Photo by Paul Updike
February is considered the dead of the winter, but it’s also the heart of the Pennsylvania ice-fishing season. Keystone State anglers consider this month a new beginning, with new stockings of trout scheduled at many of our lakes.
This month’s stocking schedule is part of the Early Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program.
Lakes in the program are open to trout fishing from March 1 through 31, with a daily creel limit of three trout and a minimum-size limit of 7 inches. Western Pennsylvania also has the only two rivers that are part of this program.
<west BASIN POND
In the northwest corner of the commonwealth, West Basin Pond and East Basin Pond are hotspots overlooked by many ice-fishermen, including local anglers, because of their proximity to Presque Isle Bay, which may be Pennsylvania’s most popular ice-fishing destination.
These ponds lie in Presque Isle Bay State Park on the Presque Isle Peninsula, which separates Presque Isle Bay from Lake Erie.
Approaching from the south, take Interstate Route 79 to Interstate Route 90, and then go west. Exit onto state Route 832 and head north. Route 832 is also Presque Isle Drive, which leads into the state park. The ponds are near the Water Works.
A Feb. 5 stocking is scheduled for both of these small ponds.
PRESQUE ISLE BAY
While we are up here in the northwest corner of the state, we shouldn’t forget Presque Isle Bay as a trout-fishing destination. These are not ordinary trout; these are steelhead, gamest of all our trout.
Even the smallest steelhead are bigger than most of the trout that get stocked for ice-fishing, and some will weigh more than 10 pounds.
Strangely, as popular as steelhead are in open water here at Presque Isle Bay, yellow perch get the lion’s share of attention. Steelhead are usually a bonus because few ice-fishermen target them.
To focus on steelhead, set tip-ups at various depths, starting just a few feet under the ice.
Use shiners for bait. Jigs tipped with shiners also work well.
The best ice-fishing for steelhead typically occurs late in the ice-fishing season — February and on into March, as long as safe ice persists.
Local information for Presque Isle Bay, East Basin Pond and West Basin Pond may be obtained from the Erie Tourist and Convention Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501.
Or phone 1-800-524-3749, or log onto www.eriepa.com
Chapman Lake in Warren County is one of the more popular ice-fishing destinations in the Northwest Region. It lies at the end of Chapman Dam Road, which starts off U.S. Route 6 at the traffic light in Clarendon about six miles east of Warren.
Chapman Lake has a surface area of 66 acres. Most of the lake is less than eight feet deep. Stocking usually takes place at the boat launch area toward the head of the lake.
Ice-fishing is usually hot in this area at least through the week following stocking. Later, most anglers fish closer to the dam. This pattern is typical of most of our stocked trout lakes.
Justus Lake, which is slated to be stocked Feb. 5, is the place to ice-fish for trout in Venango County. This lake is in Two Mile Run County Park off state Route 417 and state Route 428 between Franklin, Oil City and Titusville.
The surface area of Justus Lake is 144 acres, a bit larger than other stocked trout lakes in the area. Somewhat deeper than most stocked lakes, it supports trout year-round. Trout longer than 20 inches are caught here occasionally.
Rainbow trout are on the agenda for the scheduled Feb. 19 stocking, one of four scheduled stockings for Bessemer Lake. This Lawrence County lake lies on the west side of Bessemer north of state Route 317.
From the Pittsburgh area, follow state Route 60 north to state Route 108, and then take Route 317 from Mount Jackson to Bessemer.
Because Bessemer Lake is close to the Ohio border, it is a great place to visit for non-resident license holders.
From the Youngstown, Ohio area, take state Route 170 south to state Route 630 east.
This highway becomes state Route 317 at the Pennsylvania state line.
Bessemer Lake covers only 28 acres, but is relatively deep for its size. It has also been stocked with saugers.
GLADE RUN LAKE
Feb. 19 is the scheduled date to stock rainbows at Glade Run Lake. This 52-acre lake is owned and managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, so access is excellent.
It also holds yellow perch, bluegill and largemouth bass. Be sure to observe Big Bass Program rules if you encounter bass.
Glade Run Lake is in south-central Butler County, on the south side of state Route 228 about two miles east of the intersection with state Route 8. Access to the lake is off Overbrook Road.
