Here’s what to expect for bass fishing in Pennsylvania in 2014.
The biggest news in bass management in Pennsylvania continues to surround the lower Susquehanna River. Widespread die-offs of young-of-year smallmouth bass have been documented for several years. More recently, adult smallmouth bass have been recovered that have had lesions and significant black skin splotches.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants the state Department of Environmental Resources to list the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired. Such as listing would kick start clean-up efforts. However, as of this writing the DEP has not listed this 100 mile stretch as impaired, stating the scientific data is not sufficient to warrant such action. Anglers that witness distressed bass in the Susquehanna can report their findings via an online form accessible from the PFBC website (www.fishandboat.com)
River smallmouth bass issues aren’t limited to the lower Susquehanna River. The lower Juniata has also been a concern. Catch-and-release regulations for smallmouth bass have been in place on the lower Susquehanna and lower Juniata for some time; more recently a closed season has been enforce during the spring spawning period. It is illegal to target smallmouth bass in these river stretches at this time. Be sure to consult this year’s Summary of Rules and Regulations for exact dates as well as river sections covered by these special regulations.
Survey work done last fall by the PFBC verifies the reduced smallmouth population in portions of the Juniata River, particularly younger fish. The team sampled smallmouth populations at four historic sites. A report issued late last year stated, “Considering adult smallmouth bass (age-1 and older), catch rates were well above the long-term median at the upstream portion of the Juniata River (Mapleton and Newton Hamilton sampling stations combined) but below long-term median at downstream locations (Thompsontown and Millerstown sampling stations combined). Additionally, catch rates for larger and older individuals, those longer than 15 inches in total length, were above the long-term median in the upper Juniata River and equal to the long-term median in the lower Juniata River.”
Invasive species continue to plague some bass waters. About two years ago zebra mussels were found in Crawford County’s Conneaut Lake, the state’s largest natural lake, and the home of an excellent smallmouth and largemouth bass fishery. By last summer anglers reported extensive mussel beds, and exceptionally clear water. The bass fishing was slow, with many Conneaut veterans pointing to the bathtub clear water as the culprit for the tough fishing.
On a more positive note, last year’s action picked up on Mercer County’s Lake Wilhelm. Wilhelm has traditionally been one the state’s best largemouth bass lakes. The unauthorized introduction of gizzard shad, though, let to an explosion of this exotic species. While the largemouth bass population hasn’t been affected by the presence of shad — as verified by PFBC field work — the bigmouths have been exceptionally hard to come by, thanks to the glut of natural food. Hopefully last year’s better bass fishing is an indication that shad numbers are coming down to a more reasonable level, a trend that should lead to better bass action.
Consider the following waters in your bassin’ plans this year.
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 8 feet
A highly detailed crankbait, the M65 confronts bass with a realistic baitfish appearance plus sound generated by a metal plate and steel ball. Available in two models and a variety of colors, this crankbait is effective in both stained and clear water. Price: $12.99
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 4-7 feet
Patrick Sebile’s Bull Crank is an excellent lure, especially at that low price point of $6.95. The Xternal weight system helps to keep a low center of gravity, dig deep, and stay on track, reducing the need to tune. It features a wide body to increase visual presence. Price: $6.95
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 3 feet
The Square Bill's self-tuning line tie lets you burn it and still have it track straight. The circuit board lip provides strong vibration up the line and helps the lure deflect well in cover, especially downed trees. Price: $8.99
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 2-4 feet
This popularly-priced, rattle-equipped crankbait is designed to be worked through heavy cover and still get the job done. The Chikara features internal 3D holographic foiling that provides flash and cannot be chipped. The lure’s value is enhanced by Mustad Triple Grip treble hooks. Price: $7.99
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 8-10 feet
This flat-side crankbait has a good thumping action and a tight wobble, and that means it’s a great crankbait for cooler months or highly pressured lakes. Adding some weight to the hooks helps to cast the relatively light Flat Side on baitcasting gear, especially in windy situations. Price: $5.79
Weight: 5/16 ounce
Depth: 6-8 feet
On a medium or slow retrieve, the Rap Crank is amazing: it tracks straight, then pops laterally and juts back onto the original track, ready for the waiting strike. Price: $8.99
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 0-2 feet
Spro Baby Fat John 50 This smaller version of the established Fat John effectively imitates smaller forage, and works on spotted and smallmouth bass as well as largemouth. It runs shallow at any speed, and its fiberglass lip makes it kick out and “hunt” frequently before returning to true. Price: $12.03
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 5 feet
It’s a good-looking lure, and fine quality for a hard-to-beat price. The XPS rattle is subdued, which is nice for spooky bass. The oval split on the line tie helps it run straight and avoid line slipping between rings. Price: $4.29
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 1-3 feet
You'll be a megafan of Megabass lures because of their innovation and uncanny attention to detail. The Knuckle Jr.'s two-position adjustable bill really gives you two lures in one, making it easier to swallow the premium price. Price: $4.29
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 3-4 feet
The Bait Ball is a crankbait with realistic 3D baitfish bodies inside the main body. The smaller lures inside cleverly mimic a school of shad. This crankbait casts very well and has a tighter wobble than most square bills, making it a perfect crank for clear water. Price: $14.99
Mercer County’s Shenango Lake is a popular bass fishing destination. Not only does the lake harbor a strong largemouth bass fishery, its unlimited horsepower status provides a venue for larger bass boats.
