Don't let hot August's heat and humidity keep you from enjoying some great bass fishing. These proven public-access lakes offer some of the best dog day angling near you.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
When the broiling summer sun makes the air feel hotter than Hades, everyone looks for a cool retreat. For fishermen, heading to the water is a natural escape, and once there we like to successfully ply our trade. But bass don't always cooperate under summer's stifling conditions. In August, they become lethargic or go deep, making them difficult targets for the casual angler.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania's black bass (largemouths and smallmouths) are willing to play in the August heat. Even our northern-strain largemouths can tolerate water temperatures over 80 degrees, and they often face these high readings during the Dog Star days.
When choosing a summer lake for bass fishing, look for one with plenty of weed growth, shallow flats adjacent to deep water and, of course, good bass forage. In summer, fishing pressure will be a problem, not only from other anglers but also from the throng of pleasure boaters and personal watercraft that are out and about. Choose a lake with expansive surface acreage and plentiful coves and you can often get out of the Mixmaster wave effect.
Don't let the heat or the hordes stop you, because August can be just as hot for bass fishing. Here's a look at some of the summertime's best waters.
For all the pressure it receives, Marsh Creek is still the best bass lake in the southeast corner of the state. This 535-acre impoundment in Chester County is certainly no giant, but it's surprising how portions of this lake are largely neglected. Most anglers troll over to the Park Cove, the Little Conestoga Bay and down by the dam; two arms on the east side of the lake receive far fewer visitors.
These arms of Marsh Creek do not have registered names, but are sometimes called the Dam Cove and Short Bay. Short Bay is behind the peninsula of the east launch and main park office. The Dam Cove is near the dam.
Short Bay is filled by Jerry Run and another unnamed spring. The north side of the arm is where you want to concentrate your August efforts. For most of its length, there is a relatively steep shoreline. A few feet from shore and you're over your head. In late summer, this is a boon because Marsh Creek's plentiful largemouths cruise against the steep sides. Bouncing weighted soft plastics down the slope is an excellent tactic. The far shoreline and the back of Short Bay are generally too shallow for daytime fishing in August. The water heats up above the lake's median temperature and the largemouths don't seem to like this territory except on rare nights.
The Dam Cove on the east side of the lake is particularly weedy. Again, the back of the cove isn't very good in the summer, but the steeper shoreline on the north side can be fine. The shore outside the spillway area is worth peppering with weedless baits, and the round point that leads down to the dam has produced good bass for me, particularly at night. The corner of the dam with the outflow mechanism is also hot.
Marsh Creek Lake is in the state park of the same name. The impoundment is easily reached from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Exit at Route 100 and travel north to Eagle. A boat rental concession is at the east launch.
Call (610) 458-5119 or (610) 458-5040 for more information.
Continuing on the theme of pressured but still viable August bass waters, each summer Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin.' The 1,450-acre impoundment has its pressure points, but there are other spots where anglers can have the water to themselves.
Some of the hottest bass fishing on the lake is the water around the Threemile Run launch on the south side of the impoundment. The weedy arm that is infused from the flow of Threemile Run is a good spot. So is the long Tohickon Creek arm opposite the Threemile Run boat launch. If you can be first in line on an August morning, these areas are certainly the places to go. But if the parade of anglers has already started, plan to motor downlake toward the dam.
Because it's a bit of a ride and out of view from the main lake, the area around Mink Road and also the rocky shoreline near the dam are less pressured. Steep cliff walls that dive into the water mean the lower lake is the home of more smallmouths than largemouths. Still, these are not small smallies. The deep water and good structure, as well as a solid forage base, make this the home of the biggest lake smallmouths in the region. Local rivers have higher smallmouth numbers, but Lake Nockamixon has larger fish.
Consider starting your August Nockamixon activities late in the evening and continue through dark. The larger areas of the impoundment are prime for summer fishing. The main marina on the north side of the lake where all the sailboats are docked is off-limits, but the nearby shoreline heading back up the lake is one of the least fished of all. The banks from the marina west toward the fishing pier get a thick crop of weeds, and bass may be pulled out from under them using floating baits.