Like several of our favorite stocked trout lakes, Glade Run Lake is on a list of dams in need of repairs. Unfortunately, the cost of repairing this dam exceeds the Fish and Boat Commission’s entire budget for infrastructure repairs.
For fishing enthusiasts in the Pittsburgh area, a
cluster of stocked trout lakes surrounds Allegheny County. Immediately off the northwest corner of Allegheny County, Beaver County has a trio of lakes in the Early Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program. All are scheduled for Feb. 22 stockings.
BRADYS RUN LAKE
Bradys Run Lake is in the central part of the county near Beaver Falls. It is along Brady’s Run Road, which may be accessed from state Route 51 between Beaver and Beaver Falls.
Like several small lakes in the Southwest Region, this lake is
managed under Big Bass Program special regulations.
In many ways, Pittsburgh is America’s biggest rural town. Of course, it is a busy metropolis, but hunting and fishing are strong traditions here, so lakes in the surrounding area get a lot of fishing pressure. Fortunately, this area also has many conservation-minded sportsmen who understand the value of catch-and-release fishing.
Bradys Run Lake is very small at just 28 acres, so anglers should have no trouble finding trout. The other side of the coin is that trout tend to be caught quickly, so they can become scarce between stockings.
Lower Hereford Manor Lake is off state Route 288 northeast of Zelienople on Doe Run. Get here from Pittsburgh by taking I-79 north to the Zelienople exit.
This small 45-acre lake also holds bass and panfish and is part of the PGC’s Big Bass Program. Anglers can also enjoy some good crappie action if the trout are not hitting. Check the lower and lower-western portions of the lake.
Raccoon Lake is in the medium- sized range for stocked trout lakes, with a surface area of 101 acres.
Although stockings are fairly generous, it pays to know where and when the stockings take place.
It takes a little longer for trout to spread throughout this lake than at some of the tiny stocked lakes. Structure may also be more of a factor here than at many of the smaller lakes.
Between stockings, ice-fishermen with portable sonar have an advantage. Another advantage of larger lakes like this one is that a larger percentage of stocked trout tend to survive, so between stockings, this lake has more potential than the smaller lakes. You might have to work to find the trout, but it’s nice to know that they are here.
Fish-attracting devices have been placed in Raccoon Lake. Although they are more likely to attract panfish or bass, they’re worth checking out because most ice-fishermen are interested in catching anything — few concentrate on trout alone.
Raccoon Lake lies along state Route 18, a short distance north from the intersection of U.S. Route 22 in Raccoon Creek State Park. Take Raccoon Park Road to access areas along the lake.
UPPER TWIN LAKE
Immediately to the east of Allegheny County, Westmoreland County has the largest cluster of Early Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program lakes in the Commonwealth. Five of the six lakes are slated for Feb. 12 stockings.
The exception is Upper Twin Lake, which is scheduled to be stocked Feb. 26, perhaps too late for ice-fishing. But this could be good news for those who prefer open-water fishing.
Upper Twin Lake is in county-owned Twin Lakes Park. From Pittsburgh, take U.S. Route 30 toward Greensburg.
Near the Westmoreland Mall, turn left onto Donohoe Road then follow the signs to Twin Lakes Park.
Use these same directions to Lower Twin Lake, which is to be stocked Feb. 12. A two-mile walkway provides access around these two lakes.
Lower Twin Lake is small, about 30 acres, but is the larger of the two lakes.
At Westmoreland County park lakes, ice-fishing is not allowed unless the ice meets safety standards. For information about these parks, contact the Westmoreland County Bureau of Parks and Recreation, 194 Donohoe Road, Greensburg, PA 15601; or call (724) 830-3950.
Donegal Lake is owned by the commonwealth and managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. With a surface area of 90 acres, it is a medium-sized stocked trout lake. It lies along state Route 711 about a mile north from Donegal.
From the Pittsburgh area, take Interstate routes 70 and 76 east to the exit at Donegal.
Look for rainbow trout here, which call for slightly different fishing tactics than when ice-fishing for brook trout or brown trout. Artificial baits can be very effective. Changes in color can make a difference.
Keystone Lake is also a likely bet for catching rainbow trout. You will note on the Fish and Boat Commission’s stocking list that trout shipped from Tellico, North Carolina, will likely be rainbows — a great tip for formulating an ice-fishing plan.
The previous stocking, conducted during October, was also from the Tellico hatchery.
