Photo by Mike Bleech
Certain waters have the capacity to produce big brown trout. A good forage base is the key. Trout need a lot of food to grow to trophy proportions. While big brown trout are occasionally caught from any lake or stream, Pennsylvania’s trophy trout anglers should direct their efforts to a few specific waters.
What is a big brown trout?
Most anglers in Pennsylvania have never caught a 20-inch trout, so this might be considered a standard for “big.” But for the purposes of this exploration of the biggest brown trout in Pennsylvania, the standard is higher. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Angler Award Program sets the standards at 5 1/2 pounds for brown trout. That still is not high enough. We are raising the bar and are looking for 10-pound brown trout!
Very few 10-pound trout are caught in Pennsylvania, but they are out there. In the 2003 Angler Award Program, only three fish topped that mark. There were three more caught in 2002, two in 2001, and three the year before that, which was the year when the current state-record brown trout was caught. Of course, more are probably caught and go unreported for one reason or another.
BIG TROUT POTENTIAL
The potential for big brown trout in Pennsylvania is better than this record indicates. The reason more big browns are not caught is that so few anglers fish specifically for them using the proper tools and techniques.
Even when using the most sophisticated methods and fishing in the best places, big brown trout are the Holy Grail of Pennsylvania’s trophy fish. These are wary fish, not easily fooled by feeble attempts. Unlike other trophy fish, very few are caught by accident.
If you are serious about catching big brown trout, use light line (nothing heavier than 8-pound-test. To handle big browns on such light line you will need patience and skill. A long rod helps to cushion the shock of these hard-fighting fish.
Most importantly, fish in places where big browns are not uncommon, waters where conditions are right for them to grow big. This invariably means a good forage base and plenty of cover.
Here are some top picks for you to consider this season. There are no guarantees that you will hook and land a 10-pound brown trout, but you will be in the best places to make it happen.
If Pennsylvania had not kept the length standard of record keeping for so long, Lake Wallenpaupack would claim the state-record brown trout. Back in 1967, a 24-pound brown was caught here by Frank Kociolek. It was the state-record brown for a decade based on its length of 33 inches. Before the Fish and Boat Commission switched the record standard to weight, that fish was beaten by Joe Humphreys’ 34-inch brown, which weighed 15 pounds, 4 ounces. Two years later, the record standard was changed from length to weight.
Lake Wallenpaupack did get the state record back in 1988 with a brown trout that weighed 17 pounds, 0.7 ounces, caught by Kevin Coutts. That record held for five years.
What makes Wallenpaupack such a good lake for huge brown trout?
“It just might have to do with the size of the lake and the fact that it’s cold. Plus, browns run up Wallenpaupack Creek to spawn, and there is an excellent forage base,” said Dave Arnold, area fisheries manager.
Lake Wallenpaupack has a surface area of 5,670 acres. Maximum depth close to the dam is about 60 feet. Farther up the lake maximum depth is closer to 30 feet. The forage base is alewives, an oily, high-protein fish that helps trout pack on weight.
Fishing pressure is intense here, but most of it is directed toward other game fish. The brown trout population is fair to good, but do not fish here with the expectation of catching a lot of them. However, if you want to be the angler who puts our state record over 20 pounds again, this might be the most likely place to do it. Almost certainly it is the best choice in the eastern part of the state.
“We supplement the lake’s trout population with stocked fingerlings,” said Tom Greene, coldwater unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “I’m sure some fish come down into it from Wallenpaupack Creek.”
The lake gets an annual stocking of about 125,000 brown trout fingerlings.
Notable recent catches include the largest brown reported in the state in 2003, a 13-pound, 5.75-ounce fish, and the third largest that year (10 pounds, 6 ounces), the fourth largest the year before (10 pounds, 8 ounces), and the second largest in 2001 (10 pounds, 6 ounces).
Most brown trout fishing is done during spring. All of those larger browns were caught during May and June.
“I’d say down by our access areas have been pretty good, Ironwood Point, Ledgedale, between Epley Island and the northern shoreline,” Arnold suggested when asked about the better areas to fish for brown trout.
During summer, the thermocline sets up at about 23 feet, which will narrow the search area, but few anglers take advantage of this.
