Early Season on Buffalo Creek
Every angler has what they consider their home waters, those streams or rivers where large chunks of their fishing life were spent learning their craft. For me, that place is Buffalo Creek, specifically the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only section. It’s where I spent many evenings after school as a teenager learning how to fly fish, and many days as an adult philosophizing about life, and continuing to learn how to fly fish.
Buffalo Creek begins near the town of Chicora, Butler County, and flows almost 30 miles before emptying into the Allegheny River near Freeport. Five sections of the stream receive stocked trout by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, from the municipal park in Chicora all the way to Boggsville in Armstrong County.
Most years, with the exception of very hot, dry summers, you can catch trout along the entire stocked length of the stream any time of year. Many of the big pools in the lower sections are deep enough to offer thermal refuge for trout during summer, and sections around West Winfield and downstream can produce some great fall and early winter fishing for Smallmouth Bass and Walleyes, too.
For the most consistent winter and early spring trout fishing, though, focus on section three, the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO), which is also part of the Keystone Select Trout Waters program. Here you’ll still find holdover trout from the previous fall stockings as well as new arrivals thanks to the spring stocking program.
Buffalo Creek’s DHALO is easily accessed via Route 422. Bridges and pull offs along Fenelton Road, Morrow Road, and Nichola Road all provide ample parking. The DHALO begins at the mouth of Little Buffalo Run and extends 3.7 miles downstream to approximately .6 miles upstream SR 4035 in Craigsville.
Although the bridge on Fenelton Road is roughly 100 yards from the top of the DHALO, the best way to access the upper portion is to park along Morrow Road and walk up. A trail follows the stream most of the way, or you can walk the railroad tracks to the trestle where Little Buffalo Run enters Buffalo Creek.
Easier access can be found farther down Fenelton Road where it eventually parallels the stream until it intersects with Nichola Road, which continues following Buffalo Creek another mile or so. A good chunk of the lower section of the DHALO flows through secluded forestland that can be accessed via the bridge on Nichola Road, or you can turn north onto Hindman-Hill Road, cross over the railroad tracks, and then turn right onto Bottom Creek Road. A moderate downhill hike from any of the pull offs along the road will take you to the stream.
Buffalo Creek’s DHALO offers a variety of water types to explore. The upper section is smaller with a few nice pools and lots of pocket water and riffles. As you get closer to the bridge on Morrow Road, the stream widens considerably and the pools get bigger.
Years ago, the sharp bend upstream from the bridge held a classic fishing hole that always seemed to have trout. When I close my eyes, I can still see that pool with its deep, swirling waters and overhanging tree limbs. Unfortunately, erosion took its toll and that pool gradually filled in. However, thanks to extensive work by the Arrowhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited over the years, both in that section as well as the whole length of the DHALO, new pools have taken shape and there’s lots of quality holding water to be found.
Fish Buffalo Creek’s DHALO often enough and you’ll become very familiar with stream improvement devices such as log frame deflectors. High water typically washes out nice pools behind these deflectors and trout certainly take advantage of the cover. Even in shallower areas, trout like to lie up under the logs. Countless times I’ve thought a pool was empty only to have a trout dart out from underneath the device to grab my fly.
Depending on the conditions and the mood of the trout, these devices can make fishing a little tricky. Last winter, my friend Greg and I were experiencing little luck until I realized that all of the fish were tucked back in the slower water of the eddy and actually facing downstream. Once we figured out how to get our flies and lures in front of the fish, we had a banner day.
Although roads border much of the upper two-thirds of the DHALO, the lower third can provide some very quiet days on the water for those seeking solitude and don’t mind a short hike to the water. There will be plenty of big pools and trout waiting for you there, too.
The stream bottom along the DHALO is a combination rock/mud bottom, and thanks to a gentle gradient, wading is easy even when water levels are up. Although Buffalo Creek doesn’t offer much in terms of mayfly hatches, traditional nymph and streamer patterns do the job. My preferred set up for fishing Buffalo Creek’s DHALO is a 9-foot, 6-weight fly rod that makes casting across stream a breeze. Also, the heavier rod comes in handy when tangling into the larger fish typical of Keystone Select Trout Waters.