Photo by Mike Bleech
The annual winter migration is underway, the migration of hearty trout anglers from their warm homes to frozen lakes across Pennsylvania. Along the northern tier of counties, anglers may have been on the ice since early December. The most dedicated of the ice-fishing cadre call an early ice-up good news, in stark contrast to most of the population.
What kind of insanity could make folks hope for an early start to winter? Approximately 21,600 trout were stocked during the winter trout-stocking program. The bulk of these, 16,000 of them, were rainbow trout, 3,350 were brook trout and 2,250 were brown trout. This stocking got underway Nov. 1 at Justus Lake in Venango County and continued through Dec. 20 at Levittown Lake and Lake Luxembourg in Bucks County and Ridgway Reservoir in Elk County.
Later, there is the Early Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program. Stocking for waters in this program starts Jan. 5 at Harbor Acres Lake in Butler County and continues through Feb. 29 at Duke Lake in Greene County. Lakes in this program have special regulations. The special season runs from March 1 through March 31; the minimum length limit is 7 inches, and the creel limit is three trout (combined species). Inland regulations apply to all other species.
The number of trout stocked in the early-season program is not announced.
“About twice as many lakes are involved in the early-season stockings,” said Tom Greene, Coldwater Unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “I’d say about 55,000 trout are stocked.”
Trout stocked during the winter and early season tend to be larger than those stocked during spring. These fish have a few extra months to grow in the hatchery raceways while gorging on hatchery feed.
Of course, this makes winter stocking more expensive. Compared with the millions of trout that are stocked annually in Pennsylvania, this might not seem like a huge number of trout, but these fish go into relatively few lakes and the number of anglers who pursue them is much lower than the number who fish for trout across the Commonwealth each spring.
“Typically, angler use during the winter time frame is quite low compared with the spring. You’re looking at about 20 percent. But participation varies from water to water,” Greene said.
That 20 percent applies only to lakes where anglers ice-fish for trout, not to all trout fishing effort, so this is a very small number of anglers.
Twenty lakes are stocked with trout during the winter stocking program. For the early-season stocking program, 56 lakes are stocked with trout. Some of these are the same lakes stocked during the winter stocking program. A total of 62 lakes are stocked between the two stocking programs.
Lakes that are stocked during both winter and early-season stocking programs deserve a close look for excellent ice-fishing opportunities over the winter. Some will be noted in the regional outlooks that follow.
Ice-fishing is a special challenge. Anglers must put up with frigid weather and ice, which often severely limit mobility. If you want to try a spot 10 feet away, you must drill another hole through the ice. Nonetheless, catch rates during winter are surprisingly similar to catch rates during the opening weeks of the regular trout season.
The Fish and Boat Commission surveyed a dozen lakes from late February through March 31 and 15 lakes from opening day of the regular trout season through June and found that angler use was 592 angler hours per acre in the regular season and 110 angler hours during the late ice-fishing season.
“Obviously, from opening day through Memorial Day is when we get our peak use on these waters,” Green pointed out.
Most of the lakes that were surveyed late in the ice-fishing season were part of the early-season stocking program and were stocked during February. Catch rates were 0.9 fish per angler hour during the regular season and 0.7 fish per angler hour during the ice-fishing season.
“During that early-season program, we are usually dealing with die-hard anglers who keep that catch rate up,” Greene said.
Pennsylvania has no trout management program specifically aimed at ice-fishing.
“We don’t manage for ice-fishing because conditions can vary. We can’t really say that we’re managing any water specifically for ice-fishing,” Greene explained.
Trout stocked during both the winter stocking program and the early-season stocking program are, of course, caught through the ice, but not always. It would be unusual for there to be ice when the first trout are stocked on Nov. 1 for the winter stocking program, even at Justus Lake in the cold Northwest Region. Likewise, it would be quite unusual for all of the lakes stocked during the early-season stocking program to be frozen over when the latter stockings are made in late February.
“Most of the waters that are stocked in the early-season program are stocked in early to mid-February,” Greene pointed out. “There’s a pretty big difference between those two time frames. There is a lot of variation in ice conditions.”
The intention of the Fish and Boat Commission is to provide a variety of trout-fishing opportunities throughout the year. Certainly ice-fishing fits into this scheme. But things work out just as nicely if winter weather is on the warm side and we have an open-water fishery.
