Pennsylvania Fishing Vacations

Pack up the kids, along with the fishing and camping gear, and head for these top-rated...

By Jeff Knapp

Pennsylvania has plenty to offer the vacationing angler. From miniscule native brook trout streams to sprawling reservoirs where 4-foot muskies lurk, the Keystone State boasts plenty of quality angling.

Many of these opportunities are found in venues featuring much more than just fishing. Campsites, cabins or lodges coupled with activities sure to appeal to the non-fishing members of the family make a family fishing vacation a sensible choice this summer.

Here's a look at a few of the best places to go for all-around family fun in Pennsylvania this vacation season:

PYMATUNING STATE PARK

Numerous species provide quality fishing in the 12,000-plus acres in Pymatuning Lake. Camping, cabins and nearby lodging, along with a host of attractions, make this a great choice for a summer weekend or weeklong vacation.

Not long ago, Pymatuning was considered a springtime fishery, where eager-to-bite walleyes drew huge throngs of anglers from late March through the end of May. Anglers brought home limits of just-legal fish, often releasing many more under the 15-inch minimum length limit.

Lake surveys by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have revealed a much higher percentage of fish of legal size. Perhaps this is due to older age-classes of walleyes, or changes in the lake's forage base, but the fish have become harder to catch, particularly during early spring. Some of the better walleye action occurs in June, when conditions are more suitable for family outings.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Though Pymatuning is best known as a walleye water, its black bass fishing is also outstanding as numbers of both smallmouth and largemouth bass increase. Crappies, yellow perch and white bass provide panfish action. Muskie fishing has been on the upswing in recent years, and many fish in the upper 40-inch range have been caught and released during past seasons.

Pymatuning is a shallow, windswept reservoir, and as such is best fished from a boat, particularly during the summer months when most fish are offshore. As this issue goes to press, the motor limit remains at 10 horsepower, though consideration is being given to raising that. Some shore-fishing is available, however, with the causeway and spillway areas being most popular. A fishing pier is on the Shenango River below the dam.

The state park surrounding Pymatuning Lake in western Crawford County offers several camping options. Campgrounds are at Jamestown, Tuttle Point and Linesville. Some of these sites have electric hookups.

Reservations are recommended for the Jamestown and Tuttle Point areas, and can be made by phoning (888) PA-PARKS. For families less interested in roughing it, 28 modern cabins are available in the Jamestown area.

Various types of watercraft can be rented at marinas in Linesville, Espyville and Jamestown.

A significant portion of the lake's western shoreline is in Ohio, where another state park is found. The Ohio state park also has camping and cabins. For additional information on this state park, call (440) 293-6329. Either a Pennsylvania or Ohio license is valid for boat anglers, but shore-anglers must have the appropriate license. The lake's islands are considered Pennsylvania property.

Four swimming areas are within Pennsylvania's park property, and another is in Ohio. The Jamestown campground has its own beach and swimming area.

Picnic areas abound throughout the two parks. Many visitors enjoy stopping by the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Visitor Center and Museum, as well as the famous spillway area where the "ducks walk on the fish's backs."

For more information on Pymatuning State Park, call (724) 932-3141. Crawford County Tourism can provide information on other activities to do in the region, and can be reached at (800) 332-2338.

ALLEGHENY

NATIONAL FOREST

Few places in the state can provide the variety of fishing opportunities that are available in the 513,000-acre Allegheny National Forest. Non-fishers, too, will appreciate the amenities the area has to offer.

Fishing options can be divided into three groups: lakes, rivers and streams. Anglers seeking a still-water environment will find the 12,000- acre Allegheny Reservoir to their liking. The reservoir, commonly called Kinzua Lake, features smallmouth bass and walleyes. Muskies, northern pike and various panfish are also found in good supply.

Kinzua Lake extends well into New York, and 98 percent of New York's waters are within Seneca Nation land, requiring a Seneca Nation license to fish. New York waters not within the reservation require a New York non-resident license (for Pennsylvania anglers).

At 540 acres, Tionesta Lake features smallmouth bass and muskies as its headliners. Neither Kinzua or Tionesta have horsepower restrictions, and both are popular skiing-boating waters.

