Pennsylvania's Hotspots for Lunker August Bass

Angling award records indicate that Pennsylvania's biggest bass fall to August anglers, so forget about the legendary spring spawn and give these top-rated lakes and ponds a try this month.

By Mike Bleech

Every bass angler knows that the best time to catch lunkers is during spring and fall, right?

Wrong! The results of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Angler Award Program show a different story. During the past two years, more of the Keystone State's top largemouth bass were caught during August than during any other month. That includes one of the biggest largemouths ever caught in Pennsylvania, a 10-pound, 3-ounce lunker taken Aug. 18, 2001, from High Point Lake; and a 9-pound, 4-ounce trophy caught in Buzzard Swamp the previous August.

Largemouth bass can be easier to catch during spring because the fish tend to be close to the banks in shallow water. However, summer is their most active time. This is the period when their metabolism is most active and food is most plentiful.

An examination of the top largemouths entered in the Angler Recognition Program reveals that some of Pennsylvania's biggest fish come from unexpected places. Finding lunker largemouths is not simply a matter of fishing the lakes with the best growth rates. Relatively sterile lakes often give up some of the biggest bass. The real key to finding lunker bass is finding old bass. To reach the 5-pound mark, the "official" measure for lunker largemouths in Pennsylvania, the fish must survive for a few years, a difficult task due to heavy fishing pressure on most waters.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Largemouths generally grow fastest in the Southeast Region since the climate is warmer and because many of the lakes here are more fertile than elsewhere in the state. Anglers don't ordinarily expect to find them in the high country or in the north. This would seem to mean that the Southeast Region is the place to be for lunker largemouths.

Largemouth bass fishing has been steadily improving for decades in Pennsylvania. The chances for catching big bass are better than ever. And the places where it can happen are becoming more numerous.

Where is the best place to catch lunker largemouth bass in Pennsylvania? Here is a look at some of the state's proven bass lakes and some with promise.

Probably no other lake in the state has produced as many 5-pound largemouth bass over the past 20 years as Lake Arthur. For several years, this lake dominated the list of Angler Award Program largemouths. In 1988, Lake Arthur produced 57 of the 86 largemouth bass that qualified for an award. That time is past, mostly due to improved largemouth bass fishing elsewhere than to a serious decline in fishing here. Fishing pressure on Lake Arthur is very heavy, which does reduce the odds for exceptionally large bass like the 8-pound, 9-ounce Lake Arthur largemouth that was the second-largest fish reported in the state in 1981.

Among the more popular lakes in the western half of Pennsylvania, this is probably the best choice if 5-pound largemouth bass are your goal. The lake's saving grace is Pennsylvania's Big Bass Program regulations. Anglers may keep bass during August, but only four per day, and they must be at least 15 inches in length. One of the main reasons Lake Arthur has maintained quality largemouth fishing is a high catch-and-release ethic among most serious local bass anglers.

Lake Arthur is in Moraine State Park near the intersection of Interstate Route 70 and U.S. Route 422 in western Butler County. With a surface area of 3,225 acres, it is one of our state's larger lakes. The lake bottom topography is gently rolling, like the surrounding terrain. During summer, larger bass are generally caught in deeper structure such as flooded creek channels and roadbeds. The water generally has some color, so select lures with a little more flash or bright color. A little bit of red in plastic worms or jigs (but not all red, for some reason) can be effective.

Ten boat launches are scattered around the lake. Boats are limited to 18 horsepower. Non-powered boats must have either a state park launching permit, a state park mooring permit, which is available at most state park offices, or a current Pennsylvania boat registration. Boats registered in other states must display a Pennsylvania state park launch permit or mooring permit in addition to their current registration.

There are no campgrounds in the park. However, there are 11 rental cabins. For more information about the park, contact the Moraine State Park office, 225 Pleasant Valley Road, Portersville, PA 16051-9650; or call (724) 368-8811.

For information about private campgrounds in the area and other local services, contact the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, 1288 Perry Highway, P.O. Box 330, Portersville, PA 16051-0330; or call (866) 856-8444.

High Point Lake, so named because it is near the highest point in the state, produced the heaviest largemouth bass in the 2001 Angler Awards Program. On July 18, Ron E. Marraccini pulled out a 10-pound, 3-ounce largemouth caught on a shiner. The fish measured 28 inches in length and 21 inches in girth. It was one of the heaviest largemouth bass ever caught in Pennsylvania. Does this make High Point Lake a good place to fish for lunker largemouths?

Yes! Marraccini's trophy proved it could be done. High Point Lake is one of many that have the potential to give up big bass because the fish have the opportunity to live longer than bass in some other lakes, even those where bass actually grow faster. But do not expect to catch a lot of lunker largemouths. It is the oddball fish that grows so large.

This 342-acre lake in southern Somerset County is restricted to manual or electric-powered boats. It is owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, so access is excellent.

Local information is available from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 East Main St., Ligonier, PA 15658; or call (800) 333-5661.

The main reason for good lunker largemouth bass fishing at Buzzard Swamp is that anglers must walk over a mile to reach it. But the bass fishing is so good that some anglers haul boats in on two-wheel carts. The haul is not too difficult, thanks to gravel maintenance roads and gentle terrain. There is no shade, so the walking can be grueling on hot, sunny August days.

Buzzard Swamp is actually not a "swamp." It is actually a series of ponds and several hold bass, but the largest pond gets the most fishing attention. Its main arm is n

early a mile in length. There is one large, secondary arm, and depths reach about 15 feet. Cover includes flooded timber and stumps along with weedbeds. The flooded timber is at the intersection of the two arms.

