Float and Fish on the Youghiogheny River Water Trail

The Youghiogheny is a special river that’s a wonderland for outdoor explorers.

At 137 miles long, it emerges from the rough Appalachian rock in West Virginia and flows north through western Maryland before making its way up through southwestern Pennsylvania. Due to this northerly course, the Lenape people knew it as “a stream flowing in a contrary direction.” And while the Youghiogheny (aka the Yough, pronounced “yock”) offers paddling, hiking, climbing and biking on or along its banks, those adventures can run in contrary directions as well—from mild to extreme. One perfect place to start is the mellow, northern valley section of the Yough, from Connellsville to its confluence with the Monongahela River in McKeesport, which provides abundant opportunities for both the beginner paddler and the novice angler alike.

Paddling the Yough

While the northern Yough is mostly flat and gentle, the dam-regulated waterway does have a handful of minor ripples to navigate which will be more or less pronounced depending on water level. (Check the forecast as well as USGS gauges for updated flow information in Connellsville; the low to high window for ideal paddling flows ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 cubic feet per second.) As always, dress appropriately for the water temperature, wear a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD), and bring proper safety equipment.

Fishing the Yough

The northern Yough is home to a diverse assortment of game fish, both native and stocked, including: crappie, sunfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, carp, catfish, drum and muskie. Spurned by shortened days of summer turning into fall, smallmouth and other ambush-type sportfish tend to move into shallower waters, putting a kayak angler in prime position to fish out from the middle, or from deep to shallow. Targeting areas of cover such as debris piles, bridges and low-hanging branches can yield great results (size minimum and creel limits vary per species; taking trout requires an additional stamp added to your fishing license). Another favorite approach is to work the downstream side of ripples as fish tend to hold in there, waiting for food (or your lure) to come flowing downstream.

Whether you’re the type of angler who’s out to hook their dinner, or simply happy to put back whatever you catch (preferred for keeping local fish stocks healthy), there are near infinite rod/reel/line/bait combinations. New to fishing? Get well acquainted with the operation of your rod and reel from terra firma before trying your hand from a moving canoe or kayak. Also, consider purchasing/fabricating some sort of buoyant insurance for your tackle. If accidentally dropped overboard, a rod and reel can be nearly impossible to retrieve. 

Favorite Float

One local go-to route is the 13-mile float from Smithton Beach to Buena Vista. Launching from Smithton Beach is simple; a wide and gently sloping path from the well-maintained parking lot deposits you on a nice bend in the river, just below the gentle ripples underneath the Pennsylvania 981 bridge. While the lower section of the trail can be muddy after a rain, it’s worth a little dirt to push off at this juncture. For bonus points, paddle upstream and fish the lower portion of current below the SR 981 bridge and see if you can hook a few before beginning the float downriver. 

On the other end, Buena Vista is a nice, modern, surfaced (concrete) launch point. It’s well marked on the river-left (west) shore and easy to navigate, which, after a day on the water, is exactly what you need. You will need a Pennsylvania Launch Permit to use the Buena Vista launch. If this 13-mile section of the greater 75-mile Youghiogheny River Water Trail feels like too much, take out sooner at either Cedar Creek Park (3-mile float) or West Newton (6-mile float). 

Added Adventure

If you're looking to bite off more miles, plan a trip from Yough River Park in Connellsville to McKeesport, a 44-mile excursion. Paddlers can take advantage of the free camping at RoundBottom Campground, almost perfectly situated halfway through the journey near Mile 23 of the water trail, on the river-left (west) side, upriver (south) of the Interstate 70 high-level bridge. It offers a handful of first-come, first-served lean-tos and tent pads, plus it’s equipped with pit toilets, picnic tables, benches, a few fire rings, and plenty of open ground should the shelters be occupied. During the warm summer months, expect the campground to be bustling as it is shared with the ever-popular Great Allegheny Passage—the iconic converted railbed trail that runs nearly 150 miles to Cumberland, Md., and on to Washington, D.C., via the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath.

Take out at McKeesport on a surfaced ramp located on the river-left (west) side across from the McKeesport Marina. Parking and access is easy via Atlantic Avenue.


Want to know what’s biting? Joe's Tackle Unlimited in West Newton is a great spot to talk shop and get a license. Arrange shuttles, or line up kayak/canoe rentals at Hazelbakers River Trips in Perryopolis. For maps and more info on this northern half of the Youghiogheny River Water Trail, visit pfbc.pa.gov, as well as the Mountain Watershed Association.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.