At a time when many anglers get preoccupied with summertime activities like family vacations, honey-do lists and lawn care, our state’s many bass waters are in prime condition for some great action.
Typically summer brings with it a level of stability than can equate into excellent bass fishing. Bass will have concluded spawning, their attention now being centered on feeding activities. Lakes and rivers are often at consistent levels, another “stability factor” that helps spell good bass action.
So don’t let the summer heat keep you off the water. Pick a water or two from the following, which are some of our state’s best summer bass waters, and get in on the action!
LAKE ERIE/PRESQUE ISLE BAY
Pennsylvania has a lot to offer the bass angler. From smaller flowing waters teaming with smallmouth bass that rarely see a summer bass fisherman to large waters with the potential to give up a trophy class bass, we have it all. Lake Erie certainly provides the latter adventure.
Lake Erie’s smallmouth bass fishery isn’t quite what it once was, but it’s still pretty good, offering a bona fide chance at an honest 5-pound-plus smallie; fishing here is certainly worth the effort if you get the opportunity to go.
The key to locating Lake Erie smallmouth bass is in finding the rocky ledges and humps that congregate both baitfish and bass. Such structures will offer fairly abrupt depth changes, as in a drop from 26 to 33 feet of water. Bigger structures tend to hold more fish. Summertime bass tournaments have shown that smallmouth bass will hold in deep water, so don’t overlook structures out in 50-foot depths.
Heavy tube jigs are ideal for working such deepwater haunts. Football heads puff the head of the tube, providing a profile of the round goby, an invasive species now common in Erie, and a favorite food fish of the bass. Heavier drop shot rigs with soft plastics that mimic baitfish or crawfish also excel for working Erie smallmouth lairs.
Safety is a key on Lake Erie. Deep hulled boats with a minimum length of 16 feet are needed. Fish stable, light wind days, and keep an eye on the weather. Carry all the Coast Guard required safety equipment, plus a cell phone and/or marine radio.
Erie’s Presque Isle Bay was once an overlooked largemouth bass spot. This is not longer the case, as the word is out. Still, it’s a great spot to visit, particularly on weekday mornings before boating traffic becomes heavy. While fish in the 4-pound-plus class exist in the Bay, the average fish are chunky 2 pounders.
Typically PIB features significant submergent weed growth, providing a network of edges and cuts where a jig or worm can be pitched. Also target open pockets within sparser weedbeds. Hard-bottomed humps lying south of the mouth of Marina Bay hold deeper bass, as does the edge of the shipping channel.
Crawford County’s Conneaut Lake must be included in any discussion about summer bassin’ in Pennsylvania.
At just under 1,000 acres, Conneaut is the state’s largest natural lake. And it packs an abundance of habitat in that space. Significant weed growth is present, mostly in the form of submergent coontail, milfoil and pondweed that extends out to depths of eight to 10 feet. Weeds rim much of the lake in the shallows; expect to find areas with floating vegetation in the backs of shallow bays.
Numerous humps — often referred to as “bars” on Conneaut — rise up from deep (as deep as 75 feet) soft-bottomed basins. Some of these hard humps are shallow enough to have submerged weeds; other top out in the 15-foot range, precluding such vegetation.
While the seasoned Conneaut angler will find those “spot on a spot” places that harbor greater numbers of fish, or perhaps consistently larger bass, the first timer should make fish contact simply from working the outside edge of the weeds with a flippin’ jig or a Texas-rigged worm. Such edges show up well on the depthfinder. On windless days — with the aid of good sunglasses — you might be able to make out the edge. Don’t count on it though, as a harvester is used to keep weed tops cropped off a few feet below the surface, an activity driven by the recreational boating crowd. During the first hour of daylight, Conneaut’s bass often respond well to topwaters like buzz baits and Zara Spooks.
Conneaut holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with the former being more common in the weeds, and the latter on the deeper humps. The lake has a developed shoreline, and sees a high level of boating/water skiing pressure. Fish early, and plan on getting off the water by lunchtime.
This lake has no horsepower limitation. Access is by way of the Fish and Boat Commission’s ramp at the northwest corner of the lake, and at Fireman’s Beach (fee) at the southwest corner.
SHENANGO RIVER LAKE
Located in Mercer County, this 3,500-acre Corps of Engineers flood control lake contains a good population of both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with bigmouths outnumbering bronzebacks by a 2 to 1 margin.
As a federal impoundment, Shenango has no horsepower restriction, though there is an extensive area limited to a maximum of 10 hp. Regular fall/winter drawdowns preclude much in the way of weedgrowth, so structure such as creek channel edges, and cover like brushpiles, cribs and shoreline laydowns are important in bass location.
Shenango is an ideal lake for deep-running lures and presentation choices such as deep-diving crankbaits, drop shot rigs, and Carolina rigs. The lake features significant areas of causeway (both highway and railroad) bridging the lake. The dropoffs along these areas consistently hold summer bass.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently surveyed Shenango. When it did, personnel found excellent numbers of largemouth bass in excess of 15 inches.
Shenango’s bass fatten up on gizzard shad; currently the lake also holds significant numbers of young yellow perch, which are likely adding to the forage base for the bass.
Like Conneaut, Shenango experiences a high level of recreational boating pressure, so plan your summertime fishing excursion in concert with non-peak boating times, such as early in the day, and during rainy times.