I’d wager that the First Fork Valley in northcentral Pennsylvania is one of the most beautiful parts of the state. That is, after all, one of the reasons my wife and I decided to move here, so we could enjoy the mountains and this valley that always seems to take my breath away. Within the First Fork Valley, though, and located within the boundaries of Sinnemahoning State Park, is George B. Stevenson Dam. If you’re looking for breathtaking scenery and good fishing, this little gem is a worthwhile destination.
Originally known as First Fork Dam, George B. Stevenson Dam was later renamed in honor of the Clinton County Senator who promoted its construction. Completed in 1956, the dam created a 145-acre lake with excellent fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, chain pickeral, and various species of panfish. The reservoir is also stocked with trout three times per year, twice in spring and once in fall, by the PA Fish and Boat Commission.
The reservoir has a long and narrow configuration, but it’s not a deep lake. The main channel toward the dam ranges 20-24 feet deep, but most of it is 5 to 8 feet deep. A boat launch can be accessed via Park Road off of Route 872. The lake is restricted to electric motors and non-powered boats only.
The reservoir’s primary purpose, of course, is flood control. It services a drainage area of 243 square miles. The main stem feeding the reservoir is First Fork Sinnemahoning, a high quality stream with lots of mayfly hatches and wild trout. With a stream like that serving as its main artery, it’s no wonder that fishing in the reservoir can be quite good.
Excellent fishing can be had from shore or boat. Over the years, the DCNR has done a fantastic job of installing dozens of fish habitat structures within casting range of shore. One of my go-to spots can be reached by parking at the boat launch area and working down toward the dam on the west side of the lake. There’s a high concentration of structure along this shoreline and I always do well on bass and other panfish.
George B. Stevenson Dam is a popular trout fishing destination, too. First day of trout, it’s common to see dozens of boats scattered all over this little lake. Personally, it’s not my favorite destination for early season trout because water temperatures are usually still extremely cold come opening day. It can make the trout sluggish, and success can be hit or miss. It seems like the first week or so of trout I either do really well or catch hardly any.
If you’ve ever visited northcentral Pennsylvania in winter, then you know that it can get cold. Really cold. Winter seems to set in a little earlier here and hang on a little longer than in most other parts of the state. Also, George B. Stevenson Dam is nestled between the high wooded ridges of the Elk State Forest and Susquehannock State Forest, and during the winter months, the valleys don’t often get the full effects of the sun until later in the day. This is good news if you enjoy ice fishing. Based on my own experiences, George B. Stevenson Dam is typically one of the first larger bodies of water to freeze enough to promote safe ice fishing.
When conditions are right, ice fishing can be done anywhere on the lake except within 50 feet of the trash boom by the dam. This is the deepest part of the reservoir, around 27 feet deep, and where the ice is likely to be thinnest.
Park Road parallels a portion of the lake and can be accessed via Route 872. The first entrance as you head north on Route 872, just after you pass the lookout by the dam breast, will take you down to the only boat launch on the lake.
Continue along Park Road and you’ll soon enter a section of Sinnemahoning State Park known as 40 Maples Day Use Area. This stretch of park is named after Chauncey Logue, a long-ago conservation officer who lived in the First Fork Valley, and who planted all of the beautiful maple trees visible in the area – although he actually planted 48 of them! Here you’ll also find picnic tables, a basketball half court, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball net. Or you can just relax and watch for wildlife.
First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek is stocked heavily with trout all along this section in the spring. By mid-June, the water warms up and trout can get scarce, but by then the smallmouth bass fishing gets really good. I’ve even caught a few chain pickerel in this stretch of stream.
George B. Stevenson Dam is a great family destination. Near the overlook by the dam breast, which is located along Route 872, there’s a big parking area with a short hiking trail that’s easy to traverse. It’s a good place to stop and let the kids burn off some energy after a long car ride.
At the northern end of Park Road is a state-of-the-art wildlife center with educational exhibits featuring local wildlife, environment, and history. There are several unique hands-on exhibits, such as a bear cave and bobcat den, where kids can actually climb inside and experience what these hideouts are like.
The DCNR and park staff host a variety of events year-round, including free pontoon boat tours of the lake, woodcock walks in the spring, bird watching, blacksmithing demos, and more. For a full list of upcoming events, visit their website, www.dcnr.pa.gov, and search Sinnemahoning State Park. Whether you come to fish, paddle around the lake, or look for bald eagles, this area truly has something for the whole family.
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