Pennsylvania's diverse landscape provides an interesting mix of bass fishing opportunities. We have sprawling flatland reservoirs like Pymatuning, and lengthy reservoirs such as Youghiogheny River Lake and Lake Wallenpaupack, where anglers with high-powered outboards are at home. Smaller-sized lakes like Green Lick and Stephen Foster furnish excellent sport in a more intimate setting. The major rivers that drain the state, and many of the streams that feed them, also offer excellent bass fishing, much of which sees comparatively light angling pressure.
Our annual bass forecast examines at the current bass-fishing situation across the state and then describes several waterways expected to furnish good angling during the year to come.
To get a statewide perspective on the status of our bass fisheries I spoke with Bob Lorantas, the Warmwater Unit Leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
"In lakes, everything looks copacetic," Lorantas reported. "I think anglers can expect to experience the same kind of bass fishing as they have in the recent past. In general, we don't see any dramatic increases in abundance, and certainly no dramatic deceases in abundance."
Recent survey work by the state's eight area fisheries managers indicates solid bass fisheries in a number of waters across the state, both larger reservoirs as well as smaller ones. Some are well-known as quality bass fisheries, though others are coming on.
"Some of our smaller reservoirs — what I call 'close-to-home fisheries' — harbor good bass populations," Lorantas noted. "Good numbers of fish, and some big ones, are in lakes such as Cross Creek Lake in Washington County. Green Lick Reservoir is another one, as is Stephen Foster Lake in Bradford County."
Lorantas said that recent assessments on larger reservoirs such as Pymatuning, Wallenpaupack and Youghiogheny River Lake showed good bass fisheries, as did Cowanesque Reservoir in Tioga County. Neither Yough Lake or Cowanesque Reservoir have been noted for quality bass fishing in the past, particularly the latter.
The outlook is also bright for river anglers. Rivers such as those of the Ohio River watershed (the Allegheny in particular) have a solid reputation for good smallmouth bass fishing. Many stretches of the Susquehanna River, including the West Branch and North Branch, and portions of the main stem, continue to provide outstanding action. The same is true of much of the main stem of the Delaware in eastern Pennsylvania.
"In very general terms on rivers we have noticed that 2015's production of young fish is above average," Lorantas said. "This includes the Allegheny, most reaches of the Susquehanna, as well as the Delaware. Our area fisheries managers noticed a lot of yearling smallmouth bass during 2016. This bodes well for river fishing for the future. River fishing has remained good, as is backed up by our assessments of adult bass. Having this fairly large year class of younger fish, now becoming intermediate-sized fish, we'd expect river fishing to remain good, perhaps even experience a little bump as they grown into more desirable sizes."
Starting with larger reservoirs, let's take a closer look at a selection of bass waters that should provide good action in 2017.
YOUGHIOGHENY RIVER LAKE
Better known as Yough Lake, this narrow, twisting reservoir covers 2,840 acres at summer pool. Formed by an impoundment on the Youghiogheny River, the lake's upper portion extends into Garrett County, Md. It's also the boundary between Fayette and Somerset county in our state.
In 2014 fisheries personnel from the Fish and Boat Commission did an extensive survey on Yough Lake, using both trap nets and nighttime electrofishing. Bass tend to avoid trap nets; night electrofishing is the means most often used to evaluate bass populations.
The May 2014 effort revealed a good bass fishery, one comprised nearly entirely of smallmouth bass. This reflects habitat, as Yough Lake is mostly rocky, which is better suited to brown bass. Smallmouth bass were collected at a rate of 28.24 fish per hour; 87 percent of them were longer than 12 inches; 60 percent better than 15 inches. What this means to the angler is that Yough Lake might not provide a lot of bites, but the fish you catch will likely be good ones. The biggest bass turned up in the survey was 19 inches. Incidentally, walleyes also showed up in good numbers, with 99 percent of the fish being legal sized. The biggest walleye was 24 inches.
Yough Lake has no limits the horsepower of boat motors and is 16 miles in length. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Boat Commission provide launch facilities. This lake is a popular boating destination, so time your fishing activities accordingly.
For over 90 years Lake Wallenpaupack has been a popular destination for anglers. It's the third largest lake entirely within the state, and one with a deserved reputation as a quality bass water.
PFBC survey work done in 2014 backs up the 'Pack's standing. Smallmouth bass outnumber largemouths by a large margin in Wallenpaupack. Night electrofishing collected smallmouth bass at a rate of 61.19 fish per hour. Of these, 15.19 were greater than 12 inches; 3.92 over 15 inches. The largest smallie collected was 19 inches. The same effort gathered largemouths at a rate of 10.71 per hour, of which 4.30 were over 12 inches; 2.50 over 15. Survey crews observed anglers catching numerous bass during their time there.