Largemouths outnumber smallmouths at a rate of two to one in Shenango. When the Commission surveyed Shenango recently, 4.33 hours of electrofishing produced bass (largemouth and smallmouth combined) at a rate of 56.3 per hour. Nearly all of the quality-sized fish were largemouths. The catch rate for bass over 12 inches was the highest ever for the lake; for bass over 15 inches, it was the third highest ever. Interestingly, however, no bass over 18 inches were collected, the first time such has occurred since the 1994 survey.
Fisheries personnel also noted an exceptionally high number of juvenile yellow perch, a situation that suggests anglers use perch-imitating baits this year.
PRESQUE ISLE BAY
Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay provides double-barreled bass action. It features a strong resident population of largemouth bass and during the spring it experiences a “run” of Lake Erie’s oversized bronzebacks that enter the bay to spawn.
Erie Bay, as it’s known by many, was last surveyed by the Commission in spring of 2008. The results of that electrofishing effort are encouraging. Personnel collected the highest number of largemouth bass ever recorded during such an effort on the bay: 675 largemouths during a total of 3.5 hours of nighttime electrofishing, which is a rate of 202.5 per hour of effort, a 65 percent increase over the prior year. The rate of bass over 12 inches increased 150 percent over 2007; the occurrence of bass over 15 inches was up 245 percent.
While these numbers are from a few years ago, historically Erie Bay is one of the more consistent largemouth bass. The bass are very well fed, resulting in chunky, football-sized 15 inchers, of which the bay has many. The influx of smallmouths begins in early April; brown bass are pretty much out of the bay by the end of June.
MIDDLE ALLEGHENY RIVER
The middle portion of the Allegheny River — particularly from the West Hickory area down to the start of the impounded Allegheny near East Brady — provides exceptional smallmouth bass fishing.
A PFBC report last year, summarizing seven years of annual early fall assessment at four historic Allegheny River sites, stated, “As a whole, the Allegheny River’s native smallmouth bass population is one of the most robust and healthiest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The abundance and character of these fish populations are dependent upon habitat and water quality. Smallmouth bass specimens collected from the Allegheny River, in the recent past, have served as “unimpaired controls” for disease studies of Susquehanna River smallmouth bass.”
Located on the Venango/Clarion county border, 200-plus acre Kahle Lake has one of the densest largemouth bass populations in the state in the 15-inch bracket, though fish in the 4- to 5-pound range also show up with fair consistency.
A downside to Kahle is that, due to problems with the dam’s spillway structure, it’s drawn down significantly. As such, access is more limited than it is at many lakes. Of the lake’s two boat ramps, the north ramp is the best choice for trailered boats at this time. Car-toppers can be launched from either the north or south ramps. Only electric or non-powered boats are allowed.
According to PFBC Area Fisheries Manager Al Woomer, bass sampling took place last fall on Kahle. Woomer said the team collected “a really high number of largemouth bass.” Woomer said there weren’t a lot of bass over 15 inches, but there were a lot in the 12- to 15-inch range.
“It appears that despite the continued drawdown, the lake’s bass fishery is doing well,” he added.
NORTH BRANCH OF THE SUSQUEHANNA RIVER
While the bass fishing is suffering on much of the middle and lower reaches of the Susquehanna River, the same can’t be said of the North Branch. The North Brach rises in New York, flows south through northeastern Pennsylvania, and joins the West Branch to form the main stem of the Susqy River near Northumberland.
