Even though today's hunting and fishing opportunities are great, did you ever wonder what it would have been like to have pursued the field sports back in the golden era, when sporting camps catered to the needs of the traveling sportsman? A time when a trip to "the mountains" invariably included hunting or fishing. When after a fulfilling day in the woods or on the water one relaxed in the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair, typically in front of a roaring fire, recounting the day's adventures with others of similar tastes?
While we can't turn back the clock, we certainly can take advantage of the many top-rate lodging options scattered around the Keystone State. State-administered cabins provide sportsmen and women with a variety of options, many of which are located right by some of the best hunting and fishing the state offers. And you don't have to (although you certainly can if you so choose) give up the modern conveniences so many of us have come to rely on.
Read on to discover three great Pennsylvania destinations for hunting and fishing, and how you can tap into these great lodging options during the coming year!
PYMATUNING STATE PARK
Mention Pymatuning Lake to almost any informed Pennsylvania angler, and you'll likely enter a discussion about the lake's walleye fishing. Indeed, Pymatuning is one of the top walleye destinations in the state.
Shared with neighboring Ohio, Pymatuning does not have a closed walleye season. As such, early spring fishing, shortly after ice-out, is a traditional activity for many. As water temperatures climb into the 40s, walleyes head for the shallows to spawn.
To be fair, last spring's early season walleye fishing on Pymatuning was slow, particularly for daytime anglers. It was not for a lack of fish. Springtime surveys by fisheries personnel revealed high numbers of both adult walleyes and muskies. The tough fishing was blamed on two consecutive mild winters, which did little to knock back the lake's population of gizzard shad and alewife — both important food sources — and particularly dismal, cold, wet spring weather. However, last year's modest harvest of walleyes may well favor this spring's anglers. A more typical winter, coupled with high numbers of walleyes, should have the table set for some fine walleye fishing on Pymatuning this spring.
Pennsylvania's Pymatuning State Park can serve as a home base for early spring walleye operations. The state park features both modern cabins and two spacious campgrounds. The cabins are open year-round. The campgrounds open in mid-April and close in mid-October. If you're planning a mid-April fishing adventure that includes use of a campground, it would be wise to call ahead to be sure the facilities are opening on schedule.
The modern cabins range in size from two to three-bedroom, and are equipped with queen sized beds and bunks, depending on the size and layout of the cabin. You can choose a size of cabin, based on your individual needs, when making your reservation. Twenty cabins are located at the Jamestown (southern) end of the lake; five at the Linesville (northern) end. Pymatuning is a large lake, the biggest in the state, so it's wise to pick a cabin most proximate to the area you plan to fish.
The state park's campgrounds are also located at Linesville and Jamestown. Each has modern facilities, including showers and flush toilets. Half of the sites at Linesville have electricity, as do about half at Jamestown. Some Jamestown sites also have full-service hookups. The Jamestown campground has its own boat ramp. A public ramp is located close to the Linesville campground.
Motorboats can be rented at liveries at Linesville, Espyville and Jamestown. The liveries are typically open by April 1, though this is dependent on weather and the timing of ice-out. Liveries also carry bait, tackle, and snacks and drinks.
Remember the night fishing can be productive. Wading anglers, casting small stickbaits or jig-n-minnow combos, often score well from sundown until the wee hours of the morning. The most popular wading sights are gravel shores and points close to access areas. Boat anglers do well anchoring close to such spots.
2660 Williamsville Road - Jamestown, PA 16134 - dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/pymatuning/
ACCOMODATIONS: 25 Cabins (20 at Jamestown; five at Linesville) $115.09 per night; $505.66 per week; Two Campgrounds (Jamestown and Linesville) $27.50 per night and up, $185.50 per week and up
On-site amenities: Boat rentals, swimming, hiking, picnicking
Near-site: PFBC Linesville Hatchery, Hartstown Marsh, bait and tackle shops
It would be a challenge to find a location that offers such a diversity in fishing options as well as lodging choices as Lake Raystown Resort.
Let's start with the lake and its fishing. Nestled in the ridge and valley country of central Pennsylvania, it covers 8,300 acres, making it the largest lake located entirely within the state. The entire Army Corps of Engineers project takes in 29,000 acres. Moderately steep, forested hillsides line this long, deep, twisting reservoir, which typically features clear water in its lower reaches and somewhat stained clarity in the upper end.
Raystown's list of gamefish species is highlighted by black bass, with both smallmouth and largemouth present. And they grown big. Each year the Keystone Bass Buddies Circuit opens its season on Raystown, in early April, when the water is cold and the weather often inhospitable. That doesn't keep the contestants from bring in heavy bags. It took 26.01 pounds (six fish) to win it last spring. The event also saw a 6.51-pound lunker hit the scales.
