A diamond in the rough, that’s how a fellow fly fisherman described Deer Creek in Allegheny County. But diamond may be a bit too generous. It’s more like a cubic zirconia. It looks good and fishes well, but it’ll never make anyone’s list of top 10 fly fishing destinations.
And that’s okay. Not every stream can be a polished gem, and for what it is – a decent trout stream only a stone’s throw from Pittsburgh – Deer Creek is a great place to spend a morning.
This morning (February 26, 2021), I fished the DHALO off of Campbell Road, and I can tell you the pools are pretty much stacked with trout. Water levels are excellent, and there’s a lot of holding water that will likely shrink once water levels start to drop down to normal flow.
I talked to a guy who lives down the road and fishes the Deer Creek DHALO regularly (the same guy who called it a diamond in the rough) and he said that the stream is typically shallow and the fish tend to pile up in the pools throughout the DHALO. Deer Creek in this section, after all, is only about 30-40 feet wide, so it’s not exactly big water. But there are a lot of nice pockets and little undercuts to work over even when water levels drop.
I did well (8 trout in about 2 hours) on a Y2K. I caught 3 browns and a brook trout on a pink/white Y2K. After a while, I switched to a pink/yellow Y2K and caught 4 rainbows. It was a great way to start a February day, clear blue skies, sunshine on my face. The water temperature was 38 degrees, and fish were sluggish, so I had to fish slow and keep my flies on the bottom.
After catching 5 or 6 trout, I got into an argument with a few over-hanging branches. I hadn’t ended up in a tree once until it occurred to me that I hadn’t ended up in a tree yet. Well, that’s usually the kiss of death. For about 20 minutes, that tree and I exchanged words, and then just like that, I was back in the water and never got snagged again. It kind of reminded me of baseball when a pitcher suddenly loses his control and can’t throw strikes, so he walks the bases loaded. And then, just as quickly, the switch is flipped and he’s back in the zone and ends up striking out the side. That’s how my fly casting felt this morning.
I’ve fished Deer Creek a small handful of times over the past couple of years and have always caught trout, even the first time I was ever there in September 2019. I’d heard the stream offered good smallmouth bass fishing, and a friend and I decided to check it out. Despite not having been stocked since spring, we found trout sprinkled throughout the lower section of the stream, as well as a few smallies.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Deer Creek is not a wild trout fishery, and on normal years, trout don’t typically hold over. However, the summer of 2019 was so unseasonably cool and wet (especially wet!) that trout in many western PA streams fared really well, and we had great trout fishing all year.
If you can find a deep pool, or perhaps some good holding water where a cool spring trickles into Deer Creek, a few trout inevitably make it through the summer months. It also helps that Deer Creek is very heavily stocked, so there’s a good chance at least a few will survive. In fact, a number of years ago, my cousin pulled a huge brown trout from a large hole near the Turnpike in late summer. That same evening, he landed a 22-inch smallmouth bass from the same pool.
I’ve tried Deer Creek for bass several times with mixed results. The lower few miles of the stream are the most consistent, but in my experience, heavily-fished tributaries to larger rivers can be very inconsistent. Given the migratory nature of smallmouths, some days you can find them all over the place, and the next day you’d swear there’s not a fish around.
They definitely move in and out of Deer Creek on a regular basis. If you want to experience the best bass fishing that Deer Creek has to offer, fish it right where it enters the Allegheny River in the town of Harmar. You’ll have the opportunity to latch onto some truly lunker smallies in this section.
Deer Creek’s headwaters begin just west of Pheasant Ridge Golf Club in southern Butler County and flows south into Allegheny County. It remains a very small stream until it joins West Branch Deer Creek near Middle Road in Gibsonia, just off of SR 910. This is also the uppermost stocking point along Deer Creek, and the stream is stocked down to approximately half a mile downstream of Rich Hill Road.
Deer Creek is home to a 1.9-mile Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only section that begins at the bridge on SR 910 near the intersection of Martin Road. It’s an easy spot to miss because there’s not much access here.
The best access to the DHALO is in two locations. First, at the Narcisi Winery. Another fisherman I met on the stream said this one is hit or miss. They let you park there to fish, but they prefer that you purchase something from the winery while you’re there. I have no complaint with that, but if you fish Deer Creek on a regular basis, you might end up with a drinking problem.
The second, and best, way to access the DHALO is off of Campbell Road, which a short jog down from the winery on 910. Once you turn onto Campbell Road, you’ll go about a quarter-mile and see a pull-off on the right. If that gets crowded, you can also park on the other side of the road, but be sure to get far enough off to the side. This isn’t a well-traveled road, and it’s full of potholes and rough patches, which actually makes it a fairly safe place to park.
The downstream property line of the Rose Ridge Golf Club serves as the lower boundary of the DHALO. According to several folks who fish Deer Creek often, you used to be able to pull down into the golf course parking lot to fish, but nobody really does that anymore because the stocking truck hasn’t gone down there in a few years.
The main stocking points for the DHALO are behind the winery, the bridge near Campbell Road, and the pull-off along Campbell Road. Before Covid regulations screwed up trout stockings, they used to float stock the entire DHALO. Hopefully, they will do so again in the future. Many sections of Deer Creek flow away from the road, and there are actually some fairly secluded back stretches that would be a ton of fun to fish if the stream were float stocked.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that trout don’t end up spreading throughout the stream, especially once the water drops. Eventually they’ll get tired of being fin-to-fin with so many other trout and wander downstream and take up residence in the many pools throughout the DHALO. When that happens, Deer Creek will offer some good fishing opportunities away from the access points, too.
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