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Pennsylvania's Top Bass Lakes

Pennsylvania's Top Bass Lakes

If big bass and lots of them are on your list of wants this spring, these proven Keystone State lakes are the places to be.

The best largemouth bass fishing of the year in Pennsylvania will occur during the next few weeks as we get into the annual spawning ritual.

This is the best opportunity for anglers to catch their biggest bass of the year. Bass are aggressive in the spring and spend a lot of time in shallow water. Bass may not be kept from April 13 to June 14, but catch-and-release fishing is specifically allowed in the regulations. Just bring your camera to record your success. Here's a look at some of the better places for spring bass fishing in the Keystone State in 2002.

Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County west of Reading is one of the largest lakes in the southeast corner of the state. This manmade lake has a surface area of 1,150 acres and is in gently undulating farmland. Its maximum depth is 53 feet. It is quite fertile, and it provides quality bass fishing even though it is heavily fished.

While there is considerable pleasure boat traffic here, extensive no-wake zones are in force in most places where the bass fishing is best before the spawn. This includes all of the bays and the lake's entire upper main arm. The Sheidy boat launch off Route 193 near Bernville provides access to the upper lake area, which can be expected to warm soonest. This is a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission access. Two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat launches have been built closer to the dam.

Anglers should understand that the bass in these areas have seen plenty of standard bass lures. Try the newest lures, the latest colors and techniques that are not commonly used. Try smaller lures when fishing is slow, or switch to lighter line.

Blue Marsh Lake is under Big Bass Program special regulations. Fishing is strictly catch-and-release from April 13 to June 14, as it is in most of the state.


Most day-use facilities at Blue Marsh Lake close at 9 p.m., but fishing and boating are allowed 24 hours per day. For more information about rules and facilities, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Blue Marsh Lake, 1268 Palisades Drive, Leesport, PA 19533; or call (610) 376-6337.

For information on local services, contact the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn St., Reading, PA 19602; or call (800) 443-6610.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

At just 63 acres, Hopewell Lake is a dot on state highway maps and will not attract the bass boat crowd. If you like your bass fishing on the quiet side, it's worth a look. This is one of Pennsylvania's better bets for bank-fishing. The lake has responded well to Big Bass Program special regulations, which do not affect fishing during the catch-and-release portion of the season. In comparative electroshocking surveys, the catch rate of Hopewell Lake bass over 15 inches in length improved from none in 1989 to six per hour in 2001, which is nearly double the average in other Southeast Region bass lakes.

Hopewell Lake is in French Creek State Park in southern Berks County, close to the Chester County border. A boat launch is at the western end of the lake. Only non-powered and electric-powered boats may be used. There is also a handicapped-access fishing pier. A nearby campground offers 201 campsites and 10 rental cabins.

For more information on the park, contact French Creek State Park, 843 Park Road, Elverson, PA 19520-9523; or call (610) 582-9680.

For information on local services, including motels, contact the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn St., Reading, PA 19602; or call (800) 443-6610.

Lake Marburg, another of our larger 'small' lakes, covers 1,295 acres in the southwest corner of York County near Hanover. The lake lies within Codorus State Park. There are campsites in the park, as well as seven boat launches. Boats are limited to a maximum of 10 horsepower.

Less fertile than most lakes southeast of the mountains but with clearer water, this is one of the best multi-species fisheries in the state. Though largemouth bass may not be the featured game fish, there are fine opportunities for spring fishing. The lake is moderately deep, and its rolling bottom includes numerous shallow flats and coves where you can expect to find bass during the spring. Look for wood and softer bottom structure.

A good population of spotfin shiners, transplants from the Susquehanna River, help Marburg bass grow big, but they also complicate the fishing. Hungry bass will be where the food is, and while some bass may be in the warmest shallows, some may relate to the shiners. Smaller, slender crankbaits that resemble these shiners can be productive. Vary the retrieve from a moderately slow, steady retrieve to a series of twitches resembling an injured shiner. Light line is definitely an asset for this kind of presentation.

Lake Marburg is covered by Big Bass Program special regulations, but fishing is strictly catch-and-release from April 13 to June 14, as in most of the state.

For information about the park, contact the Codorus State Park office, R.D. 3, Box I IS, Hanover, PA 17331; or call (717) 637-2816.

For information on local services, contact the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1 Markey Way East, York, PA 17401; or call (888) 858-9675.