Another less traveled spot is across from the Haycock boat ramp at the far eastern end of the lake. The shoreline near the ramp is too shallow for summer fishing, but the long wall opposite the launch is a good choice, though it is generally not weedy.
Lake Nockamixon is in the state park of the same name. The facility has cabin rentals but no tent camping. The park is five miles east of Quakertown from Route 313 to Route 563.
Call (215) 529-7300 for more information.
Lake Arthur in Butler County is another heavily pressured impoundment, but with 3,225 acres and at least 10 major coves and bays, plus many more smaller ones, there is plenty of room to play on this lake.
Lake Arthur is divided by routes 422 and 528, which cross the impoundment. Route 528 has three boat launches not far from the highway, including two on either side of the bridge and a third farther north in Muddy Creek cove.
The three launches will put you into some fine summer largemouth spots, namely Shannon Run, Swamp Run and Muddy Creek. The back of Swamp Run is a propagation area and is off-limits. However, the shoreline weeds through Muddy Creek and Shannon Run hold a considerable number of largemouths. Lake Arthur is indeed a weedy lake and any of the coves that have grass and floating vegetation will hold bass this month.
here aren't many places where you can wade and fish for bass on a lake like this, but shore-bound anglers should try the Crescent Bay section of the impoundment. I used a fly rod to catch largemouths late on a summer's evening below the picnic tables along the Pleasant Valley area.
The best way to reach the ramps on the west end of Lake Arthur is to take Interstate Route 79 to Exit 96 and follow Badger Hill Road to Porter's Cove. There are copious signs giving directions to the area. The ramp at Porter's Cove is in the back of a large summer-weedy bay, a great place for largemouths.
Big Run Cove on the south side of the lake is so big it has a number of pocket coves all to itself. If the water temperature is above 75 degrees, look to the coves close to the main lake to provide the best daytime action. Muskrat Cove on the east side of Big Run and Duck Cove on the opposite side are good in the evening because of feeder streams that run down from the surrounding hills. If the runs are dry, look elsewhere.
Lake Arthur is in Moraine State Park, which covers 16,725 acres. Each year, over one million people visit this park. The facility has 11 cabins, but no camping is allowed except for organized groups. For information, call (724) 368-8811.
Harrisburg-area anglers hoping to escape the heat can run down to Pinchot Lake and find some excellent largemouth fishing. This 340-acre impoundment is a conglomeration of weeds, large boulders, swimming beaches and cattail-choked shorelines. Besides these traditional bass hideouts, there is good fishing around the lake's three boat launches and also at a strange gauging station located in the lake's northwest bay.
Though it is near Conewago Creek, officials seemed to have dropped the name, Conewago Lake, commonly used for many years. It is now being referred to as Pinchot Lake. This makes sense because the impoundment is part of Gifford Pinchot State Park. The Pinchot name is cited in the PFBC rulebook under the big-bass regulations, but numerous older references still refer to the impoundment as Conewago Lake.
By any name this is a good bass lake, as evidenced by the special regulations and the fact it entertains numerous summer night tournaments. Many of the larger bass taken during these contests are caught in the deep water by the dam. Boat Launch No. 3, located off Alpine Road, is the closest ramp on the south side of the lake to the dam.
When choosing a summer lake for bass fishing, look for one with plenty of weed growth, shallow flats adjacent to deep water and, of course, good bass forage.
During the summer, bass anglers seem to favor one of two zones when fishing Pinchot Lake. Either they head to the northeastern end of the lake where the dam is, or they launch at Ramp No. 1 on the northwestern side of the impoundment.
The entire middle third of Pinchot Lake is often neglected during the hot months. There don't seem to be as many weeds in this portion and pleasure boats often clog it.