Each year, lakes are added to or removed from the winter and early-season trout stocking lists. Lakes may be taken off the lists because repairs need to be made to dams. Lakes could be added because of renewed interest by anglers or because water conditions have changed.
In some cases, lakes are added to trout stocking lists to attract anglers interested in a multi-species winter fishery.
For example, last year, East Basin Pond and West Basin Pond in Erie County, Lily Lake in Luzerne County and Upper Twin Lake in Westmoreland County were added to the Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters program. This year, Quaker Lake in Susquehanna County and Deep Creek Dam in Montgomery County have been added.
Bradford Reservoir No. 3 in McKean County and Dutch Fork Lake in Washington County were removed from the stocking lists last year for dam repairs. Bradford Reservoir No. 3, also known locally as Mari
lla Reservoir, was a particularly devastating loss because it is one of the first lakes in the Commonwealth to form safe ice. This 20-acre impoundment is just three miles from Pennsylvania’s northern border.
Although the winter trout stockings start in the Northwest Region Nov. 1 at Justus Lake, do not anticipate safe ice for several weeks after this. Typically, ice-fishing does not get underway until Christmas.
The first lake with safe ice may be Chapman Lake in Warren County, which occasionally freezes over by early December in colder winters. It covers 68 acres and is no more than 7 feet deep in most places.
This is one of the lakes that is stocked both in the winter and early- season periods, so fishing remains good throughout most of the winter. It is part of the Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program. The last stocking was Dec. 13, and the next stocking will be Feb. 6.
Access is excellent all around the lake, with main parking areas at each end and smaller pull-offs along the west side. Typically, stocked trout tend to remain in the area where they were stocked for a while, so these should be some of the better fishing areas.
Chapman Lake is part of Chapman State Park. More information is available from the Chapman State Park office, R.R. 2, Box 1610, Clarendon, PA 16313; call (814) 723-0250, or e-mail email@example.com.
Tackle, bait and lodging are available nearby in Warren.
Another popular Northwest Region trout lake is Lake Pleasant, a natural lake in northeastern Erie County. Take the Route 8 (Hammett) exit off Interstate Route 90, follow Route 8 south about three miles and then turn right onto Mark Road. Follow Mark Road to the T-intersection and turn left onto Lake Pleasant Road. Follow Lake Pleasant Road about five miles to the lake.
Bait and tackle are available along Route 5 near North East and in the Erie area, where anglers will also find lodging and other services.
More information is available through the Erie Convention and Visitors Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501-2312; call (800) 524-3743, or visit the Web site at
Lake Pleasant is one of the region’s Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lakes. It was last stocked Dec. 13, and the next stocking will be Feb. 21.
The lake covers about 60 acres and has some depth, so trout can elude anglers. There should be some good opportunities through the ice-fishing period.
The first lake with safe ice may be Chapman Lake in Warren County, which occasionally freezes over by early December in colder winters.
The lake also holds some nice yellow perch, crappies and sunfish.
Another of the first Pennsylvania lakes to get safe ice is Beechwood Lake in northern Tioga County. An Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lake, it is scheduled for stocking this winter on Feb. 10. There should be a few trout remaining from previous stockings to provide decent ice-fishing earlier in the winter.
The lake also holds crappies, sunfish, bass, walleyes and chain pickerel.
Beechwood Lake is about two miles southeast of Sabinsville on state Route 4012. Take Route 349 North from Route 6 at Gaines to Sabinsville. Tackle and lodging are available in Wellsboro.
For more information, contact the Tioga County Visitors Bureau, 114 Main St., Wellsboro, PA 16901; call (888) TIOGA28 or (570) 724-0635 for information about local services.
Kettle Creek Lake in Clinton County is one of the larger stocked trout lakes at about 165 acres, although it is drawn down during winter, which aids ice-fishermen by concentrating the fish. It is also quite deep and holds plenty of trout between stockings. This is an Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lake.
Stockings in Kettle Creek also support a winter fishery. Stocking this winter is slated for Feb. 10. Though technically a U.S. Corps of Engineers flood control reservoir, it is in Kettle Creek State Park. In addition to trout, there are yellow perch, sunfish, bass and chain pickerel.
