The Little Juniata River is a 35 mile tributary of the Juniata River that begins near Altoona in Central PA.
The “Little J” is a remarkable trout river and one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with fly fishing. By chance I fished the “Little J” for the first time on May 20 many years ago. At this point in my life I had never witnessed a good hatch, nor did I know how or when one would occur.
What I saw that evening was a spectacle that has yet to be matched. There were more bugs on the water and in the air above than I could have ever imagined. This sight alone would have made it an experience never to forget; add in the fact that seemingly every inch of water was boiling with rising trout made it an event that hooked me on fly fishing for life.
What I now know is that the “Little J” is home to some of the most intense compound hatches found anywhere. In addition to the terrific insect population is an abundance of Wild Brown Trout. The “Little J” is supported by a fingerling stocking program and you will undoubtably hook several smaller trout in the 6″ to 9″ range but there are a great deal of fat Wild Browns to be had as well.
I generally look at the Little Juniata as three separate sections. The first section parallels Route 453 as you travel from Tyrone towards Water Street. Many locals claim this stretch gets heavy pressure from bait fisherman but I have had a lot of success there and continue to visit this stretch. The biggest downfall of this stretch in my opinion is that it is not very peaceful. Route 453 is also called Route 45 truck route and it has very heavy traffic.
Most of the access points require you to pull off the highway onto small homemade pulloffs and sometimes cross the road. Extreme caution should be used as these trucks slow down for nothing. On the other side of the river are the train tracks that also are heavily used. Wading in this area varys from easy to extremely difficult. There is a section after the Grier School that becomes very narrow and fast with steep boulder lined rocks.
It is nearly impossible to cross this stretch for some distance when levels are high. Apart from that the rest of this section can usually be negotiated fairly easily with slow careful movements. There are a great deal of Trout and Smallmouth Bass in this section but the largest I have landed is probably in the 12″-13″ range.
The next section runs through the town of Spruce Creek and contains a lot of long pools with a decent amount of riffles. Wading is easy to moderate in this section with the occasional deep spot. On all of my visits to the “Little J” this stretch seems to attract the most fly fisherman but it has never been close to being too crowded.
There are a decent amout of access points to the river from the backroads of Spruce Creek with the exception of private property downriver of the S.R. 45 bridge in Spruce Creek. The river is considered to be public waters but the river banks are not. This would be an excellent stretch to float with a kayak down to the Rothrock State Forest section.
The third section of the Little Juniata in large part runs through Rothrock State Forest at the backside of the town of Baree. There is a parking lot at the end of Mountain Road and a path that provides excellent access to a large stretch of the river.
All of the Little Juniata is great for fly fishing but I like this stretch for its tranquility and peaceful forest setting. Wading can be difficult in many locations on this stretch. There is a very good ratio of runs and pools here and with it’s depth it can be the best choice when Summer water temperatures begin to rise.
The Little Juniata is a tremendous fishery and should be near the top of your fly fishing to do list. A very large portion of the “Little J” has PFBC special regulations to ensure Wild Trout preservations. Click here to be taken to The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commisions explanation.
As discussed previously the hatches on the Little Juniata are great! The big problem is trying to figure out what to use and when to use it. The trout here seem can afford to pick and choose. I will often go through ten different fly before I find one that works only to have it refused a half hour later. Be sure to check out the Central PA Fly Fishing Hatch Chart!
Current Stream Conditions
The “Little J” is a river and can muddy quickly with heavy rains. The upper limits of what I believe to be fishable are a flow rate of 430 and a height of around 2.9 feet. Conditions will be difficult at these levels both for wading and because of water color. I typically will wait a day or two after a period of heavy rain even if levels are at an acceptable level. I have fished the Little Juniata in dry Summers and it almost seems like a completely different river. In these conditions I keep to deep sections with a lot of riffles. Click on Stream Conditions to check the current levels. You can also call the USGS hotline 24 hours a day: 1-888-881-7555.
Local Fly Shops
Spruce Creek Outfitters is located on the “J” in the town of Spruce Creek. TCO is located in State College.