Some of the best bass fishing takes place in the eastern half of the Commonwealth, where these proven lakes and ponds offer excellent angling for largemouths and smallmouths. (May 2008)
Eastern Pennsylvania's best spring bass lakes contain good numbers of fish -- and some big ones, too!
Photo by Kevin Yokum.
Out of every three anglers in the United States, one fishes for largemouth bass, making largemouths the most popular game fish in America -- at least according to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.
In Pennsylvania, the devotion to largemouths is equally evident. Bass populations are generally stable or growing, and the Keystone State has a wide variety of bass lakes: everything from humongous impoundments to mid-sized municipal reservoirs and a sprinkling of small natural lakes. Many of these waters are occupied by the equally popular smallmouth bass as well. So whichever species of bass you enjoy, you can find it in the eastern half of the state.
Here's a look at some of the best bass waters in eastern Pennsylvania:
Spring action heats up first at both ends of Lake Wallenpaupack. The warming influence of tributary streams at the upper end, away from the dam, and the current movement in the lower end near the dam, get the bass fishing going early.
Spawning on Lake Wallenpaupack normally does not occur before early June, so spring anglers should work pre-spawn structure in the warmer regions of this 5,700-acre lake.Services and access are available at both end of the lake, in the southern third around Ledgedale and Ironwood Point and also around the northern third from Caffrey to Wilsonville.
Below Ledgedale, off Route 507, the East and West branches of Wallenpaupack Creek funnel into the lake. Though the stream channels are cavernously deep, their banks are wide and shallow before dropping off. This is good spring water to try.
The lower third of the lake can also be worked from the Ironwood Point access off Route 507 on the eastern side of the lake. Ironwood Point is close to a number of islands and their accompanying shallows.
The lake thins down in the zone around Cairns Island. Shallower water means that the spring bite heats up in early and lasts for weeks through the spawn. Other good island shallows include Burns and Kipp islands.
Lake Wallenpaupack gets fat in the area of Paupack, but narrows again north of Caffrey and Eppy Island. In this area, anglers will find a number of wide, shallow bays. Caffrey is the scene of many bass tournaments, so on weekends the for-fee launch facilities can get crowded.
East of Caffrey, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains a free public launch near the tip of the lake at Mangan Cove. For the best early-spring action, head out of the bay and go west along the shoreline.
As the season progresses, fishing really heats up in the bay. Both the Caffrey and PFBC accesses lie along Route 590. A hard turn at a Y-intersection leads to the busy Caffrey site.
Many anglers travel across the lake to the points off Wilsonville. The light sand on the public beach attracts spring fish, as do the long rocky points that dominate the area. The rocks off Tafton Dam hold spring heat -- and bass.
BLUE MARSH LAKE
In summer, the bass in Blue Marsh Lake are often difficult to catch, but the spring fishery is a hundred times better. From mid-May to late June, the urge to spawn brings many deep-water fish into the shallows, and this makes them more susceptible to angler's hooks.
Covering 1,150 acres, Blue Marsh is divided into numerous bays and coves, providing plenty of places to fish without crowding every boat into a single area.
With two streams -- Tulpehocken Creek and Spring Creek -- in its western end, this area warms up first. Both streams carry a strong limestone influence. Even before the upper third of Blue Marsh turns green from summer algae blooms, the lake has a pale green cast. The dark water color often suggests slow, steady presentations along the sharp dropoffs at the western end.
Access to this area of the lake is at the Sheidy Boat Launch or the Church Road access, both off Route 183 west of Reading. The Sheidy Boat Launch is in the no-wake section of Blue Marsh, and it takes some 45 minutes to reach the main pool from here.
Good spring fishing can also be found in the lower end of the lake in its eastern coves. Blue Marsh forms a sharp bend on its way to the dam, and along the way, there are numerous shallow bays. These bays warm up faster than the main body of the lake, and bass come there to spawn.
Access to the bend area of Blue Marsh Lake is at the State Hill boat ramp off Brownsville Road and Dry Brooks boat ramp off Palisades Road south of Route 183.
For more information on Blue Marsh Lake, call (610) 376-6337.
On the north side of Blue Mountain, Beltzville Lake is one of the larger lakes in the eastern half of the state and a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At 959 acres, it's not overly wide, but is long and thin, with nearly 20 miles of shoreline.
