Best Bets For Keystone Hunters and Anglers

Best Bets For Keystone Hunters and Anglers

Pennsylvania has more options for late-season hunting and fishing than you might think. Here's a sample of some of the best.

Many Keystone State hunters and fishermen think that Pennsylvania's fall sporting opportunities come to an end when the firearms deer season closes. Fortunately, there have been many changes in the state's hunting and fishing regulations, giving sportsmen additional opportunities to pursue small game and waterfowl well into January. Newly extended hunting and fishing seasons allow sportsmen to pursue their favorite fish and game long after the traditional deer-hunting seasons end. Fishing is allowed on most commonwealth waters throughout the winter on open water or through the ice, but anglers are encouraged to check the most current regulations for the most recent updates and changes.

Here's a look at what's available for hunting and fishing options on public land near you this winter:

HUNTING

Don't put your hunting gear away just yet. Pennsylvania offers plenty of great small game hunting that lasts, in most cases, until Feb. 5.

Hunters seeking rabbits, grouse, pheasants and squirrels can take advantage of three split seasons. The first split ends Nov. 27. The season opens again Dec. 13-23 for all four species, and then opens again on Dec. 27 through Jan. 22 (for grouse), Feb. 5 (for squirrels and pheasants) and Feb. 26 for rabbits. There is a special snowshoe hare season that runs from Dec. 27 through Jan. 1. Coyotes may be hunted year-round with no restrictions.

Small Game

There is no shortage of squirrels in Pennsylvania. Not only are these popular small game targets abundant statewide, hunters are allowed to include red, black, gray and fox squirrels in the daily bag limit of 6.Keystone State hunters are fortunate that the common Eastern gray squirrel exists here in several color phases, taking squirrel hunting to a new level as sportsmen try to complete a Pennsylvania "grand slam" of color phase squirrels in the state.

In western Pennsylvania, great squirrel hunting may be enjoyed on the huge Allegheny National Forest near Warren, about 120 miles north of Pittsburgh. This huge holding of public land covers 512,998 acres -- more than 800 square miles -- and nearly all of it is prime squirrel country with plenty of easy access.

In addition, there are some early-successional growth areas in the western and eastern areas of the forest that should provide good grouse and rabbit hunting.

For maps and more information about Allegheny National Forest and its hunting opportunities, log onto the ANF Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/allegheny.

Additional hunting opportunities may be found on state forest lands, but these are managed primarily for timber production and do not contain a great deal of small game habitat. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, however, manages 1.4 million acres of state game lands. In most cases, these game lands are situated on the highest ridges and mountains, but plenty of acreage spills over the side hills and into the agricultural valleys below, where some great hunting may be found.

Access to some parts of these game lands can be a challenge, with some driving and a good deal of walking involved, but once you get there the hunting can be phenomenal, especially if you target areas that few other hunters will enter.

In central Pennsylvania, small game hunters can enjoy excellent squirrel, grouse and rabbit hunting on state game lands, many of which are actively managed for wildlife habitat that benefits all species, including our most popular small game birds and animals.

One great option is the 29,000-acre Raystown Lake complex in Huntingdon County. This long, winding lake is surrounded by state forestlands, game lands and U.S. Corps of Engineers property where hunting is allowed under the general rule.

This is steep, hilly country but access is easy via well-maintained state and county roads.

There is plenty of good hunting around the lake for squirrels, rabbits and grouse. The habitat is mostly forested, but there are some openings and clear-cuts that provide some species diversity.

For maps and more detailed information, log onto www.raystownlake.com.

In eastern Pennsylvania, hunters need look no farther than Delaware State Forest, which is 15 miles north of Stroudsburg in Pike County.

Offering a good mix of forestland, regenerating clear-cuts and swampy cover, this 80,000-acre public hunting area has enough land, cover and game to keep any hunter busy all season. On a recent late-season hunt, for example, I saw bears, deer, grouse, rabbits, squirrels and ducks every day, and geese were constantly calling in the distance.

Good hunting may be found just minutes from most maintained parking areas, and even better opportunities exist in the interior of the forest, where logging roads and hiking trails provide easy access. Hunters are limited only by how far they are willing to walk.

For maps and more information about Delaware State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District #19, HC 1, Box 95A, Swiftwater, PA 18370-9723; or call (570) 895-4000. Or log onto www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

Even in early winter, rabbits will be in the thickest -- and often nastiest — brush they can find. Hunters willing to there with their dogs will find the most game. Photo by Stephen D. Carpenteri.

Waterfowl

Pennsylvania's late-season waterfowl hunting is generally focused on the Susquehanna River corridor near Harrisburg.

Wintering Canada geese (and some snow geese) roost on the big river at night and disperse inland during the day to feed. The game is to determine where the birds are feeding (usually pastures, crop fields or other agricultural areas), seek permission to hunt there and be set up with blinds and decoys before dawn the next day.

Hunters may use state game lands throughout the region but will have the best luck on areas with active agricultural fields on them. Farm-game cooperative farmers in the region will allow goose hunting during

the late season. The Pennsylvania Game Commission maintains a list of cooperative farmers in the river region, a good place to start your late-season goose hunt.

There are many places along the river where hunting is allowed. When the river is open, hunters motor or paddle out from PGC-maintained launch sites to set up near islands, points and shoals where wintering geese may be caught loafing during the day. In addition, some great pass shooting may be had at sunrise and near sunset as the birds fly just off the water en route to or returning from their feeding areas.

For more information on Pennsylvania's great late-season hunting opportunities, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17110; call (717) 787-4250; or log onto www.portal.state.pa.us.

