Hot Weather = Big Muskies!

Now's the time to think about catching a muskie in the 40-inch-plus class, and Pennsylvania's top lakes are where to find them. Read on to find out where and how.

Photo by Pete Maina

With the stable weather of summer upon us, Keystone State muskie anglers will find a variety of good options.

Opportunities exist on lakes, reservoirs and rivers. On still-water environments, anglers can expect to find muskies in main-lake areas. In waters featuring submergent vegetation, weedbeds should be developed to the point of holding baitfish and hence muskies.

Though anything but a certainty, given the experiences of the past two years, river flows often are stable at this time, rich in forage and cover.

The sum of this is a long menu of muskie-angling opportunities in an interesting blend of water types. Here's a sampling of some of the finest muskie waters Pennsylvania has to offer this month:

PYMATUNING LAKE

The 13,000-plus-acre Pymatuning Lake has a rich history as muskie habitat. During the 1970s, its productivity was well documented, and anglers came from afar to sample its outstanding muskie fishing.

Then the lake fell on hard times. Its Esox population suffered a dramatic bout with red spot disease. The epidemic devastated the muskie fishery, and angler interest fell off.

During the 1990s, Pymatuning's muskie fishery began to recover. Today, the lake supports a healthy muskie population consisting of several year-classes. While it may not be the best bet (yet) for a 50-inch fish, specimens in the upper 40s are taken each season.

A border water, the management of Pymatuning Lake involves the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks about 7,000 muskie fingerlings in the lake annually. During the period of 1997 through 2002, the ODOW supplemented Pennsylvania stockings with advanced fingerlings. Ohio helped stock the lake again in 2004 with 1,085. Pennsylvania's fingerlings averaged about 6 inches. Ohio's fish averaged 7.9 inches.

The Ohio DOW works in concert with the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, a non-profit group formed to support muskie fishing in the state. One component of the program involves anglers sending scale samples of caught (and in most cases released) fish to the ODOW. This provides an excellent means of documenting muskie growth rates as well as angler success. Through late November 2004, some 87 muskies had been entered from Pymatuning Lake. Fifteen of these fish exceeded 42 inches in length.

The Fish and Boat Commission biologists sampled the lake during the spring of 2004. A total of 53 muskies ranging in size from 25 to 46 inches were collected. Twenty-four of the fish were over 36 inches and three were over 40 inches.

Club catch-and-release tournaments held on the lake the past couple of years have yielded impressive results. If the dreaded red spot disease does not return, the muskie picture on Pymatuning is a bright one indeed.

Pymatuning Lake is a shallow, fertile, windswept reservoir. Though much of its woody cover has deteriorated due to age, the lake still supports a fair amount of cover. Submergent (milfoil) weeds grow out to a depth of 4 to 6 feet, depending on the water clarity of the year. Stumpfields are present, particularly in the northern portion of the lake. Weed humps in the southern end of the lake are popular spots with casters.

Trolling is an efficient method for covering water on Pymatuning. Good catches are made trolling the shallows, concentrating on the zones just off the outside weed edges.

The lake is loaded with baitfish -- both alewives and gizzard shad -- so some time should be spent trolling open water for suspended fish.

In addition to the pelagic forage, plenty of yellow perch, crappies, white bass and young carp add to the menu. Wiley and Leo lures are popular on the lake.

Boat launches dot the perimeter of Pymatuning Lake. The better launches for larger boats are found at Linesville, Manning, Snodgrass and Jamestown. These are in at least semi-protected waters.

Fishing Hot Spots produces a map of the lake, and tackle shops in Espyville and Jamestown carry them. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower. There is no closed season on muskies on Pymatuning.

The lake is in western Crawford County and is accessible from Interstate Route 79 via exits for routes 358, 285 or 322.

For more information, visit Pennsylvania State Parks at the DCNR Web site at

www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/pymatuning.aspx.

WOODCOCK LAKE

Crawford County's Woodcock Lake contains perhaps the most dense muskie population of any lake in the state. While it could be termed an "action lake" due to its high numbers, Woodcock also supports a fair share of fish over 40 inches.

During a spring sampling by the Fish and Boat Commission in 2003, three trap nets set for three nights collected 99 muskies. The fish ranged in size from 24 to 46 inches. About 75 percent of the fish trapped were over 30 inches in length. Regular stockings of purebred muskie fingerlings maintain the muskie fishery.