My own daytime forays usually begin at Ramp No. 1 out toward the large bay to the first swimming area. Route 74 serves Ramp No. 1 and there is a large cattail-lined cove behind the highway bridge.
If you're night-fishing, the shoreline often holds a multitude of smaller bass. I also favor the boulder field on the south side of the lake in the corner near the swimming beach. This structure, along with deep weedbeds, holds a lot of big fish.
With 340 campsites and 10 rental cabins, Pinchot Lake is a good place for a family fishing vacation. The impoundment is off Route 177. Harrisburg anglers may travel south on I-83 to the Lewisberry exit, where there are signs giving directions to the park.
Call (717) 432-5011 for information.
To me, this just part of the Susquehanna River and is not a lake at all. But the PFBC insists on calling the waters above the river's infamous Fabridam, Lake Augusta. The fact is that this dammed juncture below the West Branch and North Branch Susquehanna is an excellent smallmouth fishery.
Officially, Lake Augusta consists of 3,060 acres, making it one of the largest impoundments in the center part of the state. The existence of the lake depends on the inflatable Fabridam, and lately the state is having trouble with some of the thick rubber bags that form this structure. There is no money to replace the broken pieces, though it appears the construction of a fish ladder around the dam is progressing.
Most of the reason the Fabridam is kept in place is to support pleasure boating, including water skiing. You can't water ski on the shallow, extremely rocky area of the lower Susquehanna, but it is possible on the 6-foot-deep waters of Lake Augusta.
The deeper waters form a habitat that grows some of the biggest smallmouths in the state.
Lake Augusta could have suffered a major blow to its future fisheries after Hurricane Ivan were it not for the quick work of some of the employees at the adjoining Shikellamy State Park. Literally thousands of fingerling fish were left high and nearly dry when Ivan's floodwaters receded. The park's head of maintenance, Mark Peters, used buckets and heavy equipment to scoop up many of the young fish that would have been stranded on the spot.
Peters said countless 2- to 4-inch smallmouths and many other species were rescued and returned to the lake.
There are no real key locations for fishing the deep water in Lake Augusta. Look for typical rocky and medium-current waters that provide good bass fishing throughout the Susquehanna River.
Boat ramps are on the point and at Packers Island in Northumberland County. To reach the point, take Route 11 south from Danville; for Packers Island, take Route 147 into the Shikellamy Marina. For more park information, call (570) 988-5557.
FOSTER JOSEPH SAYERS LAKE
Anglers from the western and central portions of the state travel to Foster Sayers Lake for one good reason -- the bass fishing can be that good. The 1,730-acre impoundment in Centre County is a challenge for the veteran bass angler.
Consisting mainly of straight shorelines with only a few small indentations and one large cove, F.J. Sayers Lake is a test of deep-water skills. As the shoreline shrinks with dry summer weather, bare banks are exposed and the drop into deep water is an even faster descent.
F.J. Sayers Lake contains big bass because it has the forage base to support it. Bass feast on bluegills here, so bluegill-colored crankbaits are the way to go.
The lake has nearly 24 miles of shoreline, plus a winding channel that runs for nearly eight miles from the dam to the top of the lake. Su
mmer swarms of pleasure boaters may make much of the lake unpleasant for fishing, but the upper half (south of the Howard Borough Park) is still a good bet.
For first-time visitors, try the area around the Mill Street launch in Howard. This zone is rich with structure including grass, brushpiles and laydowns.
F.J. Sayers Lake is part of the 5,900-acre Bald Eagle State Park. The lake has six boat launches and a marina. The marina is in the sheltered lower end. Hunter's Run Cove has two ramps and is a place to retreat for some fishing when the water skiers' waves become too much to handle.
The lake is on Route 150 off I-80. The state park has modern and primitive camping facilities. For more information, call (814) 625-2775. To reach the marina, call (814) 625-2951.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For additional information on camping and other accommodations, call (800)-VISIT-PA or (888)-PA-PARKS.