A fishery where trout are commonly 15 inches to 20 inches in length, where fishing is allowed year-around, where access is unlimited if you have a small boat or a canoe; how possible could this also be largely underappreciated
Well, you place this spectacular trout fishery in an area that has had some sort of peak fishing for one species or another almost constantly for the past five decades, in a county where there are 25 well-stocked trout waters, and countless wild brook trout streams. And in a county that is just over an hour drive from what many call the best steelhead fishery on Earth, here it is just one of several outstanding fisheries.
Fingerling trout are stocked into the special regulations section of the river, from the Kinzua Dam downstream to the mouth of Conewango Creek. This is a major reason it is not fished more heavily, anglers are more inclined to fish waters which are stocked with adult trout. Many read stocking schedules in order to fish where trout have most recently been stocked.
Stringing minnows is probably the most effective method of fishing for trout in the Allegheny River. Since the hook can be set immediately when a trout takes the bait, fish are usually hooked in the lips so they can be released unharmed
Both brown trout fingerlings and rainbow trout fingerlings are stocked into the Allegheny River. The management plan calls for equal numbers of these two species, but because surplus trout also are stocked, the proportion of rainbows stocked is considerably higher most years. Surplus rainbow trout fingerlings tend to be available in greater numbers than surplus brown trout fingerlings.
The reputation of this fishery was built by brown trout. Brown trout are specifically targeted by many anglers, notably big brown trout. Rainbow trout have become more abundant, though. The catch reflects this, and actually might mislead anglers into believing the proportion of rainbow trout is greater than it actually is because catching rainbow trout is less challenging than catching brown trout.
A second and perhaps even more significant reason anglers shy away from the Allegheny River trout fishery is that this is a put-grow-and take trout fishery, as opposed to the 866 put-and-take fisheries in the state. What this means is that instead of trout that have just come from a hatchery raceway, anglers fish for wild trout, trout which have lived in wild habitat for a year, and longer. The difference is striking. Allegheny River trout fishing is challenging.
It is tempting to blame the special regulations for the relative lack of fishing pressure. However, since other special regulations areas have proven to be very popular this reason disappears.
Most notable of the special regulations are the minimum size of 14 inches for keeping trout, and trout may be kept only from the opening day of the regular trout season through Labor Day. Anglers being required to release the biggest trout they have ever caught is a frequently heard complaint.
Float-fishing is probably the most enjoyable, and most effective, way to fish for trout in the river. This allows anglers to reach every bit of water between the boat launch at the Big Bend Recreation Area to Warren. Boats can be taken out of the water at public boat ramps adjacent to Warren General Hospital, Betts Park, and Starbrick.
Either canoes or jon boats are suitable for float-fishing this section of the Allegheny River. Jet-powered jon boats have become popular since they allow anglers to boat upstream through the shallow riffles, however the price tags on these craft can be scary.
Wading is the most common approach to trout fishing in the river. This limits anglers to places where they can get to the river bank. While there is considerable land along Route 59 where anglers may get to the river, it is impractical nearly everywhere other than at the Big Bend Recreation area, the opposite side of the river from Hemlock Road, and upstream from the Glade Bridge. Elsewhere wherever you could get to the river without going through obvious private property, the hillside is so steep that it discourages all but the most enthusiastic, and physically fit, anglers.
By far, the most popular area for wading to fish for trout in the river is around Dixon Island, the first large island below the Kinzua Dam. Fishing is excellent there no matter how many anglers fish it.
Fly-fishing the river has gained popularity so rapidly that it may be the most common tactic seen around Dixon Island. Tremendous insect hatches on summer evenings drive fly-fishers wild. But catching trout on the surface is not often done in the Allegheny. Better, fish emergers just under the surface film.
Fly-fishers targeting big brown trout often use streamers. No one pattern has emerged as a favorite among numerous anglers. Patterns which imitate the emerald shiner are effective, probably because this minnow species often is swept through the gates of the dam.
Among the more effective patterns suggested by local experts are Picket Pin, Wooly Bugger, and just recently, the Joe Fly. For those anglers who have used a Joe Fly which is a combination spinner, fly, this is not the same thing. The late, great Little Bill Jeffers recommended the Elk Hair Caddis, which he suggested fishing under the surface film.
Spin-fishers have good results using jigs, spoons, and stick baits, the latter being probably most popular, specifically the Rapala Minnow. During summer use natural colors, In cold water, try louder colors including fire tiger and color patterns which include bright red or orange.
One good trick when using stick baits is retrieving them perpendicular to the current, which gives trout the best view if the lures.
However, if you really want to catch big trout from the Allegheny River, the best method is stringing minnows. This method has been popular since the 1960s.
Tie a loop at the end of the line. Use a bait needle to string the line into the mouth of a minnow, then out the vent. Attach a treble hook to the loop, then pull the line taut while inserting one point of the treble hook into the minnow behind the ventral fin.
A tip from Herb Wagner, rather than tying a loop at the end of the line, which has been the traditional method, tie on a snap that has no protruding parts, so it will slip through the minnow without catching on anything. Attaching the hook is easier, and it does not drag internal parts through the minnow as much as the knot of a loop.
The minnow will spin while it is retrieved, which is the desired action. Adding a ball bearing swivel to the line about 20 inches above the end will reduce serious line twist. Place a split shot just above the swivel. This rig should not be retrieved fast, so do not use too much weight. In cold water the bait should run close to bottom, but run it just a foot, or so, under the surface when the water temperature is at least 50 degrees.
Have a great time trout fishing on the river this year.