The Keystone State has much to offer anglers, and many places to fish successfully. The action lasts throughout the year. Here’s a great blueprint for where to go!
JANUARY – High Point Lake Crappies
We begin with an ice-fishing adventure on High Point Lake. High Point, as its name suggests, is nestled atop the Laurel Highlands. Thanks to its elevation, it provides a dependable layer of ice, providing the weather is even halfway cooperative.
High Point Lake covers over 330 acres. While it plays host to a wide variety of species, hard water anglers would be wise to target its abundant panfish population. When the lake was surveyed during the spring of 2015, PFBC personnel collected excellent numbers of black crappies, as well as fish of quality size. Forty-seven percent of the crappies collected in trap nets were in excess of 9 inches.
Yellow perch also showed up in good numbers, and provide another reliable species for ice anglers to target. Northern pike are also common, as are chain pickerel. The latter is a non-native, found now in High Point due to an unauthorized introduction. The PFBC encourages anglers to harvest all legal-sized pickerel caught.
High Point Lake is located in Somerset County, and is owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
OTHER OPTIONS: Good January choices include ice fishing action on Warren County’s Chapman Dam for stocked trout, and Ontelaunee Lake in Berks County for panfish.
FEBRUARY – Lower Allegheny River Walleyes
The lower 72 miles of the Allegheny River are impounded by eight locks and dams, creating mini-impoundments that stretch, on average, around eight to nine miles in length. These “pools,” as they are referred to, provide excellent habitat for walleye, as well as its closely-related cousin the sauger. Wintertime action can be fast and furious when fish populations are high, and conditions good.
Concentrate your efforts on the areas below the dams (keeping in mind that boats must keep out of the restricted area immediately below the dams), and near incoming creeks. Dark days tend to be more productive than bright sunny ones. The last hour of daylight often produces best. Top lure options include the classic jig-and-minnow, as well as minnow-shaped crankbaits like the Rapala Husky Jerk.
Popular launch areas include Sharpsburg, Harmar, Tarentum, Freeport, Kittanning, and Cowanshannock. For guide service visit www.keystoneconnection.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: Good February options include the tailwaters of Blue Marsh Lake (Tulpehocken Creek for trout), and the outflow of Tionesta Lake for walleyes and muskies.
MARCH – Little Juniata River Brown Trout
The Little Juniata River supports one of the most robust populations of stream-bred brown trout in the state. And one need not wait until the prolific mayfly hatches of May and June to enjoy its fine sport.
Much of the Little J is managed as All-Tackle, Catch and Release trout water. One can use any legal form of tackle, but all trout must be released. Waters under this special regulation flow from the railroad bridge near Ironville 13.7 miles downstream to the mouth. The river is heavy influenced by limestone spring water.
In regard to access, the Little Juniata has water to suit those looking to hike back in to more secluded stretches, as well as riverside turnouts where you can be casting to trout a couple minutes after stringing up your rod. More isolated water can be found within the area in Rothrock State Forest, upriver of Barree. A parking lot is located at a gated trail. From there you can hike upriver at least 2 miles. Easy access spots can be found near Barree and Spruce Creek. Keep in mind, though, that roadside pull-offs might be clogged with plowed snow if winter weather has dumped significant snow.
Even in winter, Little Juniata trout can be found near faster water, likely drawn there by the significant bug life found in and below riffle areas.
OTHER OPTIONS: In March there is very good trout fishing below Youghiogheny Lake (open year-round in the Youghiogheny River from the lake to the Casselman River); and for muskies in French Creek.
APRIL – Lower Juniata River Smallmouth
Though the lower portion of the Juniata (as well as the lower part of the Susquehanna River) are under restrictive regulations aimed at providing further protection for its smallmouth bass fishery, the river is still very much a viable destination for smallmouth anglers.
Joe Raymond, who guides on both rivers, catches springtime smallies on the lower Juniata by targeting pre-spawn staging areas, protected areas somewhat proximate to the gravel-laden flats where they will eventually spawn. It’s a great time of year to take some of the river’s bigger bass, as pre-spawn smallies are often the first to show up in staging areas. The Thompsontown ramp provides access to a productive stretch of the Juniata.
