Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Note: I've written about Neshannock Creek in the past here on Dark Skies Fly Fishing. That original entry focused around my first trip to this stream. I've fished it quite a bit since then, and I've learned a lot about this stream and its hatches. This particular article can be found in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of American Flyfishing, but I'm posting it here, too. (By the way, if you're looking for a great magazine to subscribe to, American Flyfishing is one of the best around.)
Literally translated, Neshannock means “a place of two streams,” a proper name given that Neshannock Creek begins with the confluence of Cool Spring Creek and Otter Creek in Mercer County, less than an hour north of Pittsburgh. The stream then flows south for approximately 26 miles before emptying in to the Shenango River.
The entire length of Neshannock Creek receives stocked trout in spring and fall, and some of those fish occasionally hold over. A 2.67-mile section of Neshannock Creek is designated special regulations, artificial lures only, beginning at the base of the Mill Dam in the small town of Volant and extending downstream to the covered bridge on T-476. This section is also a Keystone Select Trout Water, which means it receives stockings of larger fish compared to the rest of the stream.
The first couple hundred yards of the special regulations section, known locally as The Stretch, runs behind the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop and is certainly the most-fished part of the stream – and for good reason. It’s nice, flat water with some deeper runs and pools that always seem to hold lots of trout, and if insects are hatching, there’s a great chance you’ll find fish rising to them all along The Stretch.
The easiest access to The Stretch is via a small park right off of Main Street. A short walk across a grassy lawn will put you on the stream. This is also a great place for families. Volant is a quaint little town with a number of independent, artisan-type shops and eateries, and even a small playground for kids. Numerous times, my wife and kids have spent the day slipping in and out of shops while I plied the water behind the fly shop.
For a more private experience, there’s another parking area in Volant located up and across the road from the fly shop, behind the old railroad cars that have been converted into unique little storefronts. Make sure to park back near the woods to avoid clogging up the lots in front of the stores. That’s also 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 an old railroad bed that provides flat, easy walking, and well-worn paths cut down over the side to popular pools and runs. I always prefer to walk 10 to 15 minutes before deciding on a place to fish. Most people don’t go farther than that, and there are just as many trout in these more remote stretches as there are in town and a lot less pressure.
The Banks Covered Bridge marks the end of the special regulations water on Neshannock Creek. Built in 1889, the bridge is one of many covered bridges in Pennsylvania that uses a Burr arch truss for support. Unlike many other bridges, though, this one is painted completely white, both inside and out.
In a region not known for abundant hatches, Neshannock Creek is an anomaly, and every year those hatches seem to be more plentiful and diverse. In April and early May, Grannoms and other caddis are often on the menu. Once mid-May comes, though, the hatches ramp up and almost every day you’ll find some sort of insect coming off. Green Caddis, Sulphurs, March Browns, Light Cahills, Blue-winged Olives, Brown Drakes, and Green Drakes are all possibilities. Once June rolls around, and even later into summer, make sure to hit the water shortly after daybreak for some early morning midge action.
In spring, Neshannock Creek can have deceptively strong current, and it can get real deep real fast if you take certain places for granted. Also, because the stream flows through so much agricultural land, it doesn’t take a lot of rain to muddy the water, but oddly enough, it seems to clear up just as quick.
During the summer months, the fishing for smallmouth bass can be quite good once you get out of the special regulations section. In fact, the closer you get to the Shenango River, the more bass you’ll find. Neshannock Creek is also noted for its decent population of northern pike. They can be found in almost every deep pool throughout the stream, and every now and then one will slam a streamer – one more reason to explore this fun fishery.