The reason more big browns are not caught is that so few anglers fish specifically for them using the proper tools and techniques.
“I really haven’t heard of anybody downrigging for browns,” Arnold said. “It’s a hard lake to fish, mostly due to the recreational use of the lake during the summer season. I’d think fall anglers would stand a better chance.”
Information about places to stay and other services in the Lake Wallenpaupack area is available from Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, Inc., 1004 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360; or call (800) 762-6667.
Harveys Lake is a natural lake in Luzerne County that has been enhanced by a small dam. Though not large, with a surface area of 658 acres, it is deep, with a maximum depth of 102 feet. This two-story fishery provides excellent year-round trout habitat.
“We manage Harveys Lake with catchable-size brown trout. They seem to be doing pretty well,” Greene said. “Our survey crews have caught them in gil
l nets in the 10-pound range.”
According to area fisheries manager Robert Moase, the top end for Harveys Lake brown trout is about 13 pounds. Trout-fishing pressure is quite heavy here, especially during April, May, October and November.
For information about local services, contact the Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 56 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701; or call (888) 905-2872.
From 1993 through 2000, the state-record brown trout was a product of Raystown Lake, although the fish was technically caught at the spillway below Raystown Dam. That fish weighed 17 pounds, 14.5 ounces. Leroy Patterson caught it while fishing the Raystown Branch.
Raystown Lake is the largest lake completely within Pennsylvania and has a surface area of 8,300 acres. It is very deep and has a forage base of shad and rainbow smelt. But the brown trout population is sparse and receives little attention from anglers.
“We don’t stock it with browns any longer,” Greene said. “We did for a while. Our creel surveys indicated there weren’t a lot of people targeting brown trout. But a nice brown trout shows up there from time to time.
Notable catches during the past few years have been an 11-pound, 8-ounce brown that was the second largest reported in 2002, and an 11-pound, 2-ounce brown trout caught in 2000 was the second largest reported that year.
Greene said the browns that are being caught recently are entering the lake from tributaries that are stocked with adult trout.
Fishing specifically for brown trout at Raystown Lake might be a long shot. Any big browns that are caught are likely to be taken by anglers who are fishing for lake trout, which are stocked in the lake
For information about local services, contact the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, R.D. 1, Box 222A, Seven Points Road, Hesston, PA 16647; or call (888) RAYSTOWN.
Fazle Buljubasic caught the current state-record brown trout, 19 pounds, 10 ounces, from Walnut Creek, a Lake Erie tributary. It took the record away from Raystown in 2000, but how long will it last?
Lake Erie does not give up many brown trout. In 2003, the second largest reported in the state, 13 pounds, 2 ounces, was caught here. The year before, a 13-pound Lake Erie brown trout was the largest reported in the state. In 2001, a 10-pound, 8-ounce brown was the third largest reported in the state.
Roger Kenyon, a biologist at the Lake Erie Research Unit, explained that there is currently no special management program in place for brown trout in Lake Erie.
“We don’t put them in Lake Erie,” he said. “We tried a couple of strains like the Seeforellen variety, but nothing really came of it. The only way browns get into the lake is through the catchable program. The ones that escape the opening day throngs seem to grow real well.”
Adult brown trout are stocked into Lake Erie tributaries. One possible reason brown trout stocking did not work in Lake Erie was that to stock the numbers necessary to build a fishery in the big lake, they had to be stocked as fingerlings and these small fish fell prey to the numerous larger predators.
Even though Pennsylvania’s border includes a small portion of Lake Erie, this is still a lot of water. Targeting brown trout in the lake is not a good use of fishing time. A few are caught by accident, but most are taken in tributary creeks or at the mouths during fall. Brown trout are fall spawners. This is how the state record was taken.
Still, Lake Erie might have the best chance of topping the current state record.
“That’s going to be pretty hard to beat unless it comes out of Lake Erie,” Greene suggested.
Information about places to stay and other services is available from the Erie Convention and Visitors Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501-2312; or call (800) 524-3743.
It is highly unlikely that a state-record brown trout will ever be caught in Allegheny Reservoir. It simply does not have the proper forage base. The present forage base consists primarily of shiners, a mix of emeralds and spottails. Attempts were made several years ago to establish a rainbow smelt population, but that failed.
