Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Although I’ve lived my whole life less than 45 minutes from Volant, PA, I’d never fished Neshannock Creek until last fall. I tried to once. About three years ago, I stopped at the covered bridge on the lower boundary of the catch and release area but the water was borderline flood stage and muddy. I’m not a fan of fishing new places when it’s impossible to distinguish the deep holes from the riffles, mainly because it makes for dangerous wading conditions. Also, it’s hard to give a new place a fair shake if you don’t know whether you’re even fishing where trout are likely to hold once the water drops.
Neshannock Creek begins in Mercer County, PA, at the confluence of Cool Spring Creek and Otter Creek, which, incidentally, is how it got its name. Neshannock means “a place of two streams.” Neshannock Creek receives both spring and fall stockings of trout from its confluence all the way to where it joins the Shenango River in New Castle in Lawrence County.
In many aspects, Neshannock Creek reminds me of its close neighbor, Slippery Rock Creek. Both are wide, flow through vast amounts of agricultural land, muddy quickly after a rain and can take longer than usual to clear up again. Their locations are convenient for the masses. Visit Neshannock Creek any day of the year when the water is fishable and you’re likely to see lots of fishermen, especially along “the stretch” behind the fly shop at the top of the special regs section.
I fished Neshannock Creek on October 12th last year, a cold, dreary Friday, and there were lots of people on the water even then. Perhaps I’d been dreaming thinking there would ever be a time I’d have a stream less than an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh all to myself. Overall, it didn’t much matter. Typical of most places, if you’re willing to walk, you can get away from the crowds, and the bulk of the special regs section isn’t easily-accessed by any road. In other words, a 20-minute hike got me onto quiet waters.
There are two large parking areas in Volant where you can access the stream. The first is directly behind the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop. If you’d like an update on water conditions before you go, visit their website, ncflyshop.com, for stream levels and hatch reports. They even offer guide services.
Anytime I visit a stream for the first time, I always seek out the local fly shop for advice on how to fish, what to use, and any techniques that might work well in that particular area. You can learn a lot about streams that way, and you might find that owners get more generous with information if you’re willing to spend a few dollars in their store, which I don’t mind doing at all and encourage others to do as well. Fly shops are small-town America at its finest. Walking into one always fills me a sense of camaraderie, shared values, and a deep connection to the water and the fish and bugs that live there.
The second parking area in Volant is located up and across the road from the fly shop, behind the old railroad cars that have been converted into unique little shops. Make sure to park back near the woods to avoid clogging up the lots in front of the stores, but also, that’s where you’ll find the Neshannock Creek Trail, which closely parallels the stream for 4.1 miles through a heavily wooded area. The trail is flat, easy to walk and offers plenty of places to slide down over the side to the stream.
The stream was low and clear the day I fished it. According to the owner of the fly shop, the area could’ve used some rain. Fall was setting in, too, and clumps of leaves gathered on the banks, against rocks and other structure and sometimes made it difficult to get a good drift without snagging one or two. I used a tandem setup with a strike indicator, experimenting with types of flies and colors until I settled on a Lively Legz size 14 Pheasant Tail with olive legs as the point fly and a beaded size 18 black Hare’s Ear as the dropper. It worked quite well. According to my records, I landed 11 fish, all slinky rainbows that were holdovers from the spring stockings. The longest fish was 14 inches.
Until then, I never realized that fish actually hold over in Neshannock Creek, at least not in the numbers that they do. According to several people I talked to on the water that day, you can find some decent holdover browns in many of the deeper holes. Brown trout can be weird, though. The owner of the fly shop told me that the catch and release section had been stocked with nothing but browns the weekend before, yet all I caught were rainbows. So those browns were in there somewhere, and according to him, nobody he’d talked to had caught any of them either.
Neshannock Creek was a pleasure to fish. It was much prettier than I’d imagined, with lots of holding water and places for trout to hide. The farther I went, the farther I wanted to go. That day, I started shortly after daylight and fished until late afternoon, and in that time I covered almost two miles of stream. I saw a few caddis in the air, but not enough to trigger any surface feeding. However, sources say Neshannock Creek has good spring hatches, with many of the traditional species that emerge on Pennsylvania waters April thru June.
If you like larger streams and aren’t afraid to walk a little to get away from the crowds, Neshannock Creek is definitely worth a visit.
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