Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Which is Pennsylvania’s finest striper lake? Though opportunities exist for both pure and hybrid stripers in a variety of state waters, it would be tough to argue against the striped bass fishing merits of Huntingdon County’s Raystown Lake. Though its stripers can be tough to catch, Raystown has the potential of providing exciting, world-class striped bass fishing.
Read on to learn more!
Covering over 8,000 surface acres, Raystown Lake is the largest impoundment contained entirely within the state. An impoundment of the Raystown Branch Juniata River, the lake fills the serpentine valley for well over 20 miles.
In addition to its striped bass fishery, Raystown is one of the most productive multi-species lakes in the state, featuring excellent numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish, muskies and walleyes include some exceptional individuals. The lake also harbors a fair population of lake trout, adding a coldwater resource to the mix.
Unlike smallmouth and largemouth bass, which are members of the sunfish family, striped bass are “true” bass, in the same family as white bass. While most stripers are anadromous — typically reproducing in freshwater but living in the ocean — the species can also thrive in landlocked rivers and reservoir systems. Typically, however, their numbers must be maintained by continued stocking efforts.
Hybrid stripers, for example, are stocked in several commonwealth waters. This is pure striper x white bass hatchery product. Wild striped bass populations exist in the Delaware River in the eastern portion of the state, where a catch and release fishery exists during the spring months, primarily on the tidal portion of the river.
Four of the five largest inland striped bass entered in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s annual Angler Recognition Program in 2008 (latest year available) came from Raystown Lake. The largest striper entered that year was a 32- pound, 1-ounce lunker taken by Franklin Boyer of Marysville. It was caught in August that year. The one “certificate” striper not taken at Raystown Lake in ’08 came from Beltzville Lake.
Denny Clapper, a Raystown-area native and guide (www.clappersguide.com) has been fishing the lake for 35 years and guiding on it for about 30 years. Striped bass are his primary target species.
“There’s been more striped bass stocked during the last 10 years than there has ever been,” said Clapper. “In addition to the fish stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, stripers are being stocked by the Raystown Striper Club and the Pennsylvania Striped Bass Association.”
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stockings have remained consistent on Raystown for the past 15-plus years. The foundation of the state agency’s stockings is fingerling-stage stripers. Most year’s fingerling stockings have hovered around the 100,000 mark, oftentimes a bit more, occasionally less. Fry were stocked in 2005 along with fingerlings. Adult stocks augmented fingerling stockings in 1997, 2000, ’05 and ’07.
“The striper fishery has definitely increased during the past decade,” noted Clapper. “But there is room for a lot more fish. The baitfish situation on the lake is incredible. There are two primary species, gizzard shad and alewives, and they are in there by the billions! A lot of credit goes to the sportsmen’s clubs for helping out the PFBC, which only has so many dollars in its stocking fund. If it wasn’t for what these folks have done over the past few years we wouldn’t have nearly the striper fishery that we do today.”
Clapper said all of the stripers he and his clients catch, from 12- to 14-inch juveniles to 20-pound-class fish, are very healthy, likely due to the abundant forage base that’s present in the lake. He has observed, however, that some year classes appear to be missing.
Though stockings take place annually, environmental factors such as cold or stormy springtime weather can reduce, or even eliminate, recruitment of some stocked fish. Over the course of the year, Clapper will catch stripers of all sizes. Some of the smaller fish are taken during spring, when the fish are in shallow water and can be caught by casting minnow-shaped plugs. The average-sized fish, he tells potential clients, will run from 10 to 20 pounds.
“On the upper end of the scale, we’ll catch fish in the 30- to 40-pound range,” he added. “Most years someone on the lake will catch a 50 pounder, though to my knowledge none were caught last season.”
Like many enthusiasts who target a specific fish on a specific body of water, Clapper pursues stripers from early spring until late fall. Typically, fishing gets off to a good start soon after the ice leaves the lake. Though Raystown’s stripers don’t successfully reproduce, they will attempt to do so. This activity dictates where anglers should fish in early spring.
“The early fishing usually starts in mid March,” he explained. “The fish will be going through their spawning ritual. They’ll be in the upper portion of the lake. Then, around early- to mid-May, they will begin dispersing around the lake, some still in the upper end, but some on main lake points and other locations. At this time they are hard to catch, and what you do catch are usually the smaller males.”
Clapper said that as spring gives way to summer, water temperatures will rise, and most of the stripers will be found from the mid-point of the lake down to the dam. When water temperatures begin to quickly drop during autumn, the stripers will often be found in the back ends of the larger bays and coves.
“Fall is one of my favorite times to fish,” Clapper noted. “This is when the stripers begin to move into those back bays. The bays hold the warmest water, which draws in the baitfish. And the stripers go in after the bait. The colder it gets, the farther back they move. They will be in some of the shallowest water imaginable looking for big gizzard shad.”
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