Fly Fishing in Elk Country
The town of Benezette may be known as the heart of Pennsylvania elk country, but it’s also a great staging point for some of the area’s best trout fishing. Here you’ll find a variety of streams offering abundant opportunities for both stocked and native fish.
The cornerstone waterway is Bennett’s Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek, which is a significant conservation story in recent years. Bennett’s Branch begins just east of Dubois in Clearfield County and flows in a northerly direction for roughly 44 miles before joining Driftwood Branch to form Sinnemahoning Creek in Cameron County. For almost a century, the lower 33 miles of this stream were polluted, but in 2012, the opening of an acid mine treatment plant near Hollywood, PA, began the restoration process. By 2014, a large section of once-dead water was deemed clean enough to receive stocked trout.
The potential of Bennett’s Branch doesn’t end with stocked trout, though. The treated water flowing from the deep mines is a cool 52 degrees F, perfect for the establishment of a wild trout fishery and year-round fishing destination. The upper reaches of Bennett’s Branch already contain native Brook Trout and holdover and wild Brown Trout, many of which find their way into the stream’s tributaries come fall, so there’s no reason to believe that fish won’t also hold over in the restored section.
Historically, Bennett’s Branch and its tributaries were known for tremendous populations of native Brook Trout. In the late-1800s, avid angler General Ulysses S. Grant visited the area to fish Bennett’s Branch and its tributaries on at least three occasions before his death in 1885. Soon after, uncontrolled and extensive logging began taking its toll, but not before workers filled their creels, which were called “12-pounders” because a daily limit of 40 brook trout weighed approximately 12 pounds, day in and day out to feed the camps.
Not long after the loggers broke for new territory, unregulated coal mining practices escalated, peaking during World War II. Many of those old mines were not sealed properly, or at all, and acid mine drainage (AMD) rendered thousands of miles of streams in this area and throughout the state uninhabitable for trout and other aquatic life. Fortunately, nature is resilient and the Bennett’s Branch Watershed is slowly getting back on its feet, albeit only after billions of dollars have been spent on water treatment facilities.
Of course, we’re still not out of the woods with many of these cleanup projects, and if we need a reminder of our dirty past, look no further than Dents Run, a tributary to Bennett’s Branch downstream of Benezette. At least one 2019 in-season trout stocking of this sweet little stream was canceled due to a malfunction at an AMD treatment facility that temporarily made the water unsuitable to stock.
There are numerous other tributaries to explore in the area, though. All along Route 555, from the town of Weedville to Driftwood, almost every tributary to Bennett’s Branch holds populations of wild and native trout. Additionally, Medix Run, Hicks Run, West Branch Hicks Run, and Mix Run receive both preseason and in-season stockings. Of these streams, Medix Run and Hicks Run are perhaps the most viable, all season fisheries. Although they’re still considered small streams, each one possesses lots of deeper holes and structure that allows fish to survive and thrive. Each stream contains good populations of native Brook Trout, too.
The best way to fish these small streams is to cover lots of ground. Around every bend, it seems, is a deep pool or other holding water with a few trout in it, and perhaps the best part of fishing this area is that the majority of it is publicly owned, either state game land or state forest land. In many cases, a short hike can put anglers into a true wilderness Brook Trout fishing experience.
When adventuring here, keep in mind that this is also snake country. Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes are plentiful, and it’s always possible to encounter one streamside. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially when navigating through brushy and rocky terrain. Stay in the open as much as possible and wear knee-high rubber boots at all times.
The benefit of spring and fall fishing is that most nights get cool enough that the snakes stay in the high country. Of course, anything’s possible, and for every rule there is an exception. No matter the time of year, it’s wise to remember that old Ben Franklin quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” when fishing where rattlesnakes live.
Aquatic life is slowly making a comeback throughout the watershed. Although you won’t experience many blizzard-like hatches, you will find a scattering of various mayfly species. Stoneflies and caddisflies are the predominant insects. Most days, on any of the tributaries, an elk hair caddis of just about any color will evoke a few rises. On Bennett’s Branch, which is much bigger and deeper water, nymphs and streamers produce the most consistent action.
When many people think of Benezette, elk are the first thing that come to mind, and for good reason. Elk are a unique and photogenic animal that people come from all around to view and observe. But for those who want to experience elk country in a more intimate and personal way, Bennett’s Branch and its tributaries provide the perfect opportunity to do so. This emerging fishery is already darn good, and it’s getting better every year.