The Little Juniata River is arguably the best wild trout stream in Pennsylvania, with some 3,000 catchable-size trout per mile. So pack up your fly rod and reel and head east from Pittsburgh for the catch. Before you do, purchase a fishing license as a way to thank a previous generation of anglers for the opportunity.
Like so many rivers in the East, the history of the Little J is that of environmental destruction and then recovery. The first people to fish it were the Onojutta-Haga, which is where the name Juniata comes from. When European settlers and industry arrived, the Little J was turned into a literal sewer. With the addition of tanneries and a paper mill, the river became heavily polluted. But with the 1972 Clean Water Act and then with local advocacy by the Little Juniata River Association, the river’s health has come back and so have the brown trout.
The river is fed in part by limestone springs, creating the cool temperatures and pH that are perfect for a thriving insect and trout population. Most come here to fish for the stream-born browns. You can fly fish the Little J year-round, but avoid November so you don’t negatively impact the spawn. There is usually something hatching in every season, though spring (mid-April in particular) brings the caddis fly hatch followed by sulphur mayflies in May and June. Brown trout are wild but not native to the Little J (or North America, for that matter) but large tributaries of the Little J have populations of native brook trout. If you aren’t an experienced angler, there are local outfitters who will guide you.