For bass that respond to a bait that makes bottom contact, Raymond suggests a Z-Man tube jig. When they want something higher in the water column, he opts for a Spro suspending jerkbait. For more information on guide service in this area, visit www.suquehannasmallmouthguides.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: April’s a great month for trout, including fishing Centre County’s Spring Creek (wild trout) and Wiconisco Creek (stocked/Keystone Select Program).
MAY – Big Fishing Creek Trout
Pennsylvania has several “Fishing Creeks,” but the one commonly called Big Fishing Creek is our May destination. It’s located in southern Clinton County.
Big Fishing Creek is a limestone stream, and has abundant bug life. Though some sections of Fishing Creek receive trout stockings, much of the stream features wild brown trout. A 1.18-mile section of is managed as Trophy Trout Waters, allowing two trout of 14 inches or larger to be creeled from the mid-April opener until Labor Day.
This stretch runs from the private lane bridge at the Tylersville State Fish Hatchery down to the State Game Lands 295 border. A second 2.1-mile Trophy Trout project extends from a point 1.3 miles upstream of the lower State Route 2002 Bridge downstream to Fleming’s Bridge at the Lamar Fish Hatchery. Within the two areas managed as Trophy Trout is a 2-mile stretch managed as Catch and Release, Artificial Lures Only. All trout must be released. Only flies and artificial lures, fished on traditional fly or spinning gear, is permitted.
Access is good along this section of Big Fishing Creek. A parking area is near the Tylersville Hatchery. The section known as the “Cabins,” due to the numerous streamside camps, in general, permits fishing (unless otherwise posted). But the landowners ask that folks not fish on Sunday, a long-standing request that has helped keep much of this privately owned section open to anglers.
For information on guide service visit www.skyblueoutfitters.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: Also in May, consider Shohola Marsh Reservoir for bluegills, and Presque Isle Bay for both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
JUNE – First Fork Sinnemahoning Trout
Trout fishing is a big deal in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Potter County. And the county boasts many venues in which to enjoy the activity. One of the best is the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek.
First Fork is a relatively large freestone stream, one with lots of insect life. By the time June rolls around an angler can often find plenty of open space to fish, as the peak of the trout-fishing happens in April and May.
First Fork features a popular delayed harvest, artificial lures only project that runs from the mouth of Bailey Run down to a bend above Berge Run Bridge. It’s a distance of a little over a mile-and-a-half. This project is also one included in the Fish and Boat Commission’s Keystone Select stocked trout waters. As such, it receives a share of 3,200 large trout (14 to 20 inches) stocked in Keystone Select waters across the state.
OTHER OPTIONS: Besides trout, consider largemouth bass on Kahle Lake, and crappies on Pymatuning.
JULY – Raystown Lake Bass
Raystown Lake, the largest lake found entirely in the state, gets its share of attention from boaters during the summer. But that doesn’t stop the bass from biting.
According to tournament bass fishing expert Deron Eck, now’s a great time to target Raystown bass. Eck likes the mid-lake portion of Raystown in July (and August). He looks for steep-dropping bluff banks, more specifically ones the feature big laydown trees that extend out into deep water, depths that run from 30 to 60 feet. It’s a great place to target topwater lures early in the morning, he says, concentrating on the areas where you visualize the tops of the trees to be laying.
OTHER OPTIONS: In July, also consider trout in the South Branch of Tunkhannock Creek (Select Trout DHALO), and bluegills in Cross Creek Lake.
AUGUST – Lower Susquehanna River Channel Cats
A few years ago I joined Susquehanna River expert and guide Rod Bates on a flathead trip. The action was impressive — and the size of the fish was even more so. We again shared the boat last year, this time targeting channel cats. Again, it was everything Rod suggested it would be.
The lower Susquehanna River is impounded by several hydro-electric dams, with free-flowing stretches connecting the impounded water. It was within the rocky, naturally flowing river that we caught numerous channel cats in remarkably shallow water (4- to 6-feet deep).
