January 24, 2018
You don't want to overlook these lakes for some great Pennsylvania ice fishing.
The past couple of winters left most serious ice fishers across Pennsylvania in want of more. Maybe this winter we will see more and better ice. Still, let's not take any chances. Let's head for one of the better lakes before we lose the ice we do have.
Very often when an angler ice fishes a lake with little success it is not because the fish are not hitting. Nor is it the weather, or the bright sun. It is the lake.
Some lakes seem to be good year after year. Most lakes occasionally have exceptional hatches of one fish or another which provide a few years of good fishing. Usually, these exceptional hatches occur on a cyclical basis.
Here are some suggestions for anglers who want to have a better than average chance for good ice fishing this winter.
Northwest Pennsylvania, the heartland of ice fishing in Pennsylvania, has several lakes where prospects are good. This winter in particular, ice fishers can anticipate some changes.
PRESQUE ISLE BAY
Presque Isle Bay should provide very good ice fishing this winter. Last summer perch fishing was unusually good in the bay. Some very large perch were caught in Lake Erie, and some of these can be expected to move into the bay. There were hints this year that the crappie population of the bay may be on the upswing. And there are plenty of steelhead, bluegill, pumpkinseed, some huge brown trout and very nice northern pike.
Yellow perch generate the most activity on this ice. The usual ice-fishing method is to tip a small leadhead jig or a jigging spoon with a small emerald shiner. Two-hook and three-hook rigs with the weight at the terminal end also are popular.
Perch may show up just about anywhere in the bay, so ask for the latest hot spots when you buy bait. Two of the top five biggest yellow perch in the Angler Award Program were caught at Presque Isle Bay. This included the largest — a 16-inch perch that weighed 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Also, the fourth largest brown trout.
Relatively few ice fishers target steelhead, though the number appears to be increasing. A steelhead, however, may strike a variety of rigs ice anglers use for other fish all over the bay. Odds for success go way up by fishing tip-ups at various depths, including just 5 feet under the ice over deep water. Use slightly larger emerald shiners, about 4 inches, for bait, or if they are not available use golden shiners. The first time you hook a steelhead you will be hooked on ice fishing for steelhead.
Some of the better crappie fishing in Pennsylvania is at Presque Isle Bay. There is a mix of white crappie and black crappie. Some of the better places to find crappie are Misery Bay, Marina Lake and the Stink Hole. Use a small jigging spoon tipped with a shiner or a grub, with a teardrop jig tied into the line about 18 inches above the jigging spoon. Tip the teardrop jig with a grub. You can expect to catch very nice bluegill and pumpkinseed on the teardrop jig.
With good access from Erie on the south side of the bay, and from Presque Isle State Park on the north side of the bay, ice fishers have reasonably close access to any part of the bay. State Route 832 connects Interstate Route 90 with the park. In Erie, roads and drives that lead to access points connect with Bayfront Parkway. Accommodations, food, bait and tackle for visiting ice fishers are easy to find in Erie.
Note, however, that Presque Isle State Park closes at sunset.
One of the numerous good points about Lake Arthur is that it regularly produces big fish. Big trumps abundant so long as anglers can expect to catch fish with acceptable frequency. Big northern pike, big muskellunge, big largemouth bass, big walleye, big channel catfish, big crappie (both black crappie and white crappie), and big bluegill are all on the ice-fishing menu. Yellow perch, well, they are not so big.
The bluegill fishery here though is really something special. They get big and there are a lot of them. During springtime 2016 electro-fishing survey, bluegill as long as 9 inches were found in very good numbers. This indicates there may be some 10-inch, even 11-inch bluegill swimming in the lake. This survey also indicated increased populations of black crappie, white crappie and walleye.
Of the top five crappie reported to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Angler Award Program, three were caught at Lake Arthur.
Use a very light jigging rod and a few tip-ups for maximum versatility here. Rig the tip-ups with 5- to 6-inch minnows for walleye and pike. At the terminal end of the jigging line rig a small jigging spoon or a 1/16-ounce leadhead jig, then tie a teardrop jig onto the line about 18 inches above the jigging spoon. Tip each with a grub. Tipping jigs with minnows would significantly improve the chances of catching larger crappie, but it would cut down the bluegill catch.
U.S. Route 422 connects Lake Arthur State Park to Interstate Route 79. The lake is west about 8 miles on Rte. 422 from Butler.
Lake Arthur State Park is tucked between Rte. 422 and the southcentral shoreline. The park provides good access to most of the ice because of the shape of the lake.
CANOE CREEK LAKE
When someone catches a 3-pound, 3-ounce, 15-inch bluegill in Pennsylvania it gets the attention of all panfish enthusiasts. That fish, the largest bluegill caught in Pennsylvania during 2016, was taken at Canoe Creek Lake, in Canoe Creek State Park.
Yet among ice fishers, Canoe Creek Lake is mostly thought of as a stocked trout lake. Stocking for the ice-fishing season was scheduled to be Dec. 14 with rainbow trout.