Many folks, particularly ones from outside the area, travel to Raystown with the hopes of tangling with one of its oversized striped bass. It's a tough nut to crack, and those that do usually employ a guide to help lead them to success. Several guides target Raystown's stripers and other species.
Slab-sized crappies, fat muskies, even deep-water lake trout might bend a rod. All bulk up on Raystown's forage base, which is loaded with gizzard shad, alewife and rainbow smelt.
As healthy as Raystown's fishery is, understand that this is a multi-purpose lake. During the summer months anglers will be sharing the water with a host of fun-in-the-sun recreational boaters. As such, you might want to tailor your trip to the spring or fall months, or morning angling during the summer. And during those mid-summer afternoons you can speak away to a nearby trout stream, or the Juniata River, where river smallies beckon.
For a home base, Lake Raystown Resort has just about everything covered. You can stay at the main lodge, or one of the many styles of cabins the resort offers. Cabins you say? How's this for a list: Oak Park Cottages, Lakeside Villas, Appalachian Cabins, Pine Cabins and Bungalows are all available to suit your taste and budget. Dog-friendly cabins are available.
If you are a camper, Lake Raystown Resort has you covered too. Sites range from basic to super sites. Available features include water, 30/50-amp electric service, wireless internet, cable hook-ups, fire rings and picnic table. From tent to luxury motorhome, there's a site to suit.
Finally, if you just can't pry yourself from the water, well, you don't have to. The resort has houseboats that can handle up to 10 guests. It boasts four bedrooms, two full baths, galley kitchen, air conditioning, water slide and TV/DVDs.
3101 Chipmunk Crossing - Entriken, PA 16638, 814-658-3500 - http://rvcoutdoors.com/lake-raystown-resort/
ACCOMODATIONS: 50 Lodge Rooms and 2 Suites (from $119); Oak Park Cottages (from $155); Waterfront Villas (from $899 per 3-day stay); Appalachian Cabins (from $149); Camping (from $37 per night for basic site)
On-Site amenities: game room, marina, convenience store, hiking trails, dining, waterpark, playground
Near-site amenities: fishing guides, trout fishing area streams; smallmouth bass fishing Juniata River
HILLS CREEK STATE PARK
Come fall, there's something special about being in the "Big Woods" of northcentral Pennsylvania. Hills Creek State Park in Tioga County is a great place to headquarter such an excursion.
For those unfamiliar with hunting contiguous terrain such as is common in Tioga County, understand that it's quite different — and in some ways harder — than the broken habitat common throughout much the state. Big game species such as black bear, deer and wild turkey are harder to pattern, and often require more leg work to locate. Scouting is extra important, particularly in finding food sources. Acorn-producing oaks tend to fuel the food chain in this part of the state. Mast production varies from year to year. Find the acorns, and you'll likely find the game.
That said, the hunting in Tioga County is good. Last season 169 bears were taken there. Wildlife management unit 3A, which includes all of Tioga County, contributed 5,400 antlered and 3,800 antlerless deer to the state's total harvest. Wild turkeys are well-distributed in the region, which is part of the traditional wild turkey range.
While grouse numbers have fallen to low levels — with flush rates the past couple of years among the lowest in decades — good numbers have remained in both the northcentral and northwestern part of the state.
State Game Lands 37 is next to Hills Creek State Park, and covers nearly 9,000 acres. Immense Tioga State Forest adds over 160,000 acres in both Tioga and Bradford counties. Within this state forest Pine Creek flows through the "Pennsylvania Grand Canyon." Slate Run and Cedar Run — excellent wild trout streams — are also found there.
There are several "grouse management areas" within Tioga State Forest, which should be of interest to not only grouse hunters, but deer and bear hunters as well since both find the reforestation found within such timber cuts to their liking. Much of the forested area of Tioga County is in the form of mature timber, which has more limited carrying capacity. Regenerating timber cuts are often game magnets. The location of grouse areas can be seen on maps available by visiting the Tioga State Forest website at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/stateforests/tioga/.
Hills Creek State Park serves as a fine base camp for Tioga County hunting and fishing adventures. It has 10 modern cabins, ones laid out in the same manner as that described for Pymatuning State Park. There are also three camping cottages which are available through the middle of October. An 85-site campground is also located within the park, but it too closes the third week of October. Hills Creek Lake, a warm-water fishery, is also found within the state park, and supports a strong bass and muskie fishery.
111 Spillway Road - Wellsboro, PA 16901, 570-724-4246 - http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/hillscreek/
ACCOMODATIONS: 10 Modern Cabins (60.66 per night; 442.55 per week); 4 Camping Cottages ($42 per night; $224 per week — available through mid-October)
On-site amenities: fishing, ice fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing
Near-site amenities: restaurants, sporting goods, trout streams