WOODCOCK LAKE

The 500-acre Woodcock Lake is in central Crawford County, five miles northeast of Meadville. Owned and operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, its primary purpose is flood control, so it is subject to fluctuating levels. When the water level has been stable, the lake can be quite clear. Dramatic winter drawdowns limit weed growth, but during some years, terrestrial weeds are present during the spring and summer months in shallow-water zones. Additional cover and structure include significant stumpfields, creek channels, points, humps and flats. Brushpiles are scattered throughout the shallows. A causeway bisects the upper third of the lake. The lake attains a depth of about 40 feet at summer pool.

Woodcock Lake provides an interesting blend of water to suit both the caster and troller. Good casting areas include the causeway, the two corners on the northern portion in particular. In general, the northern shoreline is heavily seasoned with structure. Points and bars exist along the southern side as well, especially in the vicinity of the small bays that break up the shoreline.

This lake also is kind to the troller. Given its relatively small size, the lake can be c

overed efficiently in a day's fishing. Shad-shaped baits have a good reputation on Woodcock Lake as effective trolling baits.

An excellent launch ramp with ample parking is on the south side of the lake near the dam. Crawford County provides an excellent campground off the lake. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower. Call the Fish Education Center in Fombell at (724) 452-4464 for a hand-drawn contour map of Woodcock Lake.

The lake may be reached from Interstate 79 via the Meadville or Saegertown exits.

CONNEAUT LAKE

Conneaut Lake's muskie fishery might not be what it once was, but this 925-acre natural lake is still worthy of mention as a July hotspot simply because of its trophy potential. The lake continues to hold the state record for muskellunge, the 80-some-year-old mark standing at 54 pounds, 3 ounces. The Pennsylvania Game Commission stocks Conneaut with purebred fingerlings on a regular basis.

Conneaut Lake gives up its muskies grudgingly -- it has a reputation for being tough to fish. However, it also has the necessary ingredients to grow big muskies, lunkers over 40 pounds. Being in the species' natural range likely has something to do with this.

A popular boating lake with a developed shoreline, Conneaut during the summer isn't likely to qualify as a tranquil experience. But it has the attraction of being a natural lake with a wealth of associated muskie lore. It also contains an equally abundant amount of muskie habitat in the form of points, bars and humps.

Along the western shore of the lake, muskie anglers will find significant points such as the Bath House Bar and Black Bird Point. Points and humps extend from Goat Island and Wolf Island along this shoreline. Round Bar and Ferry Bar are two of the larger humps off the deepest basin in the northern end of the lake. Midway Bar is found, as its name implies, near the middle portion of the lake.

The eastern shoreline also features numerous, though more subtle, points. Extensive flats extend from the southern portion of the lake near the outlet. Most years these structural elements will be weed covered. Weed levels fluctuate, however, due in part to mechanical harvest and chemical treatment. Water clarity, depending on the weather during the year, also influences the status of weed growth.

All of the mentioned spots are worthy of attention from casters. Though Conneaut is a watery playground, during early morning hours it will be relatively peaceful. The same can be said for inclement weather, conditions more suited for muskie fishing than water-skiing.

Jerkbaits have a strong following among Conneaut casters. Buzzbaits and topwaters may be used with success over the tops of weedbeds.

Trollers will also find Conneaut to their liking. Watch closely for schools of bait on the sonar, especially in open water off structure.

There is no horsepower limit on Conneaut Lake. The Fish and Boat Commission maintains a good ramp in a canal off the northern end of the lake. A shallow hump exists at the mouth of the canal, so be cautious while underway. Another ramp is on the southwestern portion of the lake at Fireman's Beach.

Conneaut Lake may be reached via either routes 285 or 322 off Interstate Route 79.


Large landing nets specifically designed for catch-and-release fishing serve as in-the-water livewells where the hooks can be removed or cut without taking the fish from the water.
 

A hand-drawn contour map may be obtained from the Fish Education Center at (724) 452-4464.

Travel information for Conneaut Lake, Pymatuning and Woodcock lakes may be found by visiting

www.visitcrawford.org on the Internet.

ALLEGHENY RIVER

Pools 5, 6 And 7

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission consistently stocks the lower Allegheny River with muskies. Some of the better catches are made within these three pools, which stretch from Freeport up to Mosgrove. The fishing may be good throughout the summer well into the fall.

"Pool" on navigational rivers is the name given the river sections between lock and dams. Pool 6, which runs from Clinton up to Kittanning, contains some of the better muskie habitat on the lower river. Casters should pay close attention to the structure found in conjunction with island complexes. Some of these spots will feature weeds by now, providing spring run-off didn't supply too much high, dirty water. Creek mouths can also be productive.

Spinnerbait bucktails are especially effective for working over and through the weeds. Minnow-imitating baits are also good.

