Spring is prime time for Keystone State bass fishing, and these hotspots come highly recommended by state biologists. Here's how you can get in on the action this month. (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It's May in Pennsylvania! Birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and most importantly, the bass are biting.
Spring is when Keystone State bass go on a feeding binge, with their peak period being during the pre-spawn period and after the spawn is over. Whatever drives them, this is the time to take advantage of their appetite.
The eastern part of the state -- convenient to Philadelphia and Harrisburg-area anglers -- offers a wide range of lakes where you can find big bass this month.
In the lowlands of the southeast corner are impoundments big and small. In the Poconos, bass will be found in tannin-stained waters filled with stumps and surrounded by boggy shorelines. In the south-central area, weedy, rock-filled lakes warm quickly under the spring sun.
Here are some the region's best spring bass hotspots:
Many anglers say this is the best of the large impoundments in the southeast corner of the state. It's tough to argue with them. At 1,450 acres, Nockamixon Lake routinely produces big bass. When fishing is hot here, fish over 4 pounds are common, and some lucky anglers will place 7- and 8-pounders on the scales. Don't believe it? Just check the angler bulletin boards at local bait shops.
The funny thing with Nockamixon Lake is although it's the biggest lake in the five-county Southeast Region, it doesn't have as many bays and coves as some of the smaller lakes, like Marsh Creek and Chester-Octoraro. Tohickon Creek bay and the Haycock Creek bay offer great action. But the majority of the impoundment's fishing is centered around the main-lake shoreline, which is extensive.
From the upper end of Nockamixon Lake above the Three Mile Run Road boat ramp, all the way down to the dam at the bottom end of the impoundment, there's a variety of habitat. Shoreline structure includes flat, rounded, steep, shallow, stump-filled and weed-filled shorelines. In spring, this is where the action is.
Start your day on the shallow and sun-facing south shoreline opposite Route 563. There's plenty of good spawning territory on the south shore. As the days grow longer, work the bays and points on the north side of the lake -- the same side as the major highway.
Lake Nockamixon lies in north Bucks County near Quakertown. From Philadelphia, take Route 309 north to Route 313 east and Route 563, which runs along the northeastern side of the lake.
Three boat launches are situated along Route 563. There's also plenty of shore access with a fishing pier along this highway. A ramp is on Three Mile Run Road, on the southwestern side of the lake. Twenty-horsepower motors are permitted on this lake.
For more information, contact the state park office at (215) 529-7300.
MARSH CREEK LAKE
Some anglers have asked if they need a special shallow boat to fish the impoundment named Marsh Creek Lake, whose name could hint at a soupy wetland, I suppose. But even with the electric-motor restriction on this 535-acre lake's, anglers here can operate large bass boats with no problem. And once they get where they're going on Marsh Creek, they should find some fine largemouth fishing.
Marsh Creek has the reputation of being the finest largemouth fishery for its size in the Southeast Region, and this reputation is warranted. Not only does it have good numbers of bass, it also has quality fish to boot.
The way Marsh Creek is constructed, it actually "fishes big" -- meaning that 20 boats on the water at one time is no problem. If the boaters disperse across the lake, which consists of sizeable bays and long shorelines, there's plenty of room for that kind of pressure. And in fact, Marsh Creek does get its share of pressure from club tournaments and non-affiliated anglers.
Last season, I fished the broad lake with Joe Spitz. And even with what I'd consider a below-average outing, we hefted a number of 3 1/2-pounders into his boat. That's what "below average" means on Marsh Creek.
Hotspots include the wide bay below Conestoga Road, the bay in front of the state park office and the area by the dam. However, there are plenty of sites that will produce. As Marsh Creek's weeds and pads grow thick throughout the season, largemouths gravitate to those zones, and any grassy area can be a hotspot.
To get there from Downingtown, take Route 100 north to the village of Eagle, and then Little Conestoga Road toward the back end of the park at Lyndell Road, where you'll find launching facilities. Rental boats are available at the park office on Park Road.
