Our Top 5 July Muskie Lakes

Here's a look at five of Pennsylvania's top-rated summertime muskie lakes -- and how you can get in on the action this month. (July 2007)

Photo by Pete Maina.

July offers a variety of opportunities for Keystone State muskie anglers. Deep reservoirs, where muskies grow big but are fewer, offer one option. Small, shallow lakes offer exciting muskie action during peak times. And the larger rivers provide still more opportunities for July muskellunge anglers.

Here is a look at five top-rated muskie waters to check out this summer:

KINZUA DAM

Certain watersheds in the state have a history of producing exceptional muskie fishing. The Allegheny River is one of these, including the 12,000-acre reservoir known as Kinzua Dam.

Kinzua is a deep, clear lake with little in the way of shoreline development. Two "arms" feed the lake. The main arm -- the flooded portion of the Allegheny River -- extends well up into New York. The Kinzua arm, fed by Kinzua Creek, joins the main branch of the reservoir from the east a short distance from the dam. The lake attains a maximum depth of 130 feet at the dam.

Various shiner species provide a good forage base for Kinzua's muskies. The lake also contains redhorse and other suckers, soft-rayed fish that muskies relish.

The lower portion of the lake, including the Pennsylvania section of the main branch and the Kinzua arm, tends to be steep-sided with quickly breaking shorelines. Flats are present and will show up on a good lake map.

In the New York section of the lake, things broaden and flatten just a bit, with extensive flats extending out from the old main river channel.

A great deal of artificial cover has been placed in Kinzua. This includes tire reefs, wood cribs and brush piles.

Muskie populations are not dense in any lake, and this is certainly true of Kinzua. The lake is slated for increased stocking by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, starting this year.

Though muskies are occasionally taken by casting, Kinzua is a trolling lake for most folks. By midsummer, the fish will likely be relating more to suspended baitfish than to physical structure. One of the best tips is to pick out an area and fish it well, rather than trying to fish the whole lake in one day.

There is no horsepower limitation on Kinzua, so expect recreational traffic, particularly on summer weekends. Anglers fishing the New York part of the lake need a New York license, as well as a permit from the Cornplanter Indian Reservation.

Primary boat launches on the Pennsylvania section of the lake include Elijah (in the Kinzua Arm), Roper Hollow and Webbs Ferry. A marina is found at Wolf Run, where the Kinzua and Allegheny arms meet. Landings are also available in the many recreational and camping areas, with additional ramps in New York.

For additional recreational information, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (814) 726-0164.

TAMARACK LAKE

If there were such a thing as a lake with lots of muskies, Tamarack would certainly qualify.

Tamarack is shallow, fertile and filled with cover, but this 500-plus acre water is more of a flooded swamp.

One of the best tips is to pick out an area and fish it well, rather than trying to fish the whole lake in one day.

A few years ago, Tamarack Lake was drained for maintenance work on its two dam structures. Since it was refilled, it has bounced back in fine form. The lake received stockings of both fingerling and adult fish. Currently, there are a lot of muskies in the mid to upper 30-inch range, as well as some over 40 inches.

Tamarack Lake is long and narrow. Much of the lake is 6 feet deep or less, though there is a deeper depression in the northern end of the lake near the dam. Both floating and submergent vegetation are heavy.

Lily pads line much of the shoreline. Milfoil is found throughout, though it hasn't returned to the pre-drainage days, when it would make boat navigation difficult by summer.

There are plenty of stumps, both submerged and exposed. Muskies make good use of both the weeds and wood. During hot, stagnant weather, the lake often experiences a heavy algae bloom, which can hamper fishing efforts.

The primary forage base in Tamarack Lake is young panfish. Bottom-bouncing crankbaits that mimic these are productive, as are jerkbaits worked over weedbeds.

Tamarack Lake is limited to electric motors only. Several boat ramps may be found along Tamarack Drive. Two docks are suitable for larger boats.

For more information, contact the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-332-2338.

LAKE WILHELM

Known as an outstanding largemouth bass lake, Lake Wilhelm has quietly evolved into a quality muskie hotspot.

The centerpiece of Maurice Goddard State Park, Lake Wilhelm is long, narrow and fairly shallow. Maximum depth is about 25 feet.

Recent years have seen good levels of submergent vegetation in Wilhelm. Milfoil grows out to depths of about six or seven feet during years where sunny, warm weather occurs in spring.

Beaver lodges are common around the lake, as is other wood cover including laydowns and brushpiles.

Larger muskies are showing up each year, including fish in the 50-inch range. Food species include panfish and suckers.

Wilhelm is unique in that a portion of the lake lies in a state game lands. On that portion of the lake, only non-powered boats are permitted. Expect to find unexploited muskie fishing opportunities there.

A 20-horsepower limit is in effect on the remainder of the lake. Though some fish are taken by casting, most muskie hunters troll this lake, particularly during the summer.

Interstate 79 crosses the lake, making it easily accessible to anglers. Several excellent boat ramps are sprinkled around the lake. It also has a marina.

To obtain additional information on Lake Wilhelm, phone Goddard State Park office at (724) 253-4833.

SHE

NANGO

Another Mercer County water has been making news of late -- big muskie news, that is. During the past year or two, several muskies in the 50-inch-plus range have been taken from the lake.

A Corps of Engineers flood-control lake, Shenango is subject to fluctuating water levels. Winter drawdowns thwart any significant weed growth. But while the lake lacks weeds, it is replete with bottom contour (humps, ledges, channels, etc.). Sunken roadbeds and areas of riprap (much of it along causeways) add to the cover.

While the Mahaney Channel -- the reach of the lake directly upstream of the dam -- is narrow and steep-sided, the lake is primarily comprised of wider, gently sloping basins. There is a lot of interesting area to cover for the muskie troller. The lake experiences heavy recreational use during sunny summer weekends.

The primary forage in the lake is gizzard shad. Panfish are another menu item for the lake's toothy critters.

Three major access areas -- Clark, Mercer and Shenango -- provide access to the lake. There is no horsepower restriction on much of the lake, though the portion upstream of the Route 846 bridge is limited to 10-horsepower motors.

Contact the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-637-2370 for travel assistance.

LOWER ALLEGHENY RIVER

The lower Allegheny River, in particular pools 5 through 8, all have good muskie populations.

The river is impounded by lock and dam systems, and there can be a high level of boat traffic during the summer. The biggest factor is fair weather, which means stable water levels (not high and muddy) and good fishing conditions.

Pool 6 has the best shallow-water habitat. There are plenty of islands, mid-river humps and grassbeds. This is excellent water for casting to.

While good casting spots are available in the other three pools, much of the shallow habitat has been removed through dredging. In these areas, trolling may be a better tactic.

Along this stretch of river, boat-access areas include the Kittanning, Cowanshannock Creek and Templeton launches. No public access is available on Pool 5. Anglers must lock through from either above or below.

To get additional information on the area, call the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau, 1-888-265-9954.

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