Beltzville Lake has two very long tributary arms at its eastern end, a few substantial coves heading west and finally, a very impressive stone-front dam at its western end.
Beltzville Lake is technically in the lower rung of the Poconos, and the bass spawn starts sometime in mid-May. Given that Beltzville Lake is located so far north, that seems early. Nonetheless, the upper arms of the main tributaries, Pohopoco Creek and Wild Creek, as well as the bay at Pine Run in the lower third of the lake, are good spring starters because of the spawn.
Access to the two tributaries is from the Preachers Camp launch site on the south side of the lake, off Route 209. The ramp lies inside Beltzville's no-wake zone. This area has good bass structure along the shoreline, so take some time to fish it.
For many anglers, the upper half of Pohopoco Cove, from the hard bend up to the end of the cove, is a good spring spot. Warm water flowing from the tea-brown Pohopoco Creek often produces the best spring fishing.
West of Preachers Camp, high-tension wires cross the lake. In this area, there are extensive grassbeds that offer good spots all spring.
As the sun starts to bake the rocks on the long, tall face of the dam, the angling action heats up for smallmouth bass.
Access to the lower part of Beltzville Lake is from the Pine Run ramp on the north side of the lake off Pohopoco Drive. Most Beltzville Lake tournaments are run from this ramp.
In addition, the main lake holds a solid population of striped bass. In spring, you'll often see stripers pushing bait to the surface.
Beltzville Lake is part of a nearly 3,000-acre state park that lies less than 10 minutes east of the Northeast Extension (I-476) Exit 74.
For more information, call the park office at (610) 377-0045.
Difficult to pronounce, but not to fish, Lake Chillisquaque has plenty of shallow water that heats up quickly in spring. Located in Montour County in the Susquehanna River Valley, the lake is also known as Montour Lake, after the surrounding Pennsylvania Power and Light park known as Montour Preserve.
The 165-acre impoundment was developed to provide a backup reservoir of cooling water for the nearby Montour coal-fired plant. Now the lake survives as a haven for waterfowl and as a recreational fishery.
The most reliable spring bass fishing takes place on the southeastern end of the lake in the back bay of Heron Cove and adjacent Jellyfish Cove. The coves' shallow shorelines are lined with the cattails and grassbeds that spawning bass prefer.
The entire Heron Cove area of the lake has shallow shorelines where the dropoff is consistently some distance from the bank. These spots warm up soonest in spring. Bass tend to chase bait onto the bank shallows.
Most of Heron Cove is only 10 feet deep. On Lake Chillisquaque, it's not until you get between the fishing pier and the distant boat ramp that you can find 20-foot depths.
The area in front of the boat ramp has a wide, shallow area that drops down to 20 feet. In front of the dam, you'll find the lake's deepest zone in the 40-foot range.
These depths are important because after spawning, many bass retreat to the mid-range dropoffs before again returning to the shallows for sporadic summer feeding.
There is one boating access on Lake Chilisquaque -- the Heron Cove Boat Access Area, on the east side of the lake.
Only electric motors are permitted in the Montour Preserve.
To reach the lake from I-80, take Route 54 west. At Washingtonville, turn right towards Strawberry Ridge. At the first intersection, turn left onto PPL Road to the intersection with Preserve Road. The area is well marked.
For more information, contact the Preserve in Danville at (570) 437-3131.
Wade-fishing along the shoreline is the name of the game at Lake Ontelaunee. It's not because the lake's bass population won't visit deeper water, but the lake's owners do not allow boat access.
The restriction by the city of Reading prevents anglers from working the deeper dropoffs in some sections of the lake, but because this 1,082-acre impoundment is consistently shallow, wading anglers can work it.
In fact, in many areas of Lake Ontelaunee, a wader can trudge out 50 to 100 yards before the water reaches his waistline.
Lake Ontelaunee has limestone substrata. There are limestone outcroppings around considerable portions of the shoreline and even a major submerged outcropping in the center of the lake, yet everything else is rather mucky.
In spring, Lake Ontelaunee's largemouths come in shallow where they can find extensive grassbeds and emerging lily pads. Points are prominent in many areas of the lake. Wading anglers walk out as far as they can on the elevated humps, then cast to the deeper water to the front and sides. Lipless crankbaits are a prime attractor for bass in this structure.
