Few would associate Philadelphia with fishing. Philly is a town that wears it faults on its sleeve and keeps its assets secret. The Schuylkill and Delaware rivers come to mind for most anglers when discussing the City of Brotherly Love’s fishing scene, and locations like “Wissahickon” and “Pennypack” may draw looks of both inquiry and confusion when mentioned in your next angling conversation.
When coming off Interstate 76 onto Lincoln Drive, it’s easy to get distracted because the road is built like a Formula One racetrack. The high speeds and tight turns require serious attention when manning the wheel, so it’s easy and responsible not to take in the scenery. The drive cuts through a tract of wilderness called Wissahickon Park and travels under a tall trestle that’s built in the style of a Roman aqueduct. A stream that parallels Lincoln Drive draws little attention from highly focused commuters. The stream is named Wissahickon Creek and holds a lot of fish. Wissahickon Creek starts in Montgomery County and runs for 23 miles until merging with the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The stream forges a path through high, rocky cliffs along its banks, with trails that attract hikers, cyclists, and equestrians from all over the city and suburbs. The views from these cliffs inspired Edgar Allen Poe during his time living in Philadelphia.
In January, many Pennsylvanians mark the opening day of trout season on their calendars.
The Keystone State offers an almost endless buffet of trout waters, but the Wissahickon is rarely noted in fishing planners. However, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission heavily stocks Wissahickon with rainbow and brown trout in preparation for opening day in April. Wissahickon is patterned by riffles that lead into flat, deeper pools, then those pools lead into more riffles. Trout comfortably hold over in those waters throughout the whole season.
Opening day and the months that follow offer a tremendous amount of opportunity for anglers in search of trout.
What adds to those opportunities are the never-ending number of access points. Forbidden Drive is a 7-mile gravel path that parallels the stream for its entirety in the park and acts as a highway for foot and bicycle traffic. Parking is also available along the path. I typically park at The Valley Green Inn, though there is also plenty of parking by the Northwestern Stables on Northwestern Avenue in the city’s Chestnut Hill section. After parking, work your way along Forbidden Drive, find yourself a solitary piece of water, and make your way upstream.
Wissahickon is a great place for fly fishing, especially those who are just starting out since the stocked trout aren’t particularly picky. Keep it basic: think Zebra Midges in the 16 to 18 range and the same size Beadhead Pheasant Tails. That little bit of flash on the head can go a long way in fooling pressured trout. When casting dry flies, Adams and Elk Hair Caddis patterns in sizes 12 to 16 will produce.
The stream is shaded by overhanging trees throughout the park, so terrestrial patterns like ants and beetles may lead to success. Those same trees can make fly fishing from the bank a little difficult, but the stream is wading-friendly; just stay wary of those same deep holes I mentioned earlier. The stream has a sand/rock mix on the bottom with some larger stones to stand on, but be careful because they will be slippery, especially when algae blooms in the warmer months.
When the weather warms up, fishing pressure and the trout population tend to die off on the Wissahickon. Thankfully, it has a healthy population of smallmouth bass that are eager to snatch up a Woolly Bugger or Slumpbuster pattern. Wading the stream and chasing bass can be an excellent way to escape the city heat without the drive to the Jersey Shore.
If the smallies are being picky, switch over to some small dry flies and watch redbreast sunfish snap. Try a size 18 I.C.S.I and let your fly drift under the shaded part of a stream, then see what happens. Bring your 3-weight rod and you’ll learn to appreciate the fight in a sunfish.
There’s a lot to this stream, and the amount of water and access can keep you busy season after season. Some have spent a year along its banks, while others will spend a lifetime wading its riffles; the rest just try Pennypack.
There’s another creek in Philadelphia, but it’s far from being just the “other” creek. Pennypack Creek is an almost 23-mile-long creek that forms in Bucks County and ends by flowing into the Delaware River in the Holmesburg section of northeast Philadelphia. Early settlers in Pennsylvania saw the industrial potential of the Pennypack’s waters and built several mills along its banks. William Penn ordered the construction of a bridge at what is now Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia. It still stands today and is the oldest bridge still in use in America. Many of the Founding Fathers crossed the bridge en route to the Continental Congresses.
This historic creek has also earned its place as a hot spot in the Philadelphia angling community. The park is a short drive from Interstate 95 via the to draw a little extra attention. Green Weenies or Copper Johns in the same size work well as alternatives. When the weather warms up, you can trade that indicator in for a large Caddis fly or Hopper pattern; working a dry dropper rig on a summer day can create some fantastic memories.
Bass are plentiful in Pennypack. The slow water is a great place to cast popper or frog patterns, or maybe try fishing a flashy bead head Woolly Bugger on a slow retrieve. If you want to feel your rod bend, go on the hunt for rock bass and redbreast sunfish. In the early evening, sunfish seem eager to eat a Hi-Vis Parachute Adams in size 18.
You’ll find that fishing in Pennypack has a fair amount of mystery. It’s not uncommon to go fishing for trout only to have a fun morning catching hungry sunnies. There’s also the possibility that you may leave with a few less flies than you came with, but you will never leave without a story when you fish the Pennypack.
There are a lot of stories and memories connected to these creeks. Their histories are woven into the story of Philadelphia. The Wissahickon and Pennypack have borne witness to some of the most influential moments in American history. They have also been gateways to many anglers’ journeys. How many tuna trips have unknowingly started after catching a bluegill on a worm on the Wissahickon decades earlier? How many “first fish” are swimming around in the Pennypack as you read this? I’ll go as far as to say that urban streams like the Pennypack and Wissahickon are the most influential for the future of fishing. That statement is only further proven when I wade through these streams and hear a small voice scream, “I got one!” from the bank.