Just a short drive from Harrisburg in northern York County, Pinchot Lake covers 340 acres in Gifford Pinchot State Park and will be one of the first lakes in the state to offer good spring bass action. The water temperature should get well into the 60s by the end of this month.

Look for spring largemouths in the shallower flats, particularly toward the upper end of the lake. Gently rolling countryside surrounding the lake is a good indication of the kind of structure you'll encounter beneath the surface. On a good day, you should see plenty of bass in the 1 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound class, and some a couple pounds larger.

The lake's extensive weedbeds will not yet be matted at the surface, so spinnerbaits fished slowly over the weeds should produce good numbers of fish. When a cold front moves in, bass move out of the shallow flats, so try crankbaits with tight wiggles just outside the weedbeds close to depth breaks.

Pinchot Lake is under Big Bass Program special regulations, but fishing is strict

ly catch-and-release from April 13 to June 14, so you do not need to worry about size and creel limits.

Boats may be powered only by electric motors, as is the case in most Pennsylvania state park lakes. This keeps the fishing quiet and relaxed. Unlike bass in larger lakes with heavy pleasure boat traffic, Pinchot's largemouths tend to be more active on the surface and in shallow water throughout the day.

Camping is available in the park. For information, contact the Gifford Pinchot State Park office, 2200 Rosstown Road, Lewisberry, PA 17339; or call (717) 432-5011.

For information on local services, contact the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1 Market Way East, York, PA 17401; or call (888) 858-9675.

If you are a casual angler, May is the best time to fish Raystown Lake for reasons other than its hot fishing. On most summer weekends, bass tournaments and pleasure boats churn the water to froth. But tournaments are not allowed during the catch-and-release season. This does not mean you will have the water to yourself, since Raystown Lake is a busy place, but the bass fishing is very good, and there is fair potential for big fish.

Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County is one of the largest lakes in the state, with a surface area of 8,300 acres. Winding between mountains, the bottom contour is generally steep. However, it is less steep toward the upper end of the lake and in some of the bays, where anglers can expect the best spring bass action.

Check out the bays at James Creek and Shy Beaver and in the main arm above the Entriken bridge. Watch the surface-temperature gauge for an increase, or watch for a change to cloudier water. Cloudy water is usually slightly warmer.

There are several boat access areas on the lake, but the ones at Shy Beaver and James Creek are close to good spring fishing.

In the muddier water, lures that are highly visible and contain rattles will give anglers an advantage. Bright red is a good color, though it is not often used. Large spinnerbaits are very good.

Raystown Lake is very hospitable to traveling anglers. Motels are available at Huntingdon, and there are campgrounds both adjacent to and near the lake. For information on local services, contact the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, RD 1, Box 222A, Hesston, PA 16647; or call (888) 729-8696.

Dutch Fork Lake covers just 91 acres and is often thought of more as a put-and-take trout lake, but it has some excellent bass fishing. Recent electroshocking studies conducted by the Fish and Boat Commission revealed a population of bass far in excess of the level considered to be "good" in Pennsylvania. This includes mostly larger bass. For good shoreline bass fishing in the Southwest Region, Dutch Fork Lake might be the best place to go this month.

In Washington County about 13 miles west of Washington and close to the West Virginia border, Dutch Fork Lake is owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. There are two boat access points, one on the west side and one on the east side. Only electric-powered and non-powered boats may be used. This keeps many "serious" bass anglers away, but they may be overlooking better bass fishing than they will find in many larger lakes.

The average depth at Dutch Fork Lake is 8 feet, with a maximum depth of 25 feet. At least part of the reason for its population of larger bass is its strong forage base of gizzard shad.

Obviously, large spinnerbaits and various crankbaits that imitate shad should be productive, especially in natural colors such as silver or white.

Once the water temperature climbs into the 50s, which should occur early in May, barring a late cold spell, try 'walking the dog' with surface lures. Trout anglers might look at you as if you are out of your mind, but a 4-pound bass will change their expressions!

For information about local services, contact the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, Washington Crown Center, 1500 West Chestnut St., Washington, PA 15301; or call (800) 531-4114.