Nonetheless, this big lake holds a lot of exceptional brown trout. Top end is probably 15 pounds. Allegheny Reservoir brown trout have been among the largest reported from Pennsylvania, but not many of them crack the 10-pound mark. Some in the 10- to 12-pound class have been reported.
Very few anglers target brown trout here. Those who do will fish primarily during April and May. However, Allegheny Reservoir is the best lake in western Pennsylvania for anglers seeking trophy brown trout. You can expect to catch brown trout here by using the proper methods, at least during the first several weeks of the regular statewide trout season, and again during fall. Some big browns are also caught through the ice. Downrigging during summer might be productive, but this tactic is relatively untested here.
Trolling with a flat line or planer board is the common tactic. Use stick baits or spoons. Concentrate on the main arm from the mouth of Sugar Bay to the dam and in the Kinzua Creek arm. The best fishing is usually in the morning and during heavily overcast days. On bright days, lures should be trolled deeper as the sun gets high in the sky.
For information about places to stay and other services near the Allegheny Reservoir, contact the Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau, 80 East Corydon Street, Suite 114, Bradford, PA 16701; or call (800) 473-9370.
The Allegheny River is another place that will not likely produce record-class brown trout, but it does hold some specimens over 10 pounds. Top end is probably around 14 pounds, but fish of this size are rare.
This is certainly the best trophy brown trout stream in Pennsylvania. Probably the most limiting factor on the size of brown trout here is that they are within reach of anglers. Unlike the lakes, there are no great depths where they are beyond the reach of most anglers.
Special regulations apply to the Allegheny River from the Kinzua Dam to the mouth of Conewango Creek, at Warren. Trout fishing is allowed year ’round, but trout may be kept only from the start of the regular statewide trout season through Labor Day, when the minimum size is 14 inches and the daily creel limit is two trout.
The Special Regulations stretch of the Allegheny River has a good supply of shiners, which pass through the gates of the Kinzua Dam. But the main diet of these big browns is crayfish.
The largest brown trout on record from the Allegheny River
was a 14-pound, 2-ounce fish caught in 2001 that was the largest reported in Pennsylvania for the year. An 11-pound brown trout caught here in 2002 was the third largest reported in the state that year.
Information about services along the Special Regulations section of the Allegheny River is available from the Northern Alleghenies Vacation Region, 315 Second Avenue, P.O. Box 804, Warren, PA 16365; or call (800) 224-7802.
Humphreys caught his 1977 state-record brown trout from Fishing Creek in Clinton County. Although it was a freakishly big brown trout for that creek, this creek has yielded other huge browns, among them a 12-pound, 12-ounce fish that was the largest reported in the state in 1981.
“Most of that stream is unstocked, so those are wild brown trout,” said Greene, who noted that he caught his biggest brown trout, a 10-pound fish, in Fishing Creek.
Greene explained that Fishing Creek has an average width of 45 to 50 feet. There are several deep pools that are 8 to 10 feet deep. Crayfish and a good population of slimy sculpins provide the main forage for brown trout.
Get information about services in the Fishing Creek area from the Clinton County Economic Partnership, 212 North Jay Street, Lock Haven, PA; or call (888) 388-6991 or (570) 748-5782.
Greene suggested Spring Creek and its tributary, Logan Branch, in Centre County for some large brown trout.
FINDING BIG BROWNS
Big brown trout live in places that might seem unlikely, often in streams where they have never been caught. These are oddball trout, fish that live longer than most and are so reclusive that they are seldom seen even though they live in creeks that are pounded by trout anglers.
These trout get big because they do not feed when most anglers are fishing. They do not reach trophy size by feeding on the same things normal trout eat. In fact, they live long enough to eat their own kind.
Heavyweight browns can be caught, but only with tactics very few trout anglers use. Two tactics might be the downfall of such trout — night-fishing or fishing in high, muddy water. If you’re going to specialize in taking trophy-class browns, be prepared to receive an education!
For more information about brown trout fishing opportunities in the Keystone State, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; call (717) 705-7800; or visit the PFBC’s Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us.