Walnut Creek is a 22.6-mile-long freestone stream in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. This small Lake Erie tributary is the second best known steelhead stream in Pennsylvania. The larger Elk Creek located nearby is the first. Walnut Creek is stocked with steelhead smolts each spring. Each fall, large numbers of adult steelhead return to Walnut Creek to spawn. Most are not successful. But they do create a famous fishery known as “Steelhead Alley.”
Walnut Creek rises near the small town of Godard. It takes a windy path north through Erie County before finally emptying into Lake Erie at Manchester Beach. Walnut Creek’s circuitous route passes through and around suburbs, parks, railroad tracks, golf courses, a shopping mall, and even a race track! In other words, this is no wilderness stream. Yet there are sections of Walnut Creek that can almost seem remote at the right time.
Like Elk Creek, Walnut Creek has a shale bottom. This sharp rock substrate helps channel the water into some strong flowing sections. Still most of the stream is more placid. That is especially true in periods of low water and little rain which have become more common in recent years. Walnut Creek is usually slow flowing and crystal clear unless rain has fallen recently. After a rain, Walnut will usually return to low and clear conditions within a day or two. In Walnut, the fish tend to stack up in the deeper holes and long flats where they can blend in with the bluish bottom.
Fish species in Walnut Creek
Steelhead are the species that draw most anglers to Walnut Creek. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) stocks Walnut Creek with a large number of smolts each spring. Many of these young fish will remember Walnut Creek before they migrate to Lake Erie sometime in April or May. Two year later, a number of the fish that survive the rigors of living in the big lake will then return to Walnut Creek. The fish that make it back average between 5 and 10 pounds and are known for their fighting ability. The 20 pound 3 ounce Pennsylvania state record steelhead was caught in Walnut Creek in 2001.
Unlike Elk Creek, Walnut Creek is not stocked with brown trout. Still some brown trout do make it into the stream each fall. They likely follow steelhead in search of eggs. The occasional pacific salmon will also show up in Walnut Creek in the fall. The PFBC stopped stocking pacific salmon in Lake Erie quite a while ago. But a very small wild reproducing population persists.
I caught this steelhead in Walnut Creek
The native lake trout is probably even less common than the Pacific Salmon here. This is a shame. Native suckers and redhorse run the stream in good numbers each spring. Other fish including smallmouth bass, channel catfish and common carp can be found in the deepest section near the mouth throughout the warmer months. Few people fish Walnut outside of the steelhead run.
Smaller fish like the rainbow darter, emerald shiner, and round goby can be found throughout the stream all year long. They seem to be more common in the rifles and more isolated sections far upstream of the mouth. Lampreys can also be found in Walnut Creek. I’ve seen them swimming in holes near the mouth.
Fishing in Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek is a long stream with a lot of holding water. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of it is closed to fishing. There is a decent bit of access but a good portion of the creek falls on private property that is not open to fishing. This is most obviously reflected at Manchester Hole.
Manchester hole is undoubtedly the most population part of Walnut Creek. This deep hole fills with fish early each fall. Yet a private landowner controls a parcel that includes the middle of the creek and the eastern bank of Manchester Hole. So people who want to fish it have to line up along the western bank to fish.
Can you spot the fish? Erie Steelhead tend to stack up in seams
A lot of people fish Walnut Creek. The area around Walnut Creek Marina is usually lined with people during the steelhead run. It’s common to see people standing elbow to elbow along the wall at the marina and Manchester Hole just south of Manchester Road. This one of the easiest sections of the stream to access. Because of its proximity to the lake, this section also gets fish before other parts further up stream.
Steelhead can be found in the lower section of Walnut Creek from October to April most years. But big numbers of fish will not get far beyond Manchester Hole until the area receives a good rain in the fall. Higher waters allow fish to move further upstream. As winter approaches fish can usually be found miles up the stream.
There are several public access areas along Walnut Creek. The first is just north of the Route 5 bridge. The next lies between two railroad bridges just upstream. Two more sections can be found off of Sterrettania and Zimmerly Roads. Another section lies between Zimmerly Road and the Mill Creek Mall. Veterans Park also has a fishable section of water. This Erie Fishing Easements map is a great resource for finding places to fish. Especially if you want to get away from the crowds at the mouth.