Only the lower end of the big pond, the north side between the secondary arm and the dam, is convenient for shore-fishing. It is far too wide to cast across, and because getting a boat in here is difficult, the bass see very few lures.

Everything has to be carried in to these waters, so tackle selection must be Spartan. Most anglers carry weedless lures along with a few surface lures. This is a perfect place for bass bugging with a fly rod.

The upper end of the big pond is closed to fishing because it is part of a game propagation area. Buzzard Swamp is a waterfowl habitat project, a cooperative effort between Allegheny National Forest and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Expect to be serenaded by geese.

Buzzard Swamp is on the border between Elk and Forest counties near Marienville. From Route 66 at Marienville, take Route 3002 south (the only road south out of Marienville). A large sign on the left marks the entrance road to Buzzard Swamp. This dirt road leads to a parking area by a gate. A kiosk by this gate shows the locations of the ponds and the areas where you are not allowed to fish.

Maps of the area are available at the Allegheny National Forest office, which is north on Route 66 from Marienville. For more information about the area, contact the Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, 175 Main St., Brookville, PA 15825; or call (800) 348-9393.

In the Northcentral Region, George B. Stevenson Reservoir is a real sleeper. On July 22, 2001, it gave up a 7-pound largemouth bass that was the eighth-largest bass entered that year in the Angler Awards Program.

Though not on a par with the better largemouth bass lakes in the rest of the state and not generally noted for lunker largemouths, this is one of the best in the Allegheny Highlands. Most anglers are content to fish near the boat launch at the shallow end and catch 12- to 14-inch bass. Local anglers gather here on summer evenings, usually fishing with bait.

The water is not fertile, so bass grow slowly. The lake's lunker largemouth potential is based on the possibility of its bass living long enough to grow fat.

Trout are actually the salvation of the bass. This is trout country, and trout suffer the majority of fishing pressure. The lake's bass might grow slowly for the first few years, but once a largemouth grows large enough to eat stocked trout, it can start packing on the pounds.

Only electric motors are allowed, but with a shoreline length of nearly three miles and an area of 142 acres, most anglers are reluctant to waste fishing time (and battery power) moving to the lower end of the lake. This end of the lake is deep, lacking classic largemouth habitat, but there is room for bass to elude anglers for a long time. Someone is going to haul a very large bass from this deep water one day.

A secondary benefit of fishing this lake during August is that the climate here is a lot cooler than in most of the state, especially in the surrounding hills, which tower more than 1,000 feet above the lake. The lake water is also much cooler than in most bass lakes. It is fed by First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek, a fine freestone trout stream.

Anglers who are accustomed to fishing the bass lakes of the Southeast Region should expect fall seasonal patterns to occur several weeks sooner here. There could be frost on the hilltops by late August, which can trigger excellent fall cool-down fishing by late September.

George B. Stevenson Reservoir is in Sinnemahoning State Park, where there is a campground and one rental cabin.

Non-powered boats must have a state park launching permit, a state park mooring permit (available at most state park offices) or a current Pennsylvania boat registration. Motorboats must display a current boat registration. Boats registered in other states must display a Pennsylvania state park launch permit or mooring permit in addition to a current state registration.

For information about the park, contact the Sinnemahoning State Park office, 8288 First Fork Road, Austin, PA 16720; or call (814) 647-8401.

You might not see this lake listed among the top largemouth bass producers in the Angler Awards Program, but it is hard to beat for a 90-acre bass lake in Pennsylvania.

This water is fertile. Bass grow rapidly here and they are abundant. Lunker bass are limited, however, by fishing pressure. The only way bass are likely to reach trophy proportions would be for anglers to practice strict catch-and-release ethics. Even with Big Bass Program rules limiting harvests to 15 inches and four bass per day during August, a few skilled anglers could take all of the big bass.

This is a new lake, open to fishing only since 1999, and it was constructed five years earlier. It is currently going through a productive period typical of manmade lakes. Before the lake was filled, trees were cut 3 feet above ground and then were allowed to sprout. This created a lot of excellent largemouth bass cover.

Even though recent drought conditions lowered the lake's water level and made largemouths more susceptible to anglers, the lowered water level might have prolonged the most productive period. Hit this lake while it is hot.

A survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission last year revealed an electroshocking catch rate of largemouth bass greater than 15 inches in length, almost triple the average in the Southeast Region. A similar survey the previous year achieved a catch rate almost twice as high. Kaufmann suggested that anglers harvested a large number of the bigger bass while the lake level was low.

Chambers Lake is in Hybernia County Park in Chester County. From U.S. Route 30, turn onto Route 82 at Coatesville and then take Route 82 north to Brandamore. For local information, contact the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, 400 Exton Square Parkway, Exton, PA 19341; or call (610) 280-6145.

One universal fact about fishing in America is that the waters that are easiest to fish by the most people are going to be fished hardest. Serious bass anglers will hammer any good lake with no horsepower limit on boats and a public launch ramp. Bass tournaments will be held. But if you add a horsepower limit, you lose some of the bass boat crowd. Restrict it to electric motors only and fishing pressure goes down more. If the lake is not close to population centers, fishing pressure will be lighter still. Make anglers walk 15 minutes to get there and fishing pressure drops dramatically.

The best opportunities to catch 5-pound largemouth bass might

be the overlooked lakes or ponds that exist in every region. For example, check out lakes where fishing is popular for other species. Ponds in waterfowl habitat projects might hold largemouths. Stocked trout lakes might hold largemouths but do not suffer much bass-fishing pressure. Developing fisheries, such as the lower Delaware River, might hold surprises.

For further information about traveling in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.

For more information about fishing for largemouth bass in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; or call (717) 705-7800.

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