2018 Pennsylvania Family Fishing Destinations
April 25, 2018
These five destinations have top-flight family fishing and plenty of other family-friendly things to do on your next vacation.
By Bob Frye
Talk about a high degree of difficulty. It's hard to know sometimes just what gift to get every person on your Christmas list. Now imagine if you had to buy one gift that would satisfy everyone, regardless of age, interest and skill level.
Well, that's sometimes what it's like planning a family fishing trip. Part of the group wants to do serious fishing. Others are more concerned about what other activities are available. Some just want space to picnic, preferably in a park with clean restrooms.
Not to worry. Here are five waters that offer good and varied fishing, plus picnic areas, camping, restrooms and more.
NORTH PARK LAKE
The shine was off the apple for a while there at North Park Lake. The 75-acre lake located in Allegheny County, just north of Pittsburgh, had seen better days as of 2008. Silt had accumulated over the years, turning it into a shallow, warm, infertile waterway. The fishing was predictably average.
But things are a whole lot better now.
Allegheny County, which owns North Park, drained its lake in 2009. It was dredged, fish habitat structures were installed, then it was refilled. It re-opened to fishing in 2011.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked it with bluegills, largemouth bass, channel catfish and white and black crappies for two years. It continues stocking it annually with adult trout.
The fishing has responded. According to a 2016 commission survey, North Park's largemouth fishing is better right now for total numbers of bass, bass longer than 12 inches and bass longer than 15 inches, than at any time in the last 25 years. "Big bass" regulations in place — limiting anglers to harvesting four fish per day, all of them at least 15 inches — are meant to sustain that.
Catfish are also thriving.
Prior to being drained, the lake held a "quality population of channel catfish, with many large individuals present," said commission biologist Mike Depew.
That fishery is coming back, he added. The 2016 survey found channel cats measuring from 6 to 21 inches, from various age classes. That promises good things going forward, Depew said.
Bluegills and crappies are abundant, and they will keep young kids busy, for sure '“ though they are not especially big.
All of the fishing is family friendly. Shore access is good, complete with an accessible pier. Unpowered boats are permitted and there's a kayak rental concession.
Along the Way: A visit to North Park can include unique fun. In addition to the ball fields, a model airplane field and swimming pool, there's a "Go Ape Treetop Adventures" facility. It's a collection of zip lines, obstacle courses and Tarzan swings. Courses vary by age and skill level. The park is also home to a "freeride" skills area for mountain biking, Designed for beginner and intermediate riders, it's meant to help them develop skills. There are four short trails; they feature progressively more difficult jumps, obstacles and drops.
Shawnee Lake is a cliché. But in a good way, in that it offers a little bit of something for everyone.
The 450-acre centerpiece of Shawnee State Park near Schellsburg in Bedford County, the lake holds all manner of fish. Some in particular are abundant.
Shawnee Lake is listed by the Fish and Boat Commission as being one of the four best "medium" reservoirs '“ between 50 and 500 acres '“ in the state for bullhead catfish longer than 12 inches. They hit on all kinds of live baits, from nightcrawlers to chicken livers.
The lake is also listed as one of the best medium reservoirs for common carp and walleyes.
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Shawnee Lake's fishery also got a big boost recently. In fall 2017 the state drew down Somerset Lake so that its dam can be rebuilt. Its fish were collected and moved to other waters, including Shawnee Lake.
The haul included everything Somerset Lake had to offer, from largemouth bass and walleyes to channel catfish and panfish. Notably, it also received muskies.
"A couple dozen muskies and tigers were moved to Shawnee Lake. Muskies ranged from 18 inches to 47 inches and 28 pounds," said the commission's area 8 fisheries manager, Rick Lorson.
As for reaching them, Shawnee Lake offers lots of shore fishing, via a bike-hike trail, other hiking trails and picnic areas adjacent to the water.
Boating is also allowed, with two launches provided. Motorboats are limited to electric motors only. The lake also draws a lot of attention from paddlers, with canoes, rowboats and paddleboats available for rent.
Along the Way: Shawnee State Park offers 7.5 miles of biking trails and 16 miles of hiking trails. There's also a swimming beach, complete with flush toilets, showers and vending machines, as well as a campground and a 9-hole disc golf course. If you want to try something really different, though, head west on Route 30 from Schellsburg for two miles to the Bison Corral. At this "buffalo" farm, visitors can not only check out the herd, but visit a gift shop dealing in not only bison meat, but also bison- and Native American-related knives, crafts and more.
At just 20 acres, Parker Lake is one of the smaller features of 968-acre Parker Dam State Park. It seems even tinier, however, when you factor in the 190,000-plus acres of Moshannon State Forest that surround it. Don't overlook this little gem near Penfield in Clearfield County, though.
It holds largemouth bass, bluegills and bullheads. They don't necessarily get big on average, but they're generally pretty eager biters. That makes this is a wonderful little place to fish with children who just want to feel a tug on their line.
That's not to say it's all kids stuff, though.