For more information, call the park office at (610) 458-5119.
In the course of a pleasant spring afternoon, it's possible to work around the shoreline of Hopewell Lake several times. The largemouths that inhabit this 68-acre impoundment in Chester County have a way of returning to the prime points and weedbeds in this lake.
If Hopewell Lake were larger, the impoundment would probably be the scene of numerous bass tournaments. But because you can see clearly from one end to the other without binoculars, Hopewell Lake doesn't endure that level of pressure.
Even so, the lake produces plenty of big fish for its size. Spring is the time to be here because the impoundment's heavy crop of milfoil and coontail is just spiking, and defoliants haven't been added to the water to reduce the greenery.
Expect bass in this oval-shaped lake to be in the weedbeds. It's tough to beat a black-blue jig-and-pig when the soup is thick.
Hopewell Lake is one of two lakes in French Creek State Park. The other impoundment is Scotts Run Lake. Though it holds the state record for smallmouth bass, it is not known as a bass fishery.
To reach the lake and park, take Route 100 to Route 23 west, turn right onto Route 345 and follow the curving road into the park.
From the Pottstown area, take Route 100 to Route 724 (the Coventry Mall exit). Proceed past the mall to the sign for the Blackwood Golf Course on Red Corner Road, and then turn left. Continue on Red Corner Road to a left at
Shed Road and follow the signs to the park.
Only electric motors are permitted on this lake, but the ramp is large enough to handle a big bass boat. For more information, contact the park office at (610) 582-9680.
Fishing on Struble Lake in Chester County is a unique experience for southeastern Pennsylvania. The best way to cover this shallow, 146-acre impoundment is with waders. Even halfway to the center of the lake, the water will barely touch your knees.
While bass fishing on Struble Lake is not considered to be world class, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission survey teams routinely find large specimens in the lake.
In the southeast corner of the state, an electro-shocking catch rate of 3.6 bass over 15 inches per hour is considered average.
A recent study found the largemouth population on Struble Lake to be below average in terms of total numbers, but similar to or better than the Southeast Region's average for numbers of larger fish. In fact, the catch rate for fish larger than 15 inches was 7.5 bass per hour.
Biologists were impressed with their catch of five largemouth bass exceeding 18 inches, including a 20-inch, 4-pound largemouth.
In general, the largemouth bass population at Struble Lake appeared to be in good condition with a fair population of fish up to and including 14 inches long and a better-than-average population of bass 15 inches long and longer.
Anglers wishing to catch numerous bass may want to fish elsewhere, but anglers interested in catching large ones should give Struble Lake a try. It's great for an evening of fly-fishing in shallow water. There are good stump fields in the northern sector. Because anglers are able to wade well into the lake, there's nothing to mar a backcast.
Struble Lake is in the rolling Chester County countryside near Elverson. From Downingtown, go west on Route 322 and then right on Chestnut Tree Road for 2.5 miles. There is ample parking.
Harrisburg-area anglers have a great opportunity to fish an unusual lake with Pinchot Lake in York County. This 1,275-acre impoundment is full of large boulders the size of a bus, and that's not common in the Southeast Region. The lake's substantial largemouth population will crowd those boulders like relatives at the dinner table to feast on the impoundment's equally abundant crayfish, alewife and gizzard shad populations. Pinchot Lake's largemouths are well fed, and that can make them a challenge to catch at times.
A warm spring day is a good time to fish the shallow southeastern end. Launching at Boat Mooring Area No. 1 off Route 177, you can work the shallow bay and cattail line on the upside of the bridge, or pass under the bridge and work the nearby riprap. From there, head to the large bay that culminates in a substantial point with a swimming beach.
The boulder fields are on the south side of the bay's shoreline. Use caution when motoring around this area. At normal lake levels, the boulders come fairly close to the surface.
Other good places to fish are the many indentions along the south shore. There are plenty of small coves and deep curves in the shoreline between the Conewago Day Use Area and the dam at the lower end.