FISHING HOTSPOTS

Pennsylvania's winter fishing options run the gamut from taking hand-sized bluegills through the ice to finessing cold-blooded trout with flies and lures to two-handed hauling for muskies and catfish.

Considered a "northern" state, Pennsylvania's winter fishing opportunities can go either way -- open water or ice-fishing. Generally speaking, if there's going to be safe ice it will be north of or very near the Interstate Route 80 corridor. In the southern half of the state (below the I-80 line) the odds are you'll be fishing open water most of the time -- though cold weather is likely, so come prepared with warm boots, gloves and hand warmers.

Western Region

The famed Three Rivers area around Pittsburgh offers some of the best late-season bass fishing in the state. Access to the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers is easy via various state-maintained launches. Shore-fishing sites are numerous on all three rivers as well. Bass fishing is allowed in the late season from Oct. 1 through April 16 under various laws and restrictions, but anglers using artificial lures or fly-fishing gear and release their catch will have no problem being "legal" on any of these three popular bass waters.

Western Pennsylvania is also rife with excellent trout streams and rivers where anglers may fish all winter. Regulations vary from stream to stream throughout the state, so it's important that anglers acquire a copy of the most recent fishing regulations or log onto the PFBC Web site at www.fishandboat.com.

In addition to bass and trout, western Pennsylvania anglers may target yellow perch, bluegills, crappies and muskies during the winter season.

A complete statewide listing of waters that are open for winter or ice-fishing may be viewed on the Internet by logging onto www.fishandboat.com/ice.htm.

Central Region

In central Pennsylvania, winter fishing opportunities include nearly all species that are legal to catch in the Keystone State. Options abound throughout the region, but we need only return to Raystown Lake for some of the best late-season fishing in the region.

Take your pick from the following list: catfish, carp, bass (striped, largemouth, rock, and smallmouth), walleyes, muskellunge, trout (lake, brown and rainbow), Atlantic salmon, perch, smelts, crappies and bluegills. Raystown Lake has all these and more in fishable numbers.

The huge, winding lake has numerous launches and shore access points, so access is not a problem. Most of the best fishing is off the lake's many points and in its secluded coves, where baitfish stack up and game fish (especially stripers and salmon) come right in behind them.

The central region also boasts a wide variety of other great fishing opportunities, from its North Country trout waters (such as Pine Creek and Lyman Lake in Potter County) to the warmwater streams and lakes along the state's southern border, including Blue Marsh Lake and Lake Ontelaunee.

The central region also contains over a dozen state parks including Bald Eagle, Kettle Creek and Sinnemahoning where fishing is allowed throughout the season. Ice-fishing is allowed on most state park lakes but ice thickness is not monitored. Anglers should be sure that there is at least 4 inches of "safe" ice before they start cutting holes.

For more information about Pennsylvania's great late-season and winter fisheries, contact the PFBC's North-Central Region Web page at http://fishandboat.com/splncro.htm. Or, log onto the PFBC's Home Page at www.fish.state.pa.us.

Eastern Region

Anglers in eastern Pennsylvania have no reason to put their gear away. Most of the region's best trout, bass and panfish waters are open to fishing all winter. And, with much of the region being below the I-80 line, it's likely that most lakes, rivers and streams to the south will remain open even when snow covers the shoreline. Things start to get iffy when you get up into the Poconos, but ice-fishing is productive on many waters when conditions allow.

For excellent late-season bass fishing, anglers should consider the Delaware River along the state's eastern border. Access is easy and plentiful all along the Delaware, which is a designated state Water Trail.

In addition, the Susquehanna River offers some great bass fishing in its southern reaches while some anglers tout the big river's great headwater trout fishing. There are plenty of access points maintained by the PFBC for boat and shore anglers, and fishing is allowed year-round.

Winter river fishing can be an enjoyable sport if you are dressed for the conditions and have the right gear for the job. The Susquehanna's winter bass are likely to be in the deeper pools and will be reluctant to venture far from cover. In cold weather, grub-tipped jigs will tempt these fish, as will slow-running, deep-diving plugs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

Fish each pool carefully and take it slow. Winter bass do not "hibernate," as some anglers think, nor do they go without eating all winter. And, they do not "fatten up" in preparation for winter, as most mammals do. Instead, they simply move about less and waste less energy chasing schools of baitfish when the water temperatures are low. Put an attractive lure right under their nose and you will get a response!

For fast panfish action, the state's eastern region is unbeatable. Excellent fishing for perch, bluegills, crappies and pickerel may be found on a number of lakes and ponds. One of the best of these all-species lakes is Lake Wallenpaupack a 5,700-acre lake in Pike and Wayne counties that is owned and operated by Pennsylvania Power and Light, Inc. The lake is 13 miles in length and about 60 feet at its maximum depth. It is operated as an auxiliary electric generating facility, but is open to the public.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission owns and maintains a boat access area at Mangan Cove, which is off of state Route 590. Boaters may launch their watercraft from this access ar

ea for free. There are also PPL-owned boat access areas at Caffrey, Ironwood Point, Ledgedale and Wilsonville. There is a $5 fee to launch a boat at these four PPL access areas; however, the fee is waived for campers.

Wallenpaupack has no horsepower limit regulations for boaters.

Wallenpaupack Lake is a great destination for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, pickerel, yellow perch, trout, striped bass and a variety of panfish.

In general, fishing for most species is allowed on the majority of Keystone State waters, but there are some restricted waters, tackle limitations and other regulations that may affect certain waters. Before taking advantage of any of the Keystone State's abundant late-season fishing or hunting opportunities, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission or the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as noted above.

To learn more about Pennsylvania's state parks, campgrounds and other accommodations, log onto the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism's Web site at www.visitpa.com.

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