Covering 5,700 acres, Wallenpaupack stretches for 13 miles and attains a depth of around 60 feet. The owner of the lake, Pennsylvania Power and Light, provides launch facilities, as does the Fish and Boat Commission. There is no horsepower limit; the lake sees extensive boating activity.
When you think of fishing in the northcentral part of the state it's natural to think trout fishing, as the area boasts outstanding trout fishing opportunities. But the region has some lake-based bass fishing, such as that provided by Cowanesque Lake.
Covering a little over 1,000 acres, Cowanesque is a federal flood-control lake. There is no horsepower limit, though many no-wake areas exist.
When they surveyed last year, crews collected both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with bigmouths outnumbering brown bass three to one. Bass (combined species) were captured at a rate of 60 per hour; 43.3 were over 12 inches, and 25.4 over 15 inches. The biggest largemouth was 20.9 inches in length, while the longest smallie stretched 19.9 inches.
The Corps of Engineers has three launch ramps, available at a nominal fee. An annual pass is also offered.
One of the state's best walleye fisheries, Pymatuning is often overlooked by bass anglers, particularly once summer arrives. But it has a good bass fishery, one that's been expanding over the years.
Survey work in 2016 showed similar results as that of 2012. Most of Pymatuning's bass are largemouths. In 2016, largemouths were collected at a rate of 52.4 per hour; smallmouth at 8.6. Four years prior, the rate was 57.1 for green bass, and 6.7 for brown bass. Comparing that to what was found in 2002 — 28.4 for largemouth/8.6 for smallmouth — illustrates a strong increase in the lake's bass fishery.
Pymatuning is a border water shared with Ohio. As such it has different regulations. For instance, there is no closed season on bass. The lake sees numerous bass tournaments in the spring (when the season is closed on other state waters). Typically, these events produce big bags with lots of fish.
Covering around 16,000 acres, Pymatuning features many access points on both the Pennsylvania and Ohio sides of the lake. Boats are limited to 20 horsepower.
SMALL TO MEDIUM SIZED
As Biologist Lorantas noted earlier, some of our smaller bodies of water offer excellent bass fishing in terms of both the numbers of fish and size of those fish.
For instance, survey work last year on Washington County's Cross Creek Lake came up with a total of nearly 400 largemouths. Fifty-seven percent were greater than 12 inches; 18 percent over 15 inches. The biggest bass weighted over 7 pounds.
Fayette County's Green Lick Reservoir, when assessed last year, produced largemouths at a rate of over 100 per hour. Seventy-two percent were over 12 inches and 11 percent were over 15 inches. Green Lick looks like a good bet for anglers looking for lots of action this season.
Bradford County's Stephen Foster Lake, a 78-acre impoundment in Mount Pisgah State Park, produced bass at a rate of 193.8 per hour, with a rate of 121.1 over 12 inches and 11.7 over 15 inches. Lots of bass and good numbers of big ones.
MIDDLE ALLEGHENY RIVER
The free-flowing section of the Allegheny River is one of the state's finest, and most consistently productive, smallmouth bass waters. Two of the better areas are near Kennerdell and President.
The Allegheny has been assessed regularly over a 10-year span from 2005 through 2014. During that time, the Kennerdell stretch has produced smallies at a rate averaging 121 per hour; President 122. Numerous bass in the 17- to 20-inch range came from both areas, including two over 20 inches at President. Other sites such as East Brady also revealed good smallmouth populations.
Numerous public access areas dot the middle Allegheny River, which flows for over 100 miles from the outflow of Kinzua Dam to East Brady, where the impounded lower Allegheny begins.
Much of Pennsylvania is blessed with medium-sized warmwater creeks ideal for the angler who wades or fishes from a small craft like a kayak, canoe or inflatable personal pontoon. Generally, these waters are 100 to 200 feet wide, are too warm for trout, and experience little angling pressure. Though largemouth bass might be present in small numbers, for the most part smallmouth bass are the common bass species.
A basic assortment of tackle is all that's needed to tackle creek bass: hard jerkbaits, soft jerkbaits, senko-style stick baits, and some curly tail grubs, which serve as both swimbaits and jigs. Throw in some appropriate hooks, weights and jigheads and you're set.
For the best action, especially for larger smallies, target areas away from easy access points like bridge crossings, and places where a road parallels the stream. Internet mapping resources like Google Maps are useful in locating secluded creek stretches, and in planning how to get there. Many creeks can be floated during early summer when flows are still up. Keep in mind that creeks often flow through private property; be sure your planning includes acquiring the necessary permission.