For the past few seasons, the Fish and Boat Commission has purchased trout from this hatchery to partially make up for reductions in the biomass of trout that may be raised in PFBC fish-cultural stations due to Department of Environmental Protection regulations. These trout are of very fine quality and are an excellent addition to our stocked trout fishery.
Keystone Lake lies in Keystone State Park about three miles from the intersection of state Route 981 and U.S. Route 22 in the central portion of Westmoreland County north of Loyalhanna.
From Pittsburgh, take U.S. Route 22 east to state Route 981 by New Alexandria.
Keystone Lake is scheduled for a Feb. 12 stocking from the Tellico facility. For park information, contact the Keystone State Park office, 1150 Keystone Park Road, Derry, PA 15627-3679; or call (724) 668-2939.
Even the smallest steelhead
are bigger than most of the trout that get stocked for ice-fishing, and some will weigh more
than 10 pounds.
Mammoth Dam is in the south-central part of Westmoreland County in Mammoth County Park. Approaching by way of U.S. Route 30, turn at the traffic light onto state Route 981 south. At the four-way stop, turn right toward the airport. Continue straight and turn left onto state Route 130.
Go east 1.2 miles to the next stop sign and turn right. Continue straight for 2.2 miles and turn right onto Blacksmith Road.
The park entrance is one-half mile down the road on the left.
Stocking at this 24-acre lake is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Northmoreland Lake is another rainbow trout fishery with a Feb. 12 stocking date. This lake is tiny, at 17 acres, so finding trout should be no problem. But the flip side, of course, is that the trout can be cleaned out rather quickly.
Northmoreland Lake is in Northmoreland Park, a county park. Take U.S. Route 22 from the Pittsburgh area towards Delmont and turn north onto state Route 66. Go to the intersection of state Route 356 and turn left. Northmoreland Park is three miles north.
LAUREL HILL LAKE
Look for more February ice-fishing at Laurel Hill Lake, which is scheduled for a Feb. 5 stocking. This is a medium-size stocked trout lake with a surface area of 63 acres.
The previous stocking during October was from the Tellico facility. However, this February stocking will be from the Reynoldsville Fish Cultural Station.
Though situated along the southern tier of counties where ice conditions may be questionable, this lake is at a higher elevation that should lend itself to colder temperatures.
Laurel Hill Lake is in Laurel Hill State Park on the eastern edge of Somerset County along Laurel Ridge. From the west along Interstate Route 76, take the exit at Somerset and go west on state Route 31 from Somerset for eight miles, turn left onto Trent Road and follow the directional signs to Laurel Hill State Park.
Get information about the park by contacting the Park office, 1454 Laurel Hill Park Road, Somerset, PA 15501-5629; or call (814) 445-7725.
Two western Pennsylvania rivers are stocked with trout during December, providing good opportunities for fishermen who prefer open water to ice-fishing.
The Shenango Dam tailwater is scheduled for a Feb. 6 stocking, one of few waterways in the Commonwealth with a year-round stocking program. This is perhaps more of a put-and-take fishery than other year-round programs, because the fish are confined to the dam’s tailwater area.
There is a similar program at the Youghiogheny Dam tailwaters.
Unlike other February trout stockings in the Northwest Region, this is an open-water fishing opportunity. It’s still winter, nonetheless, so fishing tactics should be modified.
Slower and lower is the key, with trout being a bit sluggish and tending to hug the bottom.
Try black marabou jigs if you prefer to stick with artificial lures.
Bait is probably more effective. A strung minnow is a likely way to tie into some action — probably better than a livelier, lip-hooked minnow because you can set the hook immediately on the strike.
The Youghiogheny Dam tailwater is the beginning of a long trout fishery, one of the premier trout waters in Pennsylvania. While the Youghiogheny River below the dam is stocked typically, the tailwater area is one of a select few of our waterways that are stocked year ‘round. This year, a Feb. 5 stocking is slated.
To reach the tailwaters, follow U.S. Route 40 east from Uniontown to state Route 523, and then go north to Confluence.
For more travel information, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. You can also call 1-800-VISIT-PA (847-4872), or log on to www.visitPA.com
For more information about ice-fishing in Pennsylvania including the newest regulations, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Phone (717) 705-7800, or log on to www.fish.state.pa.us and check for the trout-stocking schedule.