For your next summer Pennsylvania bass excursion, try one of these spots.
By Bob Frye
Their shoulders and their appetites combined to give them away.
My son and I floated into one of the many coves on one of our favorite lakes. It’s a relatively shallow bowl cut into the shoreline, with a dark muddy bottom that draws spawning northern pike in early spring and waterfowl in autumn.
In summer, though, when the weeds cover the surface to such an extent that drifting in powerless is the way to go, largemouth bass rule.
On this day, we were easing in looking to make a few casts when I noticed the weeds in one spot gently moving. There was no breeze, and no other motion on the water.
“There,” I said. “There’s a bass or something moving or feeding or something right there.”
They were bumping the weeds as the moved about. My son cast out, let his weightless rubber worm settle down through the vegetation, and finally set the hook on a chunky largemouth. It wasn’t a record breaker, just thick and feisty and strong. We caught quite a few such fish that day and had a blast doing it. Anglers can experience similarly fun fishing on a number of waters around the state this summer.
Here’s a sampling of a few Pennsylvania waters worth a try.
For years, the free-flowing portion of the Allegheny River from Warren downstream to where the river is impounded north of Pittsburgh was regarded as the unquestioned best smallmouth fishery in western Pennsylvania. And it remains good.
But there’s a new player in town.
The Youghiogheny – known by locals as the Yough, pronounced “Yock” – is an up-and-coming bass fishery. It was added to the list of the state’s best bass fishing waters this year, and with good reason.
“The river, from the mouth of the Casselman (River) all the way to the mouth of the river, is a high-quality smallmouth fishery,” said Rick Lorson, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Area 8 fisheries manger with responsibility for the Yough.
The numbers bear that out.
Take this example. A 2014 survey of the Yough between Cedar Creek and Boston in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties respectively produced more fish longer than 12 inches than the Allegheny averages. It produced fish longer than 15 inches, too, something that was unheard of previous surveys dating to the 1980s.
Those fish were spread out.
When surveyed in 1994, the river at a point between Ramcat Run and the mouth of the Casselman in Fayette and Somerset counties gave up 15 smallmouths, and all but three less than 12 inches long. When examined again in 2014, it yielded 52 bass, 19 of them longer than 12 inches and eight longer than 15.
Biologists saw similar improvements at survey sites near Lick Run and at the mouth of Indian Creek, too.
Those numbers didn’t surprise Dale Kotowski, a guide with Wilderness Voyaguers. He says the river — while increasingly known as a high-quality trout fishery — is equally outstanding for smallmouth bass.
It’s not uncommon, he says, to spend half or three quarters of a day fly fishing the river and catch “30, 40, 50 fish.”
“A lot of them were nice, too, 12 to 20 inches,” Kotowski said.
The river is relatively shallow in spots and hard to access in others. Motorboaters can get on it from where it empties into the Monongahela and run upriver a ways, say to Boston or Greenock, though jet boats are preferred.
The portion of from Rover to Connellsville downstream, though, is often best floated in a canoe or kayak.
Anglers do well casting live minnows or plastic imitations to the rocky shorelines and mid-stream boulders. Fly anglers have success with streamers and wooly buggers.
Lake Arthur, the 3,200-acre centerpiece of Moraine State Park in Butler County, is sometimes pegged as the “Dead Sea.”
It’s true the lake can be hard to fish; anglers who don’t know it show up for a Saturday picnic and try their luck sometimes go home disappointed, given that there’s so much water supplied with such a plentiful forage base. The bass and other predators that live there are often well fed.
But make no mistake, the lake holds lots of bass. It’s almost exclusively largemouths, with just the occasional smallmouth mysteriously tossed in.
Nice, if not always mammoth, bass predominate. Annual sampling done by the commission typically turns up one and a half times as many bass per hour as needed to qualify a lake as a good fishery.
The most recent work showed that fish in the 12- to 16–inch range dominate, with some in the mid-20-inch range mixed in.
As for where to catch them, check with the park or the commission to find out the location of large-scale habitat improvement projects being conducted. Five are planned overall. They are, based on early returns, concentrating fish.
When biologists surveyed the lake in 2016, for example, they spent some time looking at the Watts Bay area. That’s where the first habitat project was done.
“While panfish numbers were similar across all areas, the Watts Bay habitat improvement project held more bass than any of the other projects sites awaiting improvement work,” said commission biologist Tim Wilson.
One last thing: while here in June, don’t overlook opportunities to catch hybrid striped bass. Lake Arthur holds a nice population of them and June is when they typically move into the shallows following spawning alewives. The fishing after dark for those tossing big live shiners or shallow-running crankbaits and jerkbaits can be spectacular.
SHOHOLA MARSH RESERVOIR
For being 1,134 acres, Shohola Marsh Reservoir is surprisingly unknown.
Maybe it’s the competition. Located southeast of Hawley — and the much better known, bigger and more easily boatable Lake Wallenpaupack — in Pike County, Shohola Marsh is a relatively new lake, as these things go. It was built in 1967 on state game land 180 primarily to serve as a waterfowl propagation area.