Bring your biggest spinnerbaits when you visit Lake Arthur during May. This is hawg bass water, and the fish will be shallow. During the past several years, Lake Arthur has produced far more largemouth bass over 5 pounds than any other lake in the state. While its margin of superiority is not as great as it was a few years ago, this is more the result of improving bass fishing elsewhere than any serious decline in the fishing here. Heavy fishing pressure has taken a toll, but this still may be the best big-bass water in the state.

Accordingly, Big Bass Regulations apply. The minimum size limit during the season when bass may be kept is 15 inches, and the daily creel limit is four bass, but fishing is strictly catch-and-release from April 13 to June 14, so the special regulations are of no consequence during May.

Lake Arthur is in Butler County near the intersection of Interstate Route 79 and U.S. Route 422, about a half-hour north of Pittsburgh. It lies within Moraine State Park. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower, and there are 10 boat launch sites. Camping is not allowed, but there are private campgrounds and motels in the area.

This 3,225-acre lake is moderately shallow with considerable shoreline suitable to early-season bass fishing, especially gently sloping banks and shallow, soft-bottomed bays. One section of the lake, near the head of Swamp Run Bay, is a game propagation area, and this section is off-limits to fishermen.

For more information on the park, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Moraine State Park, 225 Pleasant Valley Road, Portersville, PA 16051-9650; or call (724) 368-8811.

For more information about local services, contact the Butler County Tourist Promotion Agency, P.O. Box 1082, Butler, PA 16003-1082; or call (888) 741-6772.

Somewhat Y-shaped, both upper main arms of Shenango Lake are considerably shallower than the lower arm toward the dam. While there are no long bays within the lake, there are broad, soft-bottomed flats along the edges that warm much sooner than the main lake. Maintained as a flood-control reservoir, these flats are drained during winter and fill with increasing spring flows. By May, they will have been underwater for several weeks and should be relatively warm.

Special Big Bass Program regulations have helped protect larger bass. You can expect plenty of fish up to 3 1/2 pounds and a few over 5 pounds.

Bounce spinnerbaits off the stumps in the flats or work the dropoffs at the outer edges of the flats with crankbaits that dive down to about 7 feet. The water tends to have some color during the spring, especial

ly near the major inlets. Bright red, chartreuse or fire tiger color patterns are often best. Anglers should try lures with built-in rattles, too.

Shenango Lake is in Mercer County near Sharpsville and north of Sharon along Route 18. At 3,560 acres, it is one of Pennsylvania's larger lakes. There are no limitations on boat motors. Eight boat launch areas provide access to all parts of the lake. A campground is on the lake, and there are motels in the area.

For information on local services, contact the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 50 North Water Ave., Sharon, PA 16146; or call (800) 637-2370.

Canoes and cartop boats do not generally come to mind when anglers think of fishing along the Lake Erie Coast, but these small craft are just the ticket for spring bass fishing in the small bays and lagoons at Presque Isle State Park. Three tiers of water temperature exist in a small area. The coldest water is in Lake Erie, while slightly warmer water can be found in Presque Isle Bay, and there is notably warmer water in Horseshoe Pond, Marina Bay and the lagoons. The water in the lagoons might be 20 degrees warmer than in the main lake during May. Though you can snake a standard bass boat into some of these places, a boat you can launch by hand is a better choice.

There are four launch ramps, but you can hand-launch in other 'unofficial' places. The Niagara launch and West Pier launch are the only ones suitable for larger bass boats.

Shore-fishing can be very productive in the accessible parts of the lagoons, which are shallow with a lot of aquatic weeds and brush along the banks. Spinnerbaits and weedless surface lures will be most useful this month. The water is typically quite clear, so lure patterns that include silver or gold blades and white, yellow and blue skirts are usually productive.

Bass fishing will also be good in Presque Isle Bay during May. This is big water that is marginally suitable for cartop boats. Check the extensive weedbeds at the head of the bay and the smaller, weedy flats along the north and south sides of the bay. Be forewarned that big northern pike often inhale small spinnerbaits and leave bass anglers with limp lines.

There is no camping at this park, even though it is the most heavily used state park in Pennsylvania. For more information on the park, contact Presque Isle State Park, P.O. Box 8510, Erie, PA 16505-0510; or call (814) 833-7424.

There are a variety of accommodations in the Erie area and along the entrance road to the park. For information, contact the Erie Area Chamber of Commerce, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501; or call (814) 454-7191.

* * *
For more information on bass fishing opportunities in the Keystone State, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Warmwater Fisheries Unit at (814) 359-5222.

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