Anglers who prefer river fishing will find the Allegheny and Clarion rivers to their liking. Discharges from the Kinzua Dam tend to keep the water of the Allegheny River on the cool side during the summer months, providing a trout fishery. Smallmouths, walleyes and muskies are found farther downriver. Numerous boat access areas are along the stretch of river from Warren downriver to Tionesta. This water is suitable for canoes and jet-driven flat-bottom hulls. A good portion of the Clarion River is also found within the national forest.

Smaller than the Allegheny, the Clarion is floatable by canoe during all but the driest summers. A recent survey by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission showed good numbers of smallmouth bass along this portion of the river, including fish measuring up to 18 inches.

Trout are available and tend to be found near the mouths of coldwater feeder streams, many of which are stocked trout streams.

The devout trout angler is certainly not left out of the picture. Trout streams flow throughout the forest, from tiny brooks containing small, wild trout to large, well-stocked waters like Tionesta Creek. The lower portion of Tionesta Creek is outstanding smallmouth water, too.

Other stocked streams include Kinzua Creek, East Hickory Creek and Salmon Creek. East Hickory Creek contains a Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only project that measures 1.7 miles in length.

Special regulations stretches like this can be outstanding during the early summer months.

Allegheny National Forest offers a wide variety of camping options. Developed campgrounds along the Allegheny Reservoir include Red Bridge, Dewdrop, Kiasutha and Willow Bay. The Willow Bay area also features five rustic cabins. A non-developed campground is at Tracy Ridge. Primitive campgrounds are found at Handsome Lake, Morrison, Hopewell, Pine Grove and Hooks Brook.

Campgrounds within the forest, but not on the Allegheny Reservoir, include Twin Lakes and Loleta, which are classified as "highly developed." Beaver Meadows provides a modern camping facility, and primitive campgrounds are found at Beaver Meadows, Hearts Content and Minister Creek.

The U.S. Forest Service allows dispersed camping throughout most areas of the park, with few limitations. For additional information, contact the ANF at (814) 723-5150.

Besides fishing, popular activities within the forest include boating and swimming. Beaches are at Loleta and the Kiasutha Recreation Area. Auto tours are popular. The U.S. Forest Service has designated several "loops" for this activity. Again, contact the forest office for more information.

Portions of both the Allegheny and Clarion rivers are classified as "scenic rivers."

Numerous canoe liveries are available along the banks, catering to vacationers wishing to enjoy the beauty of the rivers.

CROOKED CREEK LAKE

Armstrong County's Crooked Creek Lake offers good fishing combined with camping close to a metropolitan area. Places such as Crooked Creek can be found throughout the Commonwealth, and most are run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Crooked Creek Dam is about eight miles upstream from where Crooked Creek joins the Allegheny River. The recreational pool covers about 500 acres and winds in a serpentine fashion, as its name implies, about three miles from the dam to the headwaters. Largemouth bass and crappies are the premier species in the lake.

Unlike many federal flood control lakes, Crooked Creek sees no drastic winter drawdown, and as such, good stands of submerged vegetation are present. Weeds are particularly common on the shallow flats that exist upstream from the boat launch. Laydown trees are common around the lake's shore, while brushpiles have been placed in deeper water over the years.

Largemouths in the 14- to 18- inch range are common. Bass in the 5-pound-plus range are taken with fair regularity, though more commonly in the spring and fall of the year. Crappies receive a lot of angling attention, but many still reach good size, with fish in the 12- to 14-inch range available. Gizzard shad are the most common bait species in Crooked Creek.

The good fishing is not limited to the lake, however. A popular spot is at the outflow area, which includes a fishing pier. It's a nice spot to take youngsters. The fishing can be particularly good following a period of heavy discharge from the lake, as fish from the lake move through the tunnel discharge into the outflow area.

A boat access is available in Rosston, where Crooked Creek enters the Allegheny River. This portion of the Allegheny is suitable for larger, prop-driven boats. The fishing on this section of the river, Pool 6, is a good place to find channel catfish, flathead catfish, smallmouth bass, walleyes and muskies.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers operates a fine campground on a ridge above the lake. More information on the campground, as well as the availability of camping equipment for rent, may be obtained by calling the park office at (724) 763-3161.

A roomy swimming beach is located on a major peninsula that juts into the lower section of the lake. Picnic areas are scattered around the property, as are hiking trails.

There is no motor limitation on the lake, though the lower portion is under a no-wake restriction during the boating season. The lake is heavily used by recreational boaters, including personal watercraft users.