Young-of-year electrofishing surveys on the North Branch show strong year classes for some time. In fact, five of the last seven years have produced smallmouths at a rate above the long-term average; 2007 was exceptionally strong, and these six-year-old fish should provide the chance for plenty of quality bass this season.
Sixty-eight acre Hopewell Lake, found in Berks County’s French Creek State Park, plays host to a fine largemouth bass fishery.
When last surveyed, fisheries personnel collected largemouth bass at a rate of 60.2 per hour, above the 47.9 rate that is the southeastern Pennsylvania average. The lake also showed an improvement, likely in response to the introduction of Big Bass regulations, which raised the minimum length limit from 12 to 15 inches, while lowering the creel limit from six to four. The numbers of bass over both 12 and 15 inches have improved since the application of the more restrictive regulation.
Non-powered boats and electric motors are permitted.
Located in southern Bedford County, Koon Lake — and adjoining Gordon Lake — are water supply reservoirs for Cumberland, Md. A few years ago the water company improved access by allowing electric-motored boats, in addition to the bank-fishing component.
Koon Lake covers 268 acres. When surveyed in 2005 largemouth bass were collected at a rate of 174.28 per hour. Fish over 12 inches showed up at 69.28/hour; ones over 15 inches at 15.71/hr.
Though electric motors are allowed on Koon, the access is not suitable for trailered boats. Plan on taking a car-topper.
Consider Luzerne County’s Lake Jean to be an up-and-coming bass lake. Historically the bass fishing there was limited, thanks to the low pH caused by acid deposition and the local geology. In 1995 bi-annual introductions of lime started to improve the water quality. The bass population has responded favorably. The 41.5 bass per hour rate found in 2007, though not great, was a vast improvement over the 21.9 experienced in 2003. The lake’s worthy of attention from bass anglers.
Boats are limited to electrics-only on this 245 acre lake.
An impoundment on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Curwensville Lake is a bit of a sleeper, one that’s come on thanks to improvements in water quality, as well as a more stable pool level.
The Fish and Boat Commission surveyed Curwensville in 2009, and found a vast improvement in the bass population. Bass were collected at a rate round 55 per hour, up from nine per hour in 2008. Significant numbers of fish over 12 and 15 inches were also present. There is no horsepower limit on this 790 acres lake, which is located in Clearfield County.
Huntingdon County’s Raystown Lake supports a diverse fishery, including quality largemouth and smallmouth populations. And springtime — a calm before the “storm” provided by summer’s crazy boating activity — is one of the best times to be on this 30-mile long reservoir.
Raystown supports good numbers of both largemouth and smallmouth, including quality individuals of both. It’s often the season’s second stop on the Keystone Bass Buddies Circuit. Despite a late spring last year, it took a six-fish, 22-pound-plus bag to win. Many bass in excess of 5 pounds hit the scales.
In May, bass expert Deron Eck looks to the upper end of the lake when targeting largemouths. Hard-bottomed flats between around mile markers 22, 23, and 25 contain the right physical conditions. Often he’ll target these rocky flats with a buzzbait.
For smallmouths, he concentrates on the lower end of the lake, where the water tends to be clearer at this time of year. He often finds smallies in 12 to 14 feet of water in the Seven Points area. He also fares well on a large flat near mile marker 3.
The centerpiece of Bucks County’s Nockamixon State Park, Lake Nockamixon’s nearly 1,500 acres provide an important bass-fishing resource in the state’s heavily developed southeast region.
Though the lake doesn’t see incredible fishing pressure — kept down somewhat by the 20 horsepower outboard restriction — its location ensures you likely won’t be lonely. Human usage, combined with a rich forage base that includes gizzard shad, alewife and young panfish, makes Nockamixon a place where one shouldn’t expect a lot of bites, but the ones you do get will likely be from good fish.
Though some smallmouth bass are present, they are significantly outnumbered by green bass. The lake consists of two major arms. The primary arm is fed by Three Mile Run and Tohickon Creek; the secondary arm is on Haycock Run. The two meet near the dam. Both arms feature numerous bays and coves that attract pre-spawn and spawning largemouths. The lake contains lots of milfoil beds, as well as pad fields of spatterdock, the later being particularly attractive to largemouths at this time. Work a spinnerbait or Fluke over these emerging pad fields.
Don’t forget to share your best bass photos with us on Camera Corner for your chance to win free gear!