Story and Photos by Justin Leidy
The Laurel Highlands provide a much-needed reprieve from the urbanization of the greater Pittsburgh area. This region includes the highest point in Pennsylvania as well as ruggedness, isolation and remarkable beauty, including Ohiopyle State Park. Ohiopyle is one of our most-visited state parks, attracting people from all over western PA and beyond. The area also offers some exceptional trout fishing opportunities, including Laurel Hill Creek, Loyalhanna Creek, and the Youghiogheny River. Earlier this spring, I joined my friend Bill on another popular stream in this area, Meadow Run, and I was not disappointed.
Meadow Run is a 14-mile tributary of the Youghiogheny River in Fayette County. Meadow Run rises just northeast of Washington Springs, PA, flowing in an easterly direction to join “the Yough” at Ohiopyle. The headwaters are impounded in Deer Lake on Route 40 or National Pike, and the stream is stocked with trout by the PA Fish & Boat Commission.
Pulling into the gravel Meadow Run trailhead parking lot, I observed around ten cars, immediately thinking that we’d be battling amusement park-type crowds all day. However, Bill assured me that many, if not most, cars were filled with hikers and not fly fishermen. After donning our waders and boots, stringing up our fishing rods and checking out the Flybrary, we picked up the trail, muddy and saturated, that parallels Meadow Run through the upper portion of the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO) stretch.
Meadow Run is a Keystone Select stream and receives stocking of larger-than-average trout every spring.
I could see the floodplain of the creek below covered in woody debris and dotted in vernal pools. I imagined American toads, wood frogs and tiger salamanders mating and laying strings of gelatinous eggs in these pools soon. The machine-gun hammering of a pileated woodpecker searching for insects and larvae echoed through branches showing early indications of spring-time leaf-out. Rays of April sunshine danced across the forest floor where they penetrated the dense canopy. My friend and I hiked downstream to just above the cascades, and ducking under low hemlock bows, their menacing limbs snatching our nets, fly rods and fishing packs, stepped into the stream that provided me my first close look at Meadow Run.
What I was looking at was a contact nympher’s dream! Immediately in front of me was pocket water created by several large boulders jutting from the stream bed. These boulders created several nice seams and pockets that looked quite fishy. We crossed the stream here to walk just downstream to fish the run just above the cascades.
Concealed just inside the dense foliage of stream-side brush, hemlock branches and deep green rhododendron leaves breaking up my silhouette, I spied a great blue heron in the stream margin on the far bank. Standing motionless, crest feathers wavering in the breeze, the great bird’s unblinking and cold staring eye kept watch. Stepping from my confines and into the water, I watched the bird crouch down on his stilt legs, spread his great wings, and take flight upstream. I suppose that salty bird was less than thrilled with my fishing etiquette as I crowded him and his fishing. Because of his fierce attitude and appearance, I also imagined that if that bird was six feet tall and 225 pounds, I likely would not be here telling this story.
Watching the heron sail out of sight, my attention turned back to the task at hand. Fishing.
Here, above the cascades, the stream bottom was constructed of huge slabs of unweathered, exposed bedrock. Between these slabs were deeper seams and channels of gravel and cobble. Within moments, guiding the pink egg pattern through the seams in the bedrock, I hooked a feisty 12-inch rainbow. Then another, then another, and another. The hookups kept coming! I decided, at this moment, that Meadow Run was for me!
Meadow Run can get pretty skinny in the summer, but the overhead canopy keeps the water fairly cool.
Meadow Run is a medium-sized creek by Pennsylvania standards, ranging 25-30 feet wide. From the mouth of the creek upstream to the bridge on Dinner Bell Road is designated Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO). Above this point, Meadow Run is a stocked put-and-take fishery.
The headwaters of this stream originate at the outflow of a pond named Deer Lake near Chalk Hill on Route 40 or National Pike. The best access to the put-and-take water on Meadow Run can be found on Dinner Bell Road near Laurel Highlands River Tours. At this business, a partially paved lane named Meadow Run Road parallels the stream providing convenient access. The Meadow Run Community Church is a good point of reference within the put-and-take water, too.
The top boundary of the DHALO is the bridge that crosses the stream on Dinner Bell Road. The bottom boundary of the DHALO section is the mouth of Meadow Run where it joins the Youghiogheny River in the heart of Ohiopyle State Park. Along the roadway, just upstream from the mouth, is a unique feature named “The Natural Waterslides.” Here, the stream drastically narrows and steepens, flowing over a harder bedrock chute created from millions of years of weathering. The feature is popular with photographers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts alike who enjoy the thrill of sliding down the chute on their rear ends, a proposal that is seemingly not very pleasant.
However, my experience has taught me that the best access to the popular DHALO is by parking at the Meadow Run trailhead parking lot and hiking in from here.
The stream takes on several different characteristics along its course. However, one positive quality throughout is its dense canopy of trees and overhanging brush and understory. I imagine this feature provides Meadow Run with plenty of shade and keeps the water cool well into the summer months.
The DHALO itself can be broken into two principal sections, i.e., the below-the-cascades water and the above-the-cascades water. A popular hiking destination, the cascades divide the DHALO on Meadow Run in half. The “Cascades,” as they are formally referred to by the online Ohiopyle hiking trail guide, are formed by a long, tiered cascading waterfall that is both impressive and beautiful. From the mouth of Meadow Run to the bottom of the cascades, the stream is steeper in gradient with deeper pools, runs, and eddies. The stream is heavily stocked with 10-14-inch rainbow and brown trout. As a Keystone Select stream, there are also big bruisers to be found in this section, too!
Above the cascades, Meadow Run flattens out and the stream takes on a different look and characteristic. Here, the angler will find a combination of riffles and pocket water with occasional deeper runs and pools. There is excellent holding water along undercut banks and midstream boulders and logs. Anglers who love picking apart riffles and pocket water will be awarded with trout in this stretch of Meadow Run. Additionally, the PFBC really loads up Meadow with bruiser Keystone Select fish! During my two outings fishing the above-the-cascades water, I landed ten trout that measured 15- 18 inches and missed several more.
As far as the fishing goes, Meadow fishes like most stocked streams. This is not a match-the-hatch scenario casting over selective and cagey wild fish. Most attractor nymphs will entice plenty of hookups provided that the angler presents the flies well. During dry periods, Meadow can become remarkably low and clear, which makes the approach challenging.
Meadow can also become high and swift to the point of raging easily, too. After all, Meadow Run is a true freestone creek flowing through a steep-sided mountain valley and is susceptible to heavy runoff.
If you’re traveling through the Laurel Highlands, a stop at Meadow Run will not disappoint even the most experienced fly angler. It may not have an abundance of wild trout or blizzard hatches, but Meadow Run is a remarkably beautiful stream with large numbers of stocked fish just a short drive from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.
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