Added family attractions are nearby throughout Armstrong County, including a trip to the Amish Country in the northern portion of the county. Good restaurants are within a few minutes' drive of the lake.

Contact the Armstrong County Tourism office at (888) 265-9954 for more information.

TIOGA COUNTY WATERS

In the northcentral portion of the state, Tioga County is a great family vacation destination that is within a reasonable drive of all Pennsylvania residents. From the Philadelphia area, plan on about four hours to make the trip, or about 240 miles, depending on where you are headed in Tioga County. For Harrisburg folks, it's about a three-hour trek, while Pittsburgh residents should allow about five hours of driving time.

The north-central portion of the state is considered trout country for good reason - the area is rich in coldwater resources. But, Tioga County has not only excellent trout fishing, but great warmwater fishing in no fewer than three lakes. Add to that the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, two state parks, canoeing and rafting, as well as miles of hiking and biking trails, and you have all the necessary ingredients for an action-packed vacation that centers on fishing. You can camp or lodge at one location and be within easy driving distance of a host of entertaining activities.

Cowanesque Lake is one of two flood control reservoirs within the county. When Cowanesque was built, much of the standing timber was left in place, providing good habitat for species such as largemouth bass and crappies. The lake has responded by providing a solid fishery for these species. Besides the fishing in the lake, good action can be had at both the north and south tailrace areas below the dam.

Camping is available at Cowanesque Lake at the Tompkins Area, where 86 family campsites are available. An additional 16 primitive hike-in sites are also available for the more adventurous camping family. A swimming area with a grass beach is available at this lake, as is a three-mile hiking trail.

Not far from Cowanesque, Hammond Lake, also called Tioga-Hammond Lake, offers good fishing, too, and presently is the holder of the current state record for crappies - a 4-pound, 2.88-ounce slab taken by Richard Pino in 2000.

Camping is available at Hammond Lake. No motor restrictions are in place on either lake.

For more information on both Cowanesque and Hammond lakes, contact the Cowanesque-Tioga-Hammond Lakes parks office at (570) 835-5422.

Hills Creek State Park is the home of a 137-acre lake of the same name. Survey work completed by the Fish and Boat Commission revealed a good population of bass and panfish in Hills Creek Lake. Of particular note were the lake's huge bluegills, many of which were of platter size. Larg

emouth bass also showed up in good numbers and sizes.

Boats are restricted to electric motors on Hills Creek. Two concrete launch ramps are available.

This state park offers several lodging options. A 102-site campground provides a variety of choices in various settings. Hills Creek has three camping cottages that have electric power, wood floors, lights and bunks. The cottages can accommodate up to five people.

Ten modern cabins round out the choices. These cabins have all the conveniences of home and are available on a weekly basis. Reservations are required during the summer months. Picnic areas are within the park, as is a sand beach. A total of five miles of trails can be hiked on three separate trails.

More information on Hills Creek State Park can be obtained by phoning (570) 724-4246. Reservations may be made by calling (888) PA-PARKS Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The trout angler has at least a dozen nearby waters that are stocked with catchable-size trout to choose from. Pine Creek is the largest stream in the area, and the fishing holds up well through June if water temperatures don't get too high and the flow stays good. The same applies to other area trout streams.

Two high-quality streams from Tioga County are included in the Fish and Boat Commission's Heritage Trout Program. Slate Run has seven miles of water in the program (shared with Lycoming County), and the Francis Branch of Slate Creek adds another 1.7 miles of opportunity. Consult the 2004 Summary of Fishing Laws and Regulations for particulars on Heritage Trout Program waters.

The vistas overlooking the Pine Creek Gorge, known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, are worth the trip alone. Scenic vistas are found in both Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park. Both parks have extensive trail systems to accommodate all levels of hikers.

Pine Creek and the Pine Creek Rail Trail offer more non-fishing excitement. Local businesses cater to canoeists and rafters, offering rentals and shuttle service. The Pine Creek Rail Trail provides 42 miles of biking from Ansonia to Waterville on former railroad beds. It's considered one of the finest biking trails of its type in the nation.

Nearby Wellsboro is a town steeped in history and offers a host of amenities of its own.

More information on the area may be obtained by calling the Tioga County Visitor's Bureau at (888) TIOGA28.



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