Channel cats, according to Bates, have much to offer anglers. For one, they are relatively easy to catch — perfect for the novice fisherman. We caught nearly all of our fish by still-fishing from the same basic anchored position, with the rods perched in rod holders. And, for folks who like to take some fish home for the pan, the Susqy’s channel cats are numerous, and can certainly withstand the harvest.
For information on guided trips visit www.koinoniafishingguides.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: Two largemouth bass lakes — Lake Somerset or Pinchot Lake — are well worth a visit even in the heat of summer.
SEPTEMBER – Conneaut Lake Crappies
According to panfish guide Darl Black, Conneaut’s September crappies are in the same basic patterns of the prior couple of months, and that concentrates them.
“Around mid-July Conneaut’s crappies begin relating to the deep weedlines,” Black noted, adding “At times they’ll move out to open water to force baitfish into a trap on weed point.”
Conneaut’s crappies can be of impressive size. During outings there last summer, Black took numerous crappies in the 12- to 14-inch range.
For information on guide service, contact www.blackwolfecommunications.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: In September the bass of Yellow Creek Lake begin taking topwater lures with consistency. Cooler weather bring pleasant days on the upper Delaware River, where stream-bred rainbow and brown trout test the skills of the most talented dry fly anglers.
OCTOBER – Middle Allegheny Smallmouth
October is a transitional month in many fisheries, the middle Allegheny River included. As water temperatures drop into the 50s and continue downward, river smallmouth bass move from the current areas that held them much of the past few months, to somewhat deeper, protected areas. It’s a time when fish begin to stack up in well-defined areas, and also a time when bigger fish become the norm.
Expect to find bass in deeper runs and pools, often moving close to the bank when the stricken with the urge to feed. Boulders, points, and laydowns that break the force of the current will be attractive to bronzebacks.
The middle Allegheny is a natural, free-flowing river, typically navigated by jet boats, canoes and kayaks. Prop boats are only appropriate in deeper pools, and when the flow is higher than normal.
Launch areas include Tionesta, President, Oil City, Franklin, Kennerdell, Emlenton, Parker and East Brady. Guide service is available by visiting www.keystoneconnection.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: Big flathead cats on the lower Susquehanna River (www.koinioniafishingguides.com) are a trophy challenge this month. Largemouth bass on Lake Nockamixon begin chasing baitfish as the waters cool.
NOVEMBER – Pymatuning Lake Walleyes
While Pymatuning Lake’s walleye fishing draws big crowds during the spring and early summer, there is also a great late-season bite too as fat, summer-fed walleyes stoke up even more on gizzard shad.
Shad don’t handle cold water well, particularly sudden drops in temperature. In general, the shad will migrate toward the southern portion of the lake, where the water is deepest, and warmer (at this time of year). Walleyes follow. Locate the big schools of shad and the walleyes are not far away. Key ambush spots are typically near sharp breaking points and humps. Nearly all of the ‘eyes are caught on blade baits in the 1/2- to 3/4-ounce size.
For guide service information visit www.blackwolfecommunications.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: Try smallmouth bass in Armstrong County’s Keystone Lake (guide service www.keystoneconnection.com); and stocked trout in the Shenango River, below Shenango Lake.
DECEMBER – Erie County Tributary Steelhead
As much as I enjoy feeling the power of a steelhead, I’m not into the crowded conditions one often encounters during the fall. Thankfully, the crowds often thin by December, when cold weather, and deer season, keep many folks off the streams.
Though it’s possible to encounter steelhead in pretty much any of the streams that feed Pennsylvania’s share of Lake Erie, the most popular streams west of the city of Erie are Conneaut Creek, Elk Creek and Walnut. To the east, consider 16 Mile and 29 Mile creeks.
Ideal conditions for Erie steelhead are falling/clearing water following a rain event. Erie tributaries drain quickly, so prime conditions typically don’t last long. Veteran fly-fishing steelhead guide Mark DeCarlo says willingness to travel across the state to hit the stream with the best conditions is vital to success.
While some public water is available, most sections of Erie tributaries flow through private land. Pay attention to posted signs, and pay the utmost respect to them.
For information on guided fly fishing steelhead trips contact DeCarlo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other options: River walleyes on the lower Susquehanna (www.koinoniafishingguides.com); and yellow perch on Presque Isle Bay.