Walnut Creek gear and tactics
I have been fishing Walnut Creek for many years. I have caught a lot of fish and made many memories along this stream. The steelhead runs may not be as large as they used to be, but it is still quite possible to catch multiple fish on a single outing.
Walnut Creek is smaller and shallower than Elk Creek. Stealthy approaches and light lines work best here. Sure some of the crowds pounding the water near the mouth will catch fish. But if you can scale down your gear and hide from the fish you will have more consistent success.
My favorite setup for Walnut Creek is a 10′ long medium-light spinnning rod rigged with 4 pound test fluorocarbon line. I normally drift 1/32 to 1/64 ounce jigs under a small float. Hair and feather jigs like the jig fly and VooDoo Steelhead Jig work well. So do small soft plastics like trout worms and Soft Stonefly Nymphs on a jig head. Pink, black, and tan are great colors here year after year.
This steelhead has been through a lot
I don’t fly fish as much on Walnut Creek. There is a lot of low and slow water. I am able to cover it better with a long spinning rod. That said I have fly fished Walnut Creek quite a few times. When I decide to chuck flies on Walnut I reach for a 10 foot 6 weight rod with weight forward floating line. At the terminal end I attach a 10 foot 3x or 4x fluoro leader and fish sinking flies under an indicator.
Lots of classic Great Lakes patterns will work here. I’ve had the most success with San Juan Worms, glo bugs, blood dots, sucker spawn, jig flies and small stonefly patterns. White and olive woolly buggers can also trigger a bite if you want to swing or strip flies.
Centerpin float fishing can also be very effective on Walnut Creek. But that’s only if you can find enough open water to get a good float. Few others will appreciate it if you go for a 50 foot hero drift through Manchester Hole. If you get away from the crowds you might be able to find a clear space to drift egg sacks, plastic eggs, or jigs. Especially later in the season as the weather gets colder.
Walnut Creek fishing regulations
Lake Erie and Tributary Stream Regulations apply to Walnut Creek. To fish here, you need a PA fishing license, a trout stamp, and a Lake Erie stamp. You can also get a combination stamp that includes both the Erie and trout stamps.
Walnut Creek is open to fishing year round. From September until the trout opener in April, the section of Walnut Creek south of Manchester Bridge Road is closed to fishing from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am. Walnut Creek is also closed to fishing for the 32 hours prior to the first day of trout fishing. Fishing in the entirety of the creek can be done with traditional angling methods using bait, lures, and flies.
Anglers are permitted to keep five brown trout that measure at least nine inches during regular trout season. From the day after Labor Day until the Friday before the opening day of the regular trout season the limit is 3 brown trout of least 15 inches. From 8:00 am on the opening day or trout season until the Friday before the opening day of the next trout season, three rainbow trout (steelhead) of fifteen inches or more can be kept each day.
There is a consumption advisory in effect for Lake Erie fish. The PA Department of Environmental Protection says you shouldn’t eat more than 1 meal of Lake Erie trout, bass or catfish per month.
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.
Walnut Creek fishing at a glance
- Fish species present: Rainbow trout (steelhead), brown trout, lake trout, white sucker, redhorse, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, common carp, rainbow darter, emerald shiner, round goby.
- Closest tackle shops: Poor Richard’s, Fisherman’s Haven, Tudor Hook-N-Nook, Fish USA.
- Recommend spin fishing tackle: Long medium light rod, 4-8lb fluorocarbon line.
- Recommend fly fishing tackle: Long 6-7 weight rod, WF floating line or Euro nymphing line, 3x-5x fluorocarbon tippet.
- Recommend bait/lures: Custom trout worm, Soft Stonefly Nymph, Jiggy Stone, VooDoo Marabou Jig, VooDoo Steelhead Jig.
- Recommend flies: Glo egg size 12-14, blood dot size 12-14, psycho prince size 12-14, San Juan Worm size 10, sucker spawn size 12-14, wired stonefly nymph size 10-14
- Nearby hotels: Four Creeks Bed & Breakfast, Maple Motel, SpringHill Squites by Marriot Erie.