A major tributary to the Allegheny River, Mahoning Creek provides a varied and high-quality fishery. Its lower 22 miles, from the outflow of Mahoning Creek Lake to where it joins the Allegheny River just north of Templeton, is its most remote section, flowing for long stretches with little evidence of development.
As a whole, Mahoning Creek is formed in southeastern Jefferson County, just east of Big Run, by the merger of the East Branch of Mahoning Creek and Swamp Creek. From there if flows for nearly 40 miles, in mostly a westerly direction, into Indiana County, where near the Indiana/Armstrong county line it enters the backwaters of Mahoning Creek Lake. The federal flood control lake backs the creek up for about 6 miles at summer pool.
Our examination here is the final 20-plus miles, where thanks to its direct connectivity with the Allegheny River, it supports the same varied slate of warm-water species as the recipient of its flows. In addition, the first section of the creek below Mahoning Creek Dam is also stocked with adult trout. From the dam breast downstream to the mouth of Pine Run the creek is managed as a stocked trout water/open year round. It gets one in-season stocking in May. This is possibly due to the cold discharge from the bottom sluices of the dam. The gates discharge into a stilling basin, then over a fixed crest spillway and finally back into the original steam bed. Some water is also diverted through a hydroelectric plant during power generation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides a road that leads down the outflow area. From there anglers can access the stilling basin or hike down below to the scour hole located below the spillway. At normal to low flows one can wade out to a midstream island of sorts which serves as a great perch from which to access this plunge hole.
Though the Fish and Boat Commission stocks adult trout — providing a spring/early summer resource — the more significant story here is the warm-water fishery that extends throughout. Self-sustaining populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike flourish. Muskies are stocked on an annual basis, fingerling-stage through 2018 and yearling-stage starting this year. There is also some evidence of naturally reproducing musky populations within the Mahoning Creek drainage.
No roads parallel the lower stretch of Mahoning Creek for any significant length. In general, access is found at the handful of bridge crossings. Government road crosses Mahoning Creek about a half-mile below the dam. The next bridge crossing is at Eddyville, where a structure carries SR 1010 over the stream. Next is Putneyville, where SR 1025 crosses, as well as the presence of a nice streamside town park. The only major highway to cross Mahoning Creek, Route 28/66 is next, located at Mahoning Furnace. Below here Deanville Road crosses over the stream. While the bridge is no longer there, Reedy Mill Road drops down to the creek near a small parcel of State Game Lands 287. This is a rugged dead-end road only recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles. The next final bridge crossing is at the streams mouth in Templeton, where SR 1033 crosses just up from the merger with the Allegheny. Also, about 1 mile downriver of the mouth of the Mahoning, the PFBC has an access area on the Allegheny on the east (river left) side of river.
Though some bumpy riffles are present, Mahoning has a relatively mild gradient with no rapids in excess of Class I. Wade fishing is possible from the bridge crossings listed above, keeping in mind that the stream flows almost totally through private land. Be mindful of any posted signs and respectful of the access privilege landowners allow.
From just below the Deanville Road Bridge, an abandoned railroad grade parallels the creek and can be helpful in skipping past sections of featureless water. But in my mind, the best way to fish lower Mahoning Creek is to float it, jumping out at areas with nice habitat to wade fish. Sections of three to five miles are about right for a day’s fishing. Naturally the same advice concerning private property applies to putting in and taking out for a float/fishing trip.
The flow of lower Mahoning Creek is reliant of the discharge coming out of the lake. To be sure your trip is a float, and not a drag, fish it when the USGS gauge below the lake is at least three feet. Likewise, then flows are above four feet the current will likely be too strong for good fishing. Late spring and early summer are typically good times to take on lower Mahoning Creek.
The bass and walleyes of lower Mahoning Creek don’t see a lot of lures. As such they respond well to a variety of presentations. Soft stickbaits such as the Yamamoto Senko and Yum Dinger, in the four-inch size, work well. Rapala X-Raps in size 8 excel. Also be sure to carry some twister-tail grubs like the Galida’s Grubz, which work as both a bottom, jig-style bait and as a swimbait.
Road map atlases, PennDOT’s Type 10 highway maps, and Google Earth are all helpful resources in setting up a fishing trip on this stream.
Fishing the lower section of Mahoning Creek might require a bit more work and planning that other waters, but the rewards are often worth the effort.