Twice in April, once in May and again in October the Fish and Boat Commission stocks this lake with brook and rainbow trout. That includes not only a lot of the typical 11-inch stockers, but also some brood fish, too.
Electric and non-powered boats are permitted on the lake. A concession offers rentals.
Meanwhile, if stream fishing is more your thing, Laurel Run gets stocked above and below the lake. Some sections get only brook trout. Others get brooks and rainbows, and others browns and rainbows.
A few trophy golden rainbows — commonly called palominos — get sprinkled in the lake and stream, as well.
All of that fishing, meanwhile, occurs in a setting that seems a step back in time. Parker Dam State Park was a hub of Civilian Conservation Corps activity from the era of the Great Depression up through World War II, and visitors can stay in the cabins and picnic in shelters built by those young men.
Along the Way: When in this area, you've got to visit the state's elk range. Pennsylvania is home to about 1,000 of the animals. One of the best places to see them is in Benezette. Located in Elk County — about 40 minutes east on Route 555 — it offers two viewing areas on what's known as Winslow Hill. Visitors can also hike the nearby Woodring Farm to sometimes see elk by foot. Not to be missed is the Keystone Elk Country Visitor Center (https://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com/). It has hiking trails, elk viewing areas, a museum, movie theater and gift shop. It offers family-friendly workshops and presentations, too.
PROMISED LAND STATE PARK
Promised Land State Park, near Greentown in Pike County, is home to two lakes. Upper Promised Land Lake is 422 acres. Lower Promised Land Lake is 173 acres. Both are really nice for family fishing, with panfish one of the main reasons why.
In the case of Upper Promised Land Lake, it's listed by the Fish and Boat Commission as being among the best medium-sized reservoirs in Pennsylvania for bluegills, pumpkinseeds and yellow perch. The most recent survey done there by biologists found lots of all three, with "quality" fish predominating. Ninety-seven percent of the bluegills and 93 percent of the pumpkinseeds exceeded 7 inches, with some of the bluegills going 11. Eight-two percent of the perch exceeded 9 inches, with some going 13.
Lower Promised Land likewise contains those same panfish, and ranks among the best in the state for perch, too. It's got two other fish of note, though. Black crappies are abundant there, more so than in Upper Promised Land. Biologists saw specimens up to 14 inches long.
Lower Promised Land also gets stocked with adult-sized trout in spring. Those are mostly brook trout and rainbows, with a few golden rainbows mixed in.
One other interesting fish available in both lakes is the chain pickerel. A smaller cousin to the musky and northern pike, pickerel are eager biters and feisty fighters. They're relatively common, too. They have to be 18 inches to be considered legal for take. Fish of that size are pretty common in both Upper and Lower Promised Land, with bigger ones — up to 23 inches, according to the most recent survey — available.
Both lakes offer miles of shore access. Only electric motors are permitted when boating. There are five launches between the two lakes, as well as several boat rental concessions.
Along the Way: Promised Land State Park offers some wonderful camping in several campgrounds. There are hiking and biking trails and two orienteering courses, with loaner compasses available at the park office. The park is also home to two GPS multicaches (one a driving tour, the other a walking one) that explain the history of the park. Along those lines, be sure to visit the Masker Museum, which tells the tale of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the park and across Pennsylvania.
Located in the densely populated southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, near Lewisberry in York County, Gifford Pinchot State Park is billed by state park officials as a "full service park." Translated, that means it's a relatively large chunk of green space that's meant to provide all kinds of recreation for all kinds of people at all times of year. There are trails for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and cross-country skiers, a disc golf course and swimming beach, among other attractions.
There's fishing, too. And it's pretty darn good, all things considered.
At 340 acres, Pinchot Lake is long and narrow, running almost the length of the park and splitting it in half like the meat between two slices of bread.
Largemouth bass are the main attraction, and for good reason. Fish and Boat Commission biologists list it among the top six medium-sized waters statewide when it comes to the chances of landing a largemouth 15 inches and longer.
There are other species here as well, though. For those who want constant action, the lake holds good numbers of bluegills and other panfish. There are lots of bullheads, too.
Those willing to wait a bit before bites so long as the payoff is big should know Pinchot Lake is stocked with both muskies and hybrid striped bass. Anglers catch the former exceeding 40 inches with some regularity, while hybrids going more than 10 pounds turn up for those using big crankbaits, soft plastics and live baits like chubs and suckers.
Shore access is good — trails and roads follow much of the shoreline — and electric motor and non-powered boats are permitted. Three launches offer access. Rentals are available as well.
Along the Way: Aside from fishing, there are several attractions in York worth exploring. Martin's Potato Chips and the local Harley-Davidson Motor Co. offer factory tours. The Fire Museum of York County offers a look at 250 years of firefighting history, while the Agricultural and Industrial Museum gives visitors a peek at things like York-built automobiles and Conestoga wagons. The Howard Tunnel, which is the oldest continuously-operated railroad tunnel in the world, is also located here.