Fisherman’s Paradise – An Historic Reach of Spring Creek
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Robert F. Carline, Rebecca L. Dunlap, Jason E. Detar, and Bruce A. Hollender
In late 1932, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission purchased for $12,000 about 90 acres of land along Spring Creek 2.5 miles south of Bellefonte Borough (Manchester 1994). The tract, which included 1.12 miles of Spring Creek and a large spring, was labeled the Spring Creek Project with the dual purpose of fish cultural activities and demonstration of techniques to
improve fish habitat. Owing to the exceptional fishing, the project later became known as Fisherman’s Paradise. C. A. French, Commissioner of Fisheries, noted that “During 1932 and 1933, a wave of enthusiasm for stream restoration work swept through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and sportsmen “were clamoring for advice on methods of construction” (French 1938). In 1934, the Commission installed 46 structures that included dams, deflectors, and log covers.
To induce visitation to the project, a controlled fishing program was developed, and a 300-yard-long channel with habitat structures was constructed parallel to the main channel and was restricted to female anglers. The stream was heavily stocked with large trout, and anglers were subjected to a novel set of regulations. Anglers were required to register at a check-in station and were given an identification button. At the end of the day, anglers checked out and reported their catch. The 1938 season ran from May 10 to July 9; fishing was permitted daily from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, except on Sunday. Only artificial flies with barbless hooks were permitted; use of weights was not permitted, although in later years this restriction was changed to allow a maximum weight equivalent to two BB size shot. The minimum length limit was 10 inches on the main stem and 7 inches on the ladies’ section. Anglers could catch 10 trout, but only two could be harvested (later reduced to one/day). Anglers were limited to five visits per year. To assist anglers, the Commission employed an instructor in casting and fly tying. George Harvey, a legendary fly fisherman from State College, was one of these instructors.
This innovative program proved to be rather successful judging from the number of anglers who fished there. The number of anglers increased from nearly 3,000 in 1934 to more than 20,000 in 1941 (Table 1). The sharp decline in anglers in 1943 was attributed to World War II, but by 1946, visitation increased to nearly 22,000 and doubled to 44,000 by 1952. By today’s standards, this angler use represents an enormous level of fishing pressure. Interestingly, catches were not high; they ranged from 0.8 to 2.6 trout/angler trip and averaged 1.4. This low catch rate may have been due to the exceptionally high angling pressure. If trip lengths averaged three
hours, catch rates were less than 0.5 trout/hour, a modest catch rate for a specially regulated fishery.
Perhaps the size of the trout fueled angler interest. Mean weight of harvested trout increased over the period of record and reached a substantial size of 2 pounds in 1952. To sustain a high trout density, project managers were feeding the fish, which would have helped to maintain weight of stocked fish and possibly bolstered their growth.
During the 1961 fishing season, Fisherman’s Paradise was closed to angling because of poor water quality, presumably owing to inadequately treated wastewater from State Correctional Institution at Rockview’s wastewater treatment plant. Poor water quality and the high cost of operating the project were cited as reasons for changing management of this historic reach of stream (Trembley 1963). In April 1962, the project was converted to a ‘fish-for-fun’ section, which entailed fly fishing only with barbless hooks, no harvest, and year-round angling. These regulations remain in effect today, and the fishery is sustained entirely by natural
Since 1962 this project has increased in reputation and popularity across the nation. There are often many out-of-state licenses on the cars parked there. As the retired Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission John Arway said “Fisherman’s Paradise is the golden jewel of fly fishing in Pennsylvania”. There have been a number of stream
restoration projects in recent years including additional native plantings, improving and revitalizing various trout habitat structures, and reorienting the parking lots to divert rainwater away from the stream so that the water can be infiltrated.
Fisherman’s Paradise has become one of the best, if not THE BEST, fly fishing areas in the U.S. for handicapped anglers. Streamside vegetation has been managed to maintain a natural setting while allowing handicapped anglers easy access to the stream with plenty of room to cast. This no-wade section of stream allows anglers to fish from the bank without competition from wading anglers. In 2010, Fisherman’s Paradise was designated as the primary home of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s Veteran Service Partnership.
This partnership provides veterans and their families an opportunity to learn fly fishing and to fish with other veterans on a regular basis. This innovative program has received accolades from around the
This article was largely reproduced from a publication by Carline, et al. (2011). At that time, Carline was retired from the U.S. Geological Survey; Dunlap was with the ClearWater Conservancy; Detar and Hollender were with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Robert Vierck contributed some of the text and photos.
Carline, R. F., R. L. Dunlap, J. E. Detar, and B. A. Hollender. 2011. The fishery of Spring Creek – a watershed under siege. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Technical
Report Number 1, Harrisburg, PA.
French, C. A. 1938. Pennsylvania's Spring Creek project. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 68:359-363.
Manchester, H. 1994. Roots: Centre County, Part IX. Fishermen’s Paradise or Fisherman’s Paradise. State College Magazine, November 1994, p. 26-29.
Trembley, G. L. 1963. Paradise --- lost or regained? Pennsylvania Angler 32(4):6-8.
List of Photos
Photo 1. One of the goals of the Spring Creek Project was to demonstrate fish habitat improvement structures. PFBC archives
Photo 2. George Harvey, shown here with Joe Humphreys on the left, was a fly fishing instructor at Fisherman’s Paradise. Photo: R. Vierck
Photo 3. Fisherman’s Paradise was famous for its large trout and heavy fishing pressure. PFBC archives.
Photo 4. A veteran is receiving instructions as part of Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s Veteran Service Partnership. Photo: R. Vierck