The surface area of Clear Creek Lake is 155 acres. Maximum depth near the dam is 22 1/2 feet. Numerous fish-attracting structures have been placed along the southern shoreline. These are a mix of downed trees, porcupine cribs, rock piles, stake trees and stumps.
Canoe Creek State Park is about 14 miles east from Altoona. Access roads to Canoe Creek Lake and the state park connect with U.S. Route 22, which is very close to the lake. Canoe Creek State Park surrounds the lake, providing excellent public access.
FOSTER JOSEPH SAYERS LAKE
Foster Joseph Sayers Lake had been maybe the best crappie and sunfish lake in the Northcentral Region for many years. It is located in Centre County between Mill Hall and Milesburg on State Route 150, in Bald Eagle State Park.
Panfish Enhancement Special Regulations play an important role in protecting the fishery. This is one of relatively few lakes where white crappie have been stocked four out of the past five years.
Numerous man-made structures have been placed on the lake bottom to attract fish. Sonar is a tremendous aid to fishing here. In addition to man-made fish attractors, look for humps, holes, drop-offs or road beds.
This man-made lake is quite large, at 1,730 surface acres, so there is a lot of lake to search. It has a maximum depth of 44 feet. Since it is surrounded by Bald Eagle State Park, access to any part of the ice is pretty good. Try to locate the fish attracting structures. Small groups of fish hovering somewhere between bottom and the ice on a sonar screen may indicate crappie. Keep a transducer in your jigging hole and when fish show up, immediately bring your jig to the same depth as the fish.
Foster Joseph Sayer Lake has the ability to produce high quality crappie. But the lake gets a lot of crappie fishing pressure. This keeps the number of crappie longer than 9 inches uncomfortably low. New Regulations hopefully are designed to correct this problem over time.
HIGH POINT LAKE
High Point Lake, so named because it is very close to Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania, is a nice place to spend a winter day. As you approach this 338-acre reservoir from above, the scene is pleasing, which, so long as some fish are caught, is an important element in making ice fishing an enjoyable experience. This place is just far enough from major population centers to be a bit out of the way, another benefit to some ice fishers.
One good way to fish this lake is by setting medium-size minnows on tip-ups. Do not set them all at the same depth, not even two until at least one pike is caught. A bait set just 4 feet under the ice is often productive. Pike use the entire water column under the ice. Do not use line and a terminal rig that are too bulky. Pike can be shy. The numerous fish-attracting structures that are scattered around the lake may attract pike.
Walleye, yellow perch, bluegill and black crappie also can be found here. The lower pike tip-ups may attract walleye. If you just want to catch whatever is biting — a trait probably shared by most contented ice fishers — use one jigging rod for panfish plus tip-ups for pike and walleye. Use a two-jig rig because it is poetic, and because it is versatile. Tip one jig with a grub and the other with a small minnow.
The second largest pike reported for 2015 in Pennsylvania, a 19-pound, 4-ounce trophy, came out of this lake on February 11, and the third largest, a 16-pound, 1-ounce pike, was caught on January 20.
High Point Lake is in southern Somerset County. Mount Davis Road runs close to the south side of the lake, and connects with U.S. Route 219 at Meyersdale.
Beltzville Lake is an interesting lake because it has characteristics of a bigger lake, yet it does not lose its smaller-lake character. Bottom drops to about 125 feet in this 950-acre lake. It holds a great variety of fish including walleye, chain pickerel, muskellunge, trout, perch, bluegill and pumpkinseed. This lake provides some of the better walleye fishing in eastern counties.
One factor concerning this lake will please anglers. It has very good public access because it is in Beltzville State Park. Access is an issue at several otherwise very good eastern Pennsylvania Lakes, but not here.
Numerous fish-attracting structures can be hot spots. There is a good population of chain pickerel in this lake, and for those who have caught chain pickerel there is no need for warning, but for those who have not, chain pickerel have teeth so sharp that they can cut line without the angler even feeling any tension.
Lake Wallenpaupack is one of the state's larger lakes. Surface area is 5,700 acres and the water reaches depths of about 60 feet.
Lake Wallenpaupack lies along the border of Pike County and Wayne County, just south of Hawley. It can be reached from Interstate Route 84 by exiting onto State Route 507 which follows the east side of the lake.
A tie for the largest crappie reported in the state during 2015 was caught here, a whopping 4 pounds and 17 inches in length. This water has a good tradition for yielding big fish. The same year, the second largest chain pickerel, at 5 pounds, and the third largest chain pickerel, at 4 pounds, 14 ounces, were caught here.
Lake Wallenpaupack is one of our better walleye lakes. It also has a good yellow perch fishery. Other lake inhabitants include brown trout, some very large, black crappie, redbreast sunfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, northern pike and chain pickerel.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Information about state parks can be found at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and natural resources web site, www.dcnr.state.pa.us. Click on State Parks on the home page.
More information about ice fishing and regulations can be found at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission web site, www.fishandboat.com.