When putting in at Boat Mooring Area No. 3 off Kunkle Mill Road, anglers can easily work the pockets along the shoreline. Don't neglect the mooring area while you're there.
As the days and season lengthen, travel to the north shore to the coves beyond Boat Mooring Area No. 2.
Pinchot Lake is part of the Gifford Pinchot State Park. Some maps still denote the impoundment as Lake Marburg. The park is along Route 117 between Rossville and Lewisberry. From Harrisburg, take Interstate Route 83 south to the Lewisberry exit and then Route 177 south. From Route 15, travel south to Dillsburg and then to Route 74 south.
For more information, call the park office at (717) 432-5011.
This 625-acre impoundment owned by the Chester-Octoraro Water Authority is open for fishing from April until the end of October.
Anglers should work its murky waters because the impoundment has a good largemouth population, with a substantial percentage of trophy-sized fish.
A nearby bait shop, Jim Neary's Live Bait and Tackle in Kirkwood, has a slogan: "Where the bass are bigger and the crappies are colossal."
Chester-Octoraro Lake has a lot of character. It contains everything from large weedbeds to deep creek channels and rows of riprap. This means anglers should show up equipped with a variety of lures. There's plenty of structure to warrant everything from deep-diving cranks to spinnerbaits and soft-plastics.
For starters, find the bridges and the accompanying riprap around Spruce Grove Road, which lies off Route 472 (Lancaster Pike) west of Oxford. Jim Neary's shop is on the lake at 212 Spruce Grove Road.
Where the bridges create back bays and pockets between the riprap and main shorelines, a lot of weeds will grow in the spring. The shallower weedbeds (in two to seven feet of water) attract pre-spawn and spawning bass. If it's a cool spring, work the riprap, which warms up faster on sunny days.
Another good area for riprap and weedy pockets lies between the main shore and the bridge over Route 472. Uplake on the eastern shore, just before reaching the Lancaster Pike bridge, a nice spit of land juts out from the main shoreline. Look for spawning largemouths to be in this area. It has a shallow dropoff, and the bass will cruise this spot.
An area of Octoraro Reservoir above the dam is off-limits to fishing. However, a long peninsula forms the northeastern shoreline above the dam. At the end of this peninsula, and around the bend, there is some excellent structure, mostly in the form of points and uneven shoreline.
Try the point on the western shore opposite the dam and the small bay tucked in behind this shoreline.
Rounding the peninsula and heading up the lake, look to the northern shore for another major point.
As the season progresses, expect to see murkier water with visibility of no more than a few feet.
The lake has an abundant perch population, so perch-colored crankbaits are a hot item for Chester-Octoraro largemouths.
Chester-Octoraro Lake is northwest of Route 1 on Route 472, which leads right up to the lake. For more information, call the Chester Water Authority at (717) 529-2488 or Jim Neary's tackle shop at (717) 539-2488, where motors and rowboats may be rented.
PROMISED LAND LOWER LAKE
If you don't like fishing among stumps or the boggy shorelines typical of Pocono Mountain lakes, stay away from the 173-acre Promised Land Lower Lake in Pike County.
However, if you understand that stumps and boggy banks in these tannin-stained waters hold plenty of largemouths, this is the place to go.
Promised Land State Park has two lakes, Upper and Lower. Upper Lake is the larger of the two, covering 422 acres. Lower Lake, west of Route 390, is the smaller of the two.
Connected by a canal, the two lakes are not alike. The upper end of Lower Lake has some deeper water off the boat ramp and boggy shoreline in the thoroughfare between the bay and main lake. The main section of Lower Lake is where you'll find most of the stumps that hold bass.
Lower Lake has at least five bays or coves, with cool streams entering the back areas. There are two boat-launching ramps. One is on Bear Wallow Road and the other is at the top of the lake off Lower Lake Road. Only electric motors are allowed.
The park is on Route 390 east of Lake Wallenpaupack below I-84.
For more information, contact the park office at (570) 676-3428.