I recently had a chance to fish some special regulation waters in Western Pennsylvania with a bit of success. While most of the “approved trout waters” in the state are closed in March and the first part of April, the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO) sections offer good opportunities for catch-and-release trout fishing.
Anglers fishing DHALO’s are limited to “artificial lures only constructed of metal, plastic, rubber or wood, or with flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials,” according to the people that make the rules. “All such lures may be used with spinning or fly fishing gear.”
Most of these sections are stocked sometime in March, either at the same time as or earlier than the stockings in other sections of the stream that remain closed until the opening day of trout season. Most also have at least some number of holdover fish from previous stockings, and some are even home to wild and native trout.
While they vary widely in water and habitat quality, it’s usually not too tough to get into at least a few fish at any of these special regulation areas.
Here’s a description of the places I fished and how I did.
Indian Creek is a nice freestone stream originating in the Laurel Highlands and emptying into the Youghiogheny River.
The stream starts out pretty small before picking up steam. It has a slow, steady flow, with deep holes punctuated by riffles and runs.
In its upper reaches the substrate is a mix of clean stone and gravel. As it gets closer to the river, siltation becomes obvious.
The DHALO section of the stream starts at a small bridge at the edge of the Rolling Rock Club, a playground for people with money founded by the Mellon banking family that is home to prime trout waters inaccessible to the public.
The waters here and low and narrow. Better to park at the tail end of the special regulation waters where the stream flows under route 381 in the small town of Jones Mills and fish your way up. I did exactly that on two separate visits. Most of the special regulations area is inside of Forbes State Forrest, so there’s no worry about walking on the “wrong ground.”
The wooded areas on both sides are the stream are fairly easy to walk, which means it isn’t much work moving from one area to the next. As you would guess, these stream is less pressured the farther you move from the road and main parking area. But any fantasies of an Alaskan wilderness fly-in will be smash by the presence of visible wader boot prints throughout the special regulations section.
On my first outing in mid-March the ambient temperature was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice hung from thorn bushes on the stream bank. As far as I could tell, I was the only person on the water until a few young guys showed up later in the day complaining of a lack of fish. I started in the early afternoon and fished with a fly rod for about four hours, helped along nicely by the discovery of a leak in the right foot of my neoprene waders. A combination of numbness and excitement left me oblivious to that ice cold water soaking into my socks until the session drew to a close however, as I caught fish after fish. Holding in pods under leafless overhanging bushes and next to large rocks, a combination of stocked and holdover trout were eager to bite. Using a fly rod and a combination of woolly buggers, woolly worms, San Juan worms and a prince nymph, I caught just short of a dozen brook and brown trout before being forced out of the water by the impending darkness. Most of the fish were of standard (7 – 11 inch) size, but a few were quite nice. The majority of the fish were nicely colored, though some suffered obvious signs of hatchery stress, from blunted fins to missing gill covers and even flesh.
On my second visit, I started with a fly rod but quickly switched over to a spinning rod rigged with micro-jigs. Using hackle jigs in various colors and sizes, I caught eleven fish in a matter of four hours. With the temperature still cold enough to keep pockets of snow on the ground, the fish were lethargic but not inactive. The proper dead drift led to hook up after hook up, resulting in a true Pennsylvania trout ground slam (brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout and tiger trout – one more than the “grand slam” I wrote about here).
The rainbow either swam up from the “approved trout waters” below, or washed down from Rolling Rock Club above since the fish commission only stocks brown and brook trout in the DHALO area. It’s anyone’s guess where the tiger came from. The fish commission gave up on them a few years ago. I know that they are stocked in the Rolling Rock Club as I’ve caught several that washed down in Loyalhanna Creek before.
The big fish of the day were an 18 inch brook trout and an 18 inch brown.
All-in-all, Indian Creek is a decent stream with cold water and nice habitat. Trout reproduction has been documented in the stream itself, and it’s fed by plenty of other streams where trout spawn too, including the Class A brook trout stream Camp Run that flows into it midway through the DHALO section.
Note that there are beaver dams in the middle of the special regulation section that have created some very deep, slow pools that are not easy to fish.
West Pike Run
West Pike Run is a badly degraded freestone stream in Washington County. Even the freestone label seems a bit off since runoff has covered the majority of the stream’s substrate with untold inches of silt. When you do come across some stones, they are usually immersed in thick brown sludge. But don’t let any of this stop you. The DHALO section of the stream just outside of Daisytown actually sees more fishing pressure than you might imagine.
After all, who doesn’t love pursuing stocked trout in visibly polluted waters? And if you like things such as discarded tires, lost basketballs and shredded plastic sheeting on the stream bed, you’ll love the sewage treatment plant a few hundred yards upstream of the special regulations area.
The truth is that West Pike Run is one of the only streams holding trout in the general area that is open in March, and that’s why people – including me – fish it. The banks of the stream are plastered with weathered “Posted: No Trespassing” signs, but they are completely ignored. Who knows who put them up, but in any event they’re no impediment to the many people who fish or drive off road vehicles here.