It holds plenty of bass, too, though.
Fish and Boat Commission officials consider it one of the state’s top lakes for largemouths, in fact.
“It’s got a very good bass population in it,” said the agency’s area 5 fisheries manager, Dave Arnold. “There’s a nice size spread, too. We catch them up to 16 and 17 inches pretty regularly.”
The fishing, however, presents challenges.
There’s limited shore access, for one thing. Don’t expect mowed banks like at a park. This is a wildlife area first and foremost, and it looks it.
Boating is the way to go here, and there are three launches, but little boats are better than bigger ones. Only non-powered craft and those with electric motors are permitted.
Some of the lake — though not much overall — is off limits to boating entirely for the sake of nesting waterfowl.
Shahola Marsh is shallow, too. It gets about 8 feet deep at most, and is more typically about half that. There’s a short period each summer in July and August when it gets very weedy, too. That can make it hard to maneuver.
But it’s worth a visit, Arnold said.
A few local bass clubs hold tournaments on the lake each year, he noted. But otherwise, it gets relatively little pressure.
That provides for consistent numbers of fish, and consistent numbers of big fish, year in and year out.
“It probably gets underutilized because most people don’t know about it. I think only the locals fish it,” he said. “But it’s a nice bass lake.”
BRIAR CREEK LAKE
If you’re a small water guy, or one who wants a chance at a quality bass while the rest of the family explores options other than angling, this is the lake for you.
Briar Creek Lake — located just west of Berwick, owned by the Fish and Boat Commission and maintained by Columbia County — is the centerpiece of the 173-acre park that bears the same name. It takes in about 50 acres itself.
It looks, at first blush, like the typical park lake. There’s lots of mowed shoreline, with the surrounding park filled with pavilions, playgrounds, walking trails and the like.
Don’t let that fool you, though. This is not just a home to stunted bluegills caught by kids with red worms.
Fish and Boat Commission biologists have a standard when it comes to bass lakes. To be considered a quality fishery, a lake has to produce 35 bass for every hour of survey time. Seven of those should exceed 12 inches and two should exceed 15.
When last examined, Briar Creek produced 53 bass per hour overall, with 28 per hour exceeding 12 inches and 21 per hour exceeding 15. Both of those latter figures are “quite high,” said area 4 fisheries manager Rob Wnuk.
Some of the fish get much larger. Wnuk says he’s handled bass going 21 inches and nearly 6 pounds. Those are rare, but not exceptionally so, he adds.
“It has a really decent catch rate for bass 20 inches and over,” he noted.
The lake is a stocked trout fishery; indeed, Wnuk says, those hatchery fish probably serve as a forage base for the bass. But once the stocking trucks disappear, so, too, does much of the serious fishing pressure.
Anglers can put non-powered boats and those with electric motors on the lake — it has one launch — and fish almost the entire shoreline, but few do.
“Once trout season ends, come mid-June or so, you don’t see a lot of anglers up there,” Wnuk said.
The lake’s water is often turbid and muddy given the abundance of algae, he said. But it doesn’t get excessively weedy.
From Scott Bernarde
To say you’re going fishing on the North Branch Susquehanna River is to be pretty vague. The waterway enters Pennsylvania in Susquehanna County, winds up into New York, then drops back down. More than 160 miles of water lie within the Keystone State alone.
It’s all pretty good for smallmouth fishing.
Remember the numbers biologists use to measure the quality of a bass fishery? They’re hard to apply to rivers, for a variety of reasons, from inaccessibility to depth of water to current and more, Wnuk said.
But once, a few years ago, biologists tried sampling the North Branch in similar fashion to lakes.
“The one year we tried to sample it closer to the spawn, which was 2010, the number of fish we got longer than 12 inches was over 300 per hour,” Wnuk said. “That kept us busy. There’s just a ton of fish in that river.”
The quality of those fish is improving, too. Bass numbers have remained stable since about the mid-1990s, he noted. But the number of fish exceeding 12 and 15 inches has increased “substantially.”
Better water quality, an emphasis on voluntary catch-and-release fishing and other factors are likely the reason, he notes.
The river is, habitat-wise, pretty consistent along its length. It’s rocky and very shallow. The stretch from Tunkhannock downriver to Shickshinny is the exception, and features more deep pools, so it can be fished from any type of boat. Elsewhere, though, jet boats and other shallow-drafting craft are your best bets.
That’s OK, though. Wnuk said the river’s smallmouths will seek out its deeper pools in the heat of summer days, but they move up into the shallows in early spring and late fall, during the pre-spawn, and to feed any time of year.
“In the evenings, they really start to move up into the shallows again,” he said.
Unlike the Susquehanna main stem, the North Branch has not been devastated by disease either. There is some, but it does not impact the fishery.
“It’s just a factory for young of the year bass. It produces so many fish, it just overwhelms any disease out there,” Wnuk said.
There’s plenty of room to explore, too, and plenty of fish to be found.
“It gets a fair amount of pressure, but it’s a big river with lots of access points so guys can spread out,” he added.