Loyalhanna Creek is a fairly wide freestone stream in southwestern Pennsylvania. This tributary to the Kiskiminetas River rises on Laurel Ridge. It flows some 50 miles before joining the Conemaugh River to form the Kiski at Salsburg. The Loyalhanna is impounded at Kingston Dam near Latrobe and again in Loyalhanna Lake just upstream of the mouth at Salsburg. Loyalhanna Lake is contained within the Loyalhanna Lake National Recreation Area which is popular with boaters but mediocre in terms of angling.
In its upper reaches, the Loyalhanna and several of its tributaries such as Linn Run support wild populations of trout. The stream is also stocked with rainbow and brown trout by the PA Fish Commission several times per year.
A slower stretch of Loyalhanna Creek
A Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only section of Loyalhanna Creek below the town of Ligonier is designated a “Keystone Select” area. It is stocked with fish ranging from 14 to 20 inches. This area draws the most interest from anglers, but the rest of the creek sees fishing pressure too. A significant section of the Loyalhanna containing some of its best stretches lies on private property upstream of Ligonier.
Loyalhanna Creek has been impacted by acid mine drainage. While holding ponds have been created to help mitigate the damage, stained red rocks are still evident downstream of Kingston Dam. I have also found red water leaking into other parts of the stream including the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only Section near Ligonier. Still, this stream holds plenty of fish.
Fish Species in Loyalhanna Creek
The Loyalhanna holds a variety of fish species throughout its length including rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass, white suckers, northern hogsuckers, bluegills, common carp, striped shiners, central stonerollers, golden redhorse, darters, and more. You may also run into the occasional brook trout or tiger trout in this stream.
The most common and popular fish in the creek are undoubtedly the trout. Rainbow trout predominate but there are lots of brown trout in the creek too. The typical rainbow and brown trout caught in the Loyalhanna are in the 10 to 15 inch range. Yet some very large trout come out this stream too. Cold inflows and deep holes and hideouts allow many of the trout to remain in the creek year round. A lot of work was done on the DHALO to create cover and hiding spots for fish which does seem to help. Holdover fish can be found from that area on up throughout the year.
This brown trout took a pink Trout Magnet
The state stocks the stream with trout in the spring and fall. So supplementary fish join the resident trout towards the end of the year. By the time trout season rolls around in April, there are a lot of trout in the stream. Of course there are typically a lot of people fishing in the stream too. As the year goes on less people fish the stream. Especially in the areas away from the DHALO area.
Smallmouth bass can be found throughout the stream. They’re usually between ten and twelve inches. I have caught some larger bass around Kingston Dam though. Rock bass ranging from five to nine inches are common in the Loyalhanna too. I’ve caught them from one end of the creek to the other, but they are definitely most common below the low water bridge at St Clair Hollow.
Fishing in Loyalhanna Creek
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Loyalhanna Creek is fishable throughout the year; though as a “Stocked Trout Stream” most of it is closed to fishing by regulation from late February through the opening day of trout season in April. Only the DHALO section is open year round. Stocked trout hold over in the waters upstream Kingston Dam from one year to the next. Below the dam the stream is more of a warm water fishery where trout cannot survive through the summer.
A decent Loyalhanna Creek rainbow trout
I’ve caught a lot of fish in Loyalhanna Creek over the last two decades. I’ve tried different things and developed an approach that works pretty consistently here. Sure things do change but experience is the best teacher. Whether I am using fly fishing or spinning gear, I usually do pretty well on this stream with light lines and a stealthy approach.
Rumor has it that the green weenie was actually developed for fishing on Loyalhanna Creek. It could be true. There are plenty of inch worms and caddis larvae around the area, and trout in the Loyalhanna take size 12 green weenies with vigor. Other so-called junk flies like the San Juan Worm and squirmy worm work very well here too. There aren’t a ton of hot hatches on the Loyalhanna, but you might see some small adult stoneflies around. If you want to use more traditional flies fish nymph patterns like the Copper John in size 12, 14, or 16 near the bottom. That usually works for me. When it comes to fly gear, a standard trout outfit like a 9 foot 5 weight rod with a 4x-5x tippet is fine.
This little tiger trout took a trout worm
Spin fishing with clear 4 pound test line can also produce on this stream. Drift fishing with small plastics and jigs in the 1/80 ounce to 1/64 ounce range works well on trout upstream of Kingston Dam. Countless trout have been caught on lures like the Berkley Floating Trout Worm, Trout Magnet, and Lindy Little Nippers in the Loyalhanna. Soft plastics like the Custom Stonefly Nymph and even the Rat Finkee ice fishing jig can also be very effective here since they resemble the small insects fish are eating on a daily basis.
From the area around Kingston Dam on down I am more likely to use active lures like small crankbaits. That doesn’t mean this is the only section I use lures. The Original Floating Rapala and Rebel Wee Crawfish are both very effective throughout the length of the Loyalhanna. A pink Spearhead Ryuki 45s can be spectacular in the DHALO section too.
Of course regular old redworms and nightcrawlers can catch a lot of fish in Loyalhanna Creek too. For some species like suckers they are as good as it gets. Drift a worm on a bare hook through the likely runs and you should do well. Or pin them to the bottom if you are aiming for fish that feed on the bottom like hogsuckers and darters. Don’t be surprised if you pick up some trout, rockbass, and smallmouths too.
Loyalhanna Creek Fishing Regulations
Loyalhanna Creek is classified as a stocked trout water by the PA Fish Commission. That means the stream is closed to fishing throughout all of March and a portion of April each year. The stream reopens to fishing on the first day of trout season, which falls on the first Saturday after April 1. The exception is the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO) starting in Ligonier which is open to fishing year round. As the name would suggest, fishing in the DHALO section is limited to artificial lures only.
The DHALO section of the stream starts at the Route 711 Bridge in Ligonier and stretches 1.56 miles downstream to where the creek flows under Two Mile Run Road. In this area fishing can be done “with artificial lures only constructed of metal, plastic, rubber or wood, or with flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials.” In the DHALO area, three trout of at least nine inches can be kept from June 15 to Labor Day. You cannot keep any trout caught there at any other time of the year.
In the rest of the stream fishing can be done with traditional angling methods using bait, lures, and flies. Anglers are permitted to keep five trout over seven inches during regular trout season. The limit is lowered to three trout during the extended season later in the year. Species other than trout in Loyalhanna Creek fall under general fishing regulations.
To the best of my knowledge, this is accurate as of the time of writing. Of course regulations are subject to change. For current regulations be sure to check the Pennsylvania Fish Commission website.
Loyalhanna Creek fishing at a glance
|Fish species present:||Brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass, white sucker, northern hogsucker, bluegill, common carp, striped shiner, central stoneroller, golden redhorse|
|Closest tackle shops:||Ligonier Outfitters|
|Recommend line:||2-6 lb monofilament / 3-5x leader|
|Recommended bait / lures:||Custom Stonefly Nymph, Original Floating Rapala, Spearhead Ryuki|
|Recommended flies:||Pheasant tail nymph, Copper John nymph, hare's ear nymph, San Juan Worm, squirmy worm|
|Nearby hotels:||Ramada by Wyndham Ligonier, Campbell House|