The special regulations area is mainly made up of a serious of deep pools and slow runs. Fish tend to stack up in the deeper waters, with a few stragglers found in other areas. More suited to suckers and freshwater drum than trout, this section of the stream still manages to hold trout through most of the year.
I fished the DHALO section twice while in the area. The first time out I used a fly rod and caught two rainbows on woolly worms in just over an hour. The second time, I returned with a spinning rod and caught two rainbows on hand-tied micro-jigs dead drifted under a float. Both times the water was high and a bit off color due to rain. There were certainly more fish in the stream than I caught. I could see a few holding and I had several follows.
As is always the case here, some folks fishing before me did a pretty good job of littering the banks with an assortment of fishing product packaging, beer cans and the occasional foam plastic worm container. While I know that live bait is clearly forbidden, the presence of a few Berkley trout worm packages once again had me considering the question: “Can you use trout worms in Pennsylvania’s DHALO areas?” I actually asked a Fish Commission officer who had stopped to check a few people fishing but he didn’t have any definitive answers.
Neshannock Creek is a freestone stream in the northwestern part of the state. The DHALO section begins at an old mill dam in the small town of Volant and stretches almost 3 miles downstream to a covered bridge.
These waters are stocked pretty heavily with rainbow and brown trout by the fish commission and a number of other groups. Fishing pressure can be pretty heavy too, especially early in the season. I stopped on a warm Saturday in early-March and joined a few dozen other people on the water.
When I was much younger I thought the Neshannock was a spectacular piece of water. For whatever reason, I no longer feel the same way after my last two visits. It’s a pretty average stream with no special features to speak of outside of the heavy stocking. And while it does have quite a few holdover fish, it’s far from desirable trout habitat. Most of the bottom is pretty heavily silted and water temperatures in the summer can get sky high. I would probably only fish the Neshannock again if I was already in the area. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible place to wet a line. I just wouldn’t make a special trip to fish it.
On the morning I visited, the air was cold enough to freeze the laces on my wading boots. I started with a fly rod near the dam, fishing in a corner shaded by overhanging trees. I managed to catch a rainbow and a brown trout in about 30 minutes. The brown came on a size 12 beadhead woolly bugger when fished with a “strip-and-pause” retrieve. The rainbow took a 1/100 ounce hand-tied micro-jig dead drifted under a strike indicator. I had two more hook ups in the riffles just below the dam, but lost both fish.
As the sun started to warm things up, I switched to a spinning rod rigged with one of my micro-jigs and headed downstream. With most of the decent water already occupied, I ended up doing more walking than anything. My favorite had to be the guy fishing while his dog splashed around in the water below – who isn’t enamored by that? Finally, I stopped to cast out by a large boulder in the middle of the stream in a spot that I knew to hold fish in the past. The first few casts led to naught, but on the fourth drift my float submerged with force. As soon as I set the hook I knew I was into a nice fish. After a bit of a fight, I brought a 20 inch rainbow to shore. I took a few pictures and set it free, watching as it disappeared back into its original holding area.
I fished a few minutes more before deciding to move on.
Loyalhanna Creek is yet another freestone creek, though it is of a much higher quality than West Pike Run or Neshannock. Originating in the same private playground for the rich as Indian Creek, the Loyalhanna runs cold and clear in its upper sections, allowing for the reproduction of trout and the holdover of stocked fish that make it through each season. A number of small tributaries with natural trout reproduction combine with a decent stocking program and enough native bass to make the stream a good fishery.
In its lower reaches, the Loyalhanna grows in width and strength but starts to lose water quality. Below the dam in Kingston, the waters are generally too warm and polluted to hold trout throughout the year.
The DHALO section of the stream in Ligonier is situated right in the middle of the prime water, made up of a number of deep pools and swift runs. Natural features are joined by a few man made improvements to increase the amount of fishy water. At the lower end of the special regulations area siltation becomes more of an issue, but it’s still a pretty good place to fish.
On my one visit to the Loyalhanna I used both my fly and spinning rods. Despite coming right after a stocking, the fishing was a bit tough. I say a bit because I still caught fish. On a warm afternoon at the end of March, I managed to catch four fish in about three hours. I spent the entire time fishing a small section below the confluence with Mill Creek.
Three fish came on the same kinds of hackle jigs I fished with success in Indian Creek. The last came on a small white and pink rubber micro-jig originally intended for ice fishing. All were fished on a dead drift under a float.
A stonefly hatch was on for most of my time on the water. It really heated up as dusk approached, even prompting a good amount of rises from trout in a slow, deep pool above where I fished. I even tried some dry fly fishing, bringing on one strike that I missed completely.
Two guys fly fishing with nymphs above me caught a fish a piece during my time on the water.
The Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only sections mentioned here along with plenty of others will continue to fish well through most of the year. And they will continue to hold fish, while some of the other put-and-take areas will be nearly cleaned out. If you have a chance to fish a DHALO it’s certainly worth a try.
Consult this interactive map on the PA Fish and Boat Commission website for the locations of these and other DHALO sections.