The lake has an overabundant population of white perch, so your lures should emulate their naturally silver sides.
Lake Ontelaunee lies eight miles north of the center of Reading. Take Route 61 north to Route 73 and turn right. Open roads surround much of the shoreline, and there are pleasantly wooded buffer zones between the roads and the shoreline.
For more information, call the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-443-6610, or log onto www.readingberkspa.com.
KAERCHER CREEK LAKE
In the northeast corner of Berks County, small Kaercher Creek Lake features abundant bass, including some big ones. The 31-acre lake near Hamburg has a heavily wooded shoreline with plenty of overhanging trees. After a stormy winter, lots of fallen limbs and laydown trees appear along its banks.
That's important because many largemouths will build their nests under the cover of these trees.
Their pre-spawn staging sites are along the dropoff out from the bank areas, and in the spring, their immediate post-spawn retreat will be around the same locations. This is where spring bass anglers should concentrate their efforts.
To reach Kaercher State Park, take Route 61 north to the Hamburg exit off South Fourth Street. At the third traffic light, turn right onto State Street (Old Route 22). Proceed about one mile to the park's entrance, which is marked.
A new Hamburg exit off I-78 recently opened, making it easier to exit the interstate and get to the park.
For more information, phone (610) 372-8939 or (610) 374-8839.
The PFBC rates Bucks County's Lake Nockamixon as the No. 1 impoundment for largemouth bass in the Southeast Region. Few anglers would argue the point!
The 1,450-acre impoundment routinely produces good numbers of largemouths and some quality fish. It also has a fair number of smallmouth bass in distinct habitats, and these fish are generally quite hefty, too.
But with its wide variety of structure and habitat, Lake Nockamixon is not a particularly easy place to fish. It's sometimes hard to know what the bass are doing.
In early spring, anglers should concentrate on the western end of the lake, where Three Mile Run and Tohickon Creek enter substantial bays.
Later in the season, move downstream to the stump fields along the southern shoreline and the burgeoning weedbeds on the indented northern shore.
The PFBC rates Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County as the No. 1 impoundment for largemouth ba
ss in the Southeast Region. Few anglers would argue the point!
During the spring of 2008, the park's rental cabins will not be available until at least May 2, due to a construction project. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reports that the cabins will become available once work is completed.
The state park has two boat ramps along Route 563 and one ramp across the lake at Three Mile Run Road. The lake has a 20-horsepower motor limit.
For more information, contact the state park office at (215) 529-7300.
MAUCH CHUNK LAKE
Last year we heard only good things about the bass fishing on Carbon County's Mauch (pronounced "maw") Chunk Lake.
Reportedly, respectable numbers of largemouths in the 2.5- to 3.5-pound range were being caught day and night. When I heard the rumor, I went there with a friend and we were pleasantly surprised to find the rumor wasn't a lie.
A substantial year-class of fish had matured to the point that the bass fishing was fine. And with the vast majority of anglers practicing catch-and-release, there should still be good numbers of bass there this season.
Some individual bass from other year-classes added spice at Mauch Chunk last year. A number of 22-inch largemouths weighing over 6 pounds were caught at the 330-acre impoundment.
While all fishing is cyclical, the number of bass between 12 and 15 inches has shown great improvement since the inception of Big Bass Regulations in 1997.
Mauch Chunk Lake is a PFBC impoundment, surrounded by a park operated by the Carbon County Parks and Recreation Department. The facility has camping facilities open from the second Friday in April through the end of October.
Mauch Chunk Lake is long, thin and rather straight, particularly along its southern shore. A dam is at the eastern end. The western end has a stream tributary and tends to warm up quicker than the lake's deeper, lower half. Halfway along the northern shoreline is a curved indentation that's shallower than the main lake and is a good site for pre- and post-spawn bass.
Most anglers will concentrate on the convoluted northern shore and along the channel that snakes through the lake.
There are two launch sites on the lake designated "A" and "B." Both are along the Lentz Trail Highway between Jim Thorpe and Summit Hill. For more information, call the county park office at (570) 325-3369.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For additional information on Pennsylvania's fantastic bass-fishing opportunities, contact the PFBC in Harrisburg at (717) 705-7800.
For travel information, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.