The park is along state Route 4001 seven miles north of Westport and Route 120. This is remote territory, so anglers should plan on stocking up on supplies before they get near the lake.
For park information, contact Kettle Creek State Park, 97 Kettle Creek Park Lane, Renovo, PA 17764-9708, (570) 923-6004, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get local information through the Clinton County Economic Partnership, 212 North Jay St., Lock Haven, PA, or call (888) 388-6991.
Cloe Lake in Jefferson County is in the Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program and receives a double stocking of trout each winter. The first was Dec. 14, and the second will be Feb. 1.
To get there, take Route 36 East from Punxsutawney, turn north on Lipp Road and proceed west on state Route 2002.
Information on local services is available from the Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, 175 Main St., Brookville, PA 15825, or call (800) 348-9393.
Take advantage of double wintertime stockings at Upper Woods Pond in Wayne County, another Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lake. It was stocked Nov. 3 and will be replenished on Feb. 23.
Upper Woods Pond is two miles north of Cold Springs Corners off Route 371 and is contained within State Game Lands 159. It is a natural glacial lake with a surface area of 80 acres and a maximum depth of about 73 feet, which lends itself to holding trout over between stockings. There is only one access point for vehicles at the northern end of the lake.
For information about lodging and other area services, contact the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, Inc., 1004 Main St., Stroudsburg, PA 18360; call (800) 762-6667, e-mail email@example.com, or visit the Web site at
Safe ice for winter fishing in the Southeast Region is not a certainty. A pair of the more likely places to find hardwater opportunities are Antietam Lake and Scotts Run Lake in Berks County.
Antietam Lake was stocked Dec. 6 and will be restocked on Feb. 2; Scotts Run Lake was stocked Dec. 13 and will be replenished Jan. 1. Both are Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lakes.
To reach Antie
tam Lake, take Business Route 422 from Reading into Mt. Penn, turn left on Carsonia Avenue and continue to a stop sign. Continue straight ahead onto Antietam Road.
Scotts Run Lake is part of French Creek State Park. The park is off Route 345 south of Birdsboro and north of Route 23.
For park information, contact the French Creek State Park office, 843 Park Road, Elverson, PA 19520-9523, or call (610) 582-9680.
Information about local services is available through the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn St., Reading, PA 19602, or call (800) 443-6610.
As in the Southeast Region, ice- fishing opportunities in the Southcentral Region tend to be minimal. Cowans Gap Lake in Fulton County will be stocked Feb. 24 and is part of the Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program. Likely as not, though, this will be open-water fishing. If it is frozen, be sure the ice is safe to walk on.
This lake is in Cowans Gap State Park. The park is between Chambersburg and McConnellsburg. From the west, take Exit 180 (Fort Littleton) off I-76, and then Route 522 north to Burnt Cabins and follow the signs to the park. From the east, take Exit 189 (Willow Hill) off I-76, and then Route 75 south to Richmond Furnace and follow the signs. From U.S. Route 30, take Route 75 North at Fort Loudon to Richmond Furnace and follow the signs.
For park information, contact the Cowans Gap State Park office, 6235 Aughwick Road, Fort Loudon, PA 17224-9801; call (717) 485-3948, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Different weather patterns and higher elevations lead to more ice- fishing in the Southwest Region than in the other southern regions, though a warmer winter will disappoint ice- fishermen.
Westmoreland County has six lakes to be stocked on Feb. 7 for the Early-Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program. For Lower Twin Lake, it will be the second stocking of the winter; the first was Dec. 13. This lake is in a city park east of Greensburg.
For more about local services, contact the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 East Main St., Ligonier, PA 15658, or call (800) 333-5661.
Rowena Lake is near Ebensburg off Route 22 on Lake View Road. It covers 13 acres to a maximum depth of about 15 feet. The first stocking this winter took place Dec. 13 and another is scheduled for Feb. 14. It is also loaded with crappies, but they tend toward the small side.
For local information, contact the Greater Johnstown Convention and Visitors Bureau, 111 Market St., Johnstown, PA 15901, or call (800) 237-8590.
For more information about ice-fishing opportunities in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000, or call (717) 705-7800.
For more information about accommodations statewide, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120, call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.