While a great deal of shallow-water habitat is found in Pool 6, the opposite is the case in pools 5 and 7. Significant dredging has occurred in these pools, leaving little in the way of structure. For this reason, trolling is a better way of combing these sections.

Believer-type baits take fish, as do plugs of the Pikie variety. Fish may be taken trolling both upstream and down, as there is little current when the water level is normal or low. The best summertime muskie fishing is during stable water conditions. If the river is running high and muddy, it's best to fish elsewhere.

Public access areas on Pool 6 may be found in Kittanning at the riverside park. The Fish and Boat Commission maintains a ramp at Rosston in the mouth of Crooked Creek. Pool 7 may be accessed at the commission's launch at Cowanshannock Creek, a couple of miles upriver of Kittanning. This access suffered some damage during the floods of September of last year, but is expected to be repaired by the time you read this.

No public access is found on Pool 5. Anglers may lock through from above or below the pool at the lock and dams at Clinton or Freeport.

There are no horsepower restrictions on this portion of the river. Navigation charts of the Allegheny River may be obtained from the federal government's online bookstore at

http://bookstore.gpo.gov.

KEYSTONE LAKE

Known by many anglers as Keystone Power Dam, this lake contains good numbers of muskies, including some trophy-class specimens of pure and hybrid muskies.

A clear lake with the exception of its upper third, Keystone is similar to Conneaut in that muskies often come tough on this lake. However, it has produced its share of fish in the upper 40- to 50-inch-plus range.

One of the attractions of Keystone Lake is its lush, green weedbeds. Because of its clear water, weed growth extends out well past 15 feet in many areas. Though much of the weed growth is of the milfoil-coontail variety, sign

ificant amounts of broadleaf cabbage are also present. In the Wisconsin's famed "muskie belt." they call this plant "muskie weed."

Not only does the growth provide excellent cover for baitfish and game fish, it fishes better. You can pull a bait through it better than the clinging milfoil.

It will be late summer before the weeds reach the surface, so these weedbeds are tailor-made for a jerkbait or minnow bait fished over them. Expect to find stands of weeds in the upper portion of the lake near the pipes, near the three points close to the Atwood Boat Launch, and along the western shoreline.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission discontinued the stocking of pure muskies in Keystone a few years ago, saying purebreds were not showing up in surveys, while tiger muskies were, including some large ones.

The lake continues to produce big muskies, and there is a bit of controversy regarding the identification of some of these fish. Whether they are pure or hybrid muskies is up to the professionals to decide, but for the time being at least, the lake will only be stocked with tiger muskies.

Keystone Lake is in eastern Armstrong County off Route 210. Fish and Boat Commission access areas are at Atwood and NuMine. Motors are limited to 10 horsepower. The Allegheny Map and Design Company produces a good map of the lake.

Visit the county tourism Web site at

www.armstrongcounty.com for travel information on Keystone Lake and the Allegheny River.

WARM-WEATHER WARNING

Much of the credit for the improvement in Pennsylvania's muskie fishing, both in terms of size and numbers, is the evolution of muskie anglers from the catch-and-kill mentality to the catch-and-release ethic. Most serious muskie anglers strive to successfully release the fish they catch, and are constantly seeking ways to improve in this aspect of the game.

During the warm-water periods of midsummer, muskies are particularly vulnerable to succumbing from the stresses related to being caught. Successful releases are dependent on minimizing each of the many stresses involved.

The duration of the fight should be kept as short as possible. This is no time to play a fish to exhaustion. Proper muskie tackle is heavy enough to keep battle time to a minimum.

Though "hero" pictures depicting the angler and fish are a part of most anglers' routines, as water temperatures approach the 80-degree mark, you should consider a water release, where the fish is not removed from the lake.

If you have a partner, let him take some shots of you releasing the fish. If you decide to bring a fish into the boat for a quick photo or two, have the camera ready ahead of time. Time out of the water should be kept to the 10-second range. Horizontal holds are considered much easier on the fish than vertical holds, particularly on larger fish.

Large landing nets specifically designed for catch-and-release fishing serve as in-the-water livewells where the hooks can be removed or cut without taking the fish from the water. Keep the fish's head in the water as much as possible. The mesh of these nets resist tangling, and is easy on the fins and slime coating of the fish.

Because of the location of their air bladder, tired muskies tend to go belly-up. The release process includes holding a fish upright, by the tail, until it regains the strength to swim off on its own.

All muskie anglers should carry with them the tools to safely and efficiently remove the hooks from a muskie. This includes long-nosed pliers, mini bolt cutters and jaw spreaders.

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