just enter the promo code "25OFF" at checkout to receive that discount.
A few of my favorite Clarion River patterns, also available from the First Fork Fly Shop: