Flatheads and channel cats abound throughout Pennsylvania, and most river catfish populations are underfished. Yet many record-class cats are taken each year. Here's how you can get in on the action this month. (August 2006)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Though catfish might not garner the same attention as our state's more glamorous species such as bass and trout, they are widely distributed across Pennsylvania.
Catfishing can be anything from taking the kids to catch a bucket full of eager-biting bullheads to targeting flatheads, one of the largest predatory fish swimming the state's waters. Channel catfish are widely distributed and are available in size and numbers throughout the state.
From a management standpoint, flatheads have provided the most catfish-related news in recent years. Native to the Ohio River and Lake Erie drainages of western Pennsylvania, flathead catfish have been found in both the Delaware and Susquehanna watersheds. Though they provide a "new" sport fish for anglers in central and eastern Pennsylvania, the flatheads' impact on these waters is unknown. Officially, however, they are a non-native species. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission urges anglers not to transfer flathead catfish caught in the Susquehanna and Delaware River basins.
Channel catfish are found throughout the state. Self-sustaining populations occur in many waters where favorable spawning habitat is found. In areas where such habitat is lacking, maintenance stocking ensures good numbers of channel cats.
Bullhead catfish are also widely distributed throughout the state. These pan-sized cats provide dependable sport for nighttime fishermen, and in most cases, local populations are underfished. Bullheading is perfect for family outings, as well as for introducing youngsters to the sport of fishing.
Because catfish exist in a variety of waters and provide a wide spectrum of angling opportunities, picking Pennsylvania's "top 10" catfish waters is no easy task. The following sampling of 10 top waters across the state provide good, steady fishing for flatheads, channel cats and bullheads:
MIDDLE ALLEGHENY RIVER
The middle portion of the Allegheny River, particularly from Tionesta down to East Brady, is a warm- water fishery that plays host to a wide variety of species, catfish included. Both flatheads and channel cats are present. From Tionesta up to Kinzua dam, water temperatures tend to be cooler (as a result of the Kinzua's discharge). Though catfish are still present, the conditions may limit the population somewhat. Below East Brady, the river is impounded -- an area we will cover next.
In the middle Allegheny River, catfish populations are habitat-related. Expect to find channel cats and flatheads in the biggest, deepest pools. Catfish often congregate in the upriver portions of such pools during feeding forays. Dredge holes exist in this portion of the river, and generally will hold good catfish populations. Manmade cover such as bridge piers deflect current and tend to amass piles of driftwood, both of which are attractive to catfish.
Middle Allegheny River catfish are accessible to both boat- and shore- fisherman. Dredge holes near Oil City, Reno and Tionesta provide good spots, but are by no means the only places to catch river cats from shore. Find a deep hole (usually referred to as an "eddy" in this part of the state) and chances are, it will hold decent numbers of cats.
In Forest County, the Fish and Boat Commission provides boat accesses at West Hickory and upriver from Tionesta. Both of these ramps are off Route 62. The Tionesta Sand and Gravel Company also allows the use of a ramp on its property, which is in Tionesta.
In Venango County, boat ramps are found in Oil City, Franklin and at Fisherman's Cove, about 10 miles downriver of Franklin.
The middle Allegheny is a shallow, free-flowing river. While prop-driven boats may be operated in deeper pools, navigating large river sections requires either a jet-drive outboard or a non-powered boat such as a kayak or canoe.
LOWER ALLEGHENY RIVER
The lower portion of the Allegheny River from East Brady down to Pittsburgh is a navigable river. Eight lock and dam systems impound this 70-mile river section.
The lower Allegheny provides classic summertime catfish habitat. Not surprisingly, the river has provided many entries in the Fish and Boat Commission's annual Angler Awards Program. It's also credited with the current state-record flathead catfish, a 43-pound, 9-ounce lunker taken in 1985 by Seymore Albramovitz of Pittsburgh. Like the free-flowing river portion above it, the lower Allegheny contains both flathead and channel catfish.
An impounded river, the lower Allegheny is a bit more difficult to read from a shore fisherman's perspective. Anglers can always count on good numbers of cats in the tailrace areas below the dams, however. Dams have been built in Rimer, Mosgrove, Kittanning, Clinton, Freeport, Natrona, Acmeonia and Sharpsburg. Shore-fishing access varies somewhat from one dam to another.
In general, good slack-water areas are found on the lock sides of the dams. The dams at Rimer, Mosgrove, Clinton and Freeport have hydroelectric facilities on the non-lockage sides of the dams, all of which provide some parking as well as fishing platforms. Water levels are often low during August, which can equate to some good fishing below these power stations.
Fish and Boat Commission boat access areas in Armstrong County include Brady's Bend, Cowanshannock, Rosston and Freeport. In Allegheny County, PFBC ramps are found at Harmarville, Tarentum and Springdale. Many of the towns that line the river also have ramps.
Two of the top five flathead catfish registered with the state during the 2004 season (the latest season for which statistics were available) came from the Monongahela River -- including the largest, a 35-pound shovelhead caught in August by Joseph Barno of Monongahela, Pa.
Barno's flathead measured 41 inches long and was caught on a shiner.
The entire river is navigable. Six locks and dams influence the 90-odd- mile river between the West Virginia state line and Pittsburgh.
This portion of southwest Pennsylvania is home to a multitude of anglers who have welcomed the rebirth of the Monongahela over the past several decades. Good fishing for flatheads and channel cats is a major component of the Monongahela River's fishery.
Shore-fishing opportunities tend to cent
er around the dams at Point Marion, Grays Landing, Maxwell (near Brownsville), Charleroi, Elizabeth and Braddock. Merging feeder creeks also create good shore-fishing spots.
Tributaries often form sand-gravel bars in the river. These bars are usually marked by a red or green buoy (depending on which bank of the river they're on). The presence of a buoy often signals that an eddy has formed downriver of the rock bar. When the water is low, it's often possible to set up shop on the exposed portion of the bar.
In Greene County, a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission boat access area is available at Rice's Landing. Ramps maintained by Fayette County are at East Fredrickstown and Point Marion. Washington County access areas include Speers Landing and Monongahela. In Allegheny County, boating anglers will find a PFBC ramp in McKeesport.
While the Monongahela produced two of the top five flatheads in the state in 2004, the Ohio River provided two more, including the No. 2 fish for the year, a 34-pound, 11-ounce shovelhead. Peter W. Borsos of Joffre caught that fish in October, using a bluegill for bait. Channel cats are also found here in good supply.
As with the lower Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, the Ohio is an impounded river. The Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams are within the 30-plus-mile corridor where the Ohio forms at Pittsburgh and leaves the state below the Montgomery Dam.
Important shore-fishing spots on the Ohio River are at the mouths of feeder creeks. Sewickley Creek, which joins the Ohio just below Dashields Dam, is such a spot. There are many others.
A great destination for catfish along the Ohio River is where the Beaver River enters near Rochester. A community park is along the upriver side of the river mouth and provides some shore access. Boat anglers often anchor off the river mouth.
The Beaver River is navigable for over a mile (though it's a no-wake zone) up from the Ohio, and along this stretch are good shore-fishing spots. A dam near New Brighton halts boat traffic, but good fishing can be had from shore below the dam.
A Fish and Boat Commission ramp at Rochester provides access to the Ohio River. The ramp at Leetsdale, which for many years was leased by the PFBC, is now under the control of the local municipality as a fee launch. The PFBC also maintains a ramp on the Beaver at New Brighton.
The Clarion River from Cooksburg down to Clarion provides a variety of catfishing options. Both channel cats and bullheads are present.
Below Cooksburg, the Clarion flows freely for about eight miles. Below that, you will find slack water above Piney Dam, a power dam on the river below Clarion. The slack-water pool is about 10 miles long.
Roads parallel the river above Cooksburg, but below the Route 36 bridge, the river flows away from the road. The Gravel Lick bridge spans the Clarion a few miles downriver of Cooksburg. Downstream from the bridge, anglers will find a few deep catfish holes. A mile or so below the Gravel Lick bridge, the Fish and Boat Commission has an area that provides shore access and an unimproved canoe access.
Larger boats may be launched at the Fish and Boat Commission's launch near Strattanville, within the slack water above Piney Dam. You can enjoy shore-fishing by walking downriver of the access area. Anglers can try different spots for about a quarter of a mile before the riverside trail ends.
Noted for its largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass and muskie fishing, Lake Arthur is one of the top channel catfish impoundments in the state. In 2004, it produced one of the top five forktails of the year -- a 16-pound, 8-ounce channel cat taken by Joe Cowan of Butler.
Lake Arthur is a 3,200-acre impoundment that features many bays and coves. Two bridges spanning the lake are prime hotspots for channel catfish action. These bridges are on routes 228 and 422, and both have numerous piers.
Other spots to expect good catfish action are around major points, including Neely's Point and Barbor Point. Anglers trolling plugs and bait rigs targeting walleyes take many channel cats.
Lake Arthur has several good boat launches. Among the most popular are the Route 528 launch, Bear Run and McDaniels. Shore-fishing piers are located at the Bear Run, Old Route 422 and McDaniels access areas. Motors are limited to 20 horsepower. Rentals are available.
YELLOW CREEK LAKE
Yellow Creek Lake harbors a very strong yet underfished brown bullhead population. When the PFBC surveyed the lake in 2004, it found strong numbers of brown bullheads, 90 percent of which were longer than 12 inches. Catfish nesting boxes have been placed in the lake over the years, which may partially account for the high bullhead numbers.
Yellow Creek Lake is in Indiana County, in the state park of the same name. It covers a bit over 700 acres. Deep dropoffs are found along much of the north shore, while shallow bays and weedy flats make up the greater portion of the south shore.
Boat launches are on the south and north shores. A fishing pier is near the north boat launch. Boats are limited to 20 horsepower, and rentals are available.
Lake Wallenpaupack revealed its strong channel catfish population when it provided the top two entries in the channel cat category in 2004. Dave Genovese registered the top forktail of the year with a 20-pound, 1-ounce fish that measured 32 inches. David Bovino took the second heaviest channel cat of the year, a 19-pounder that stretched the tape to 35 inches. The Genovese fish was taken on a leech in late May. Bovino's channel cat succumbed to chicken livers during an August day in 2004.
Lake Wallenpaupack is a 5,700-acre lake owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company. The lake features many extended points that hold baitfish and game fish, including channel cats.
A popular Pocono Mountain-region lake, Wallenpaupack receives intense pressure from anglers and pleasure boaters.
The Fish and Boat Commission maintains a launch ramp off Route 590. There are also several private launch ramps. There is no horsepower limitation on the lake, though a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit is in effect between sunset and sunrise. Other special boating regulations exist as well.
While channel catfish can be caught in many portions of both the West and North branches of the Susquehanna River, the main stem of the river is most associated with channel catfish activity. Some of the best action occurs near Harrisburg.
Expect to find the Susquehanna's best channel catfishing in the longer, deeper pools. These areas offer the best habitat for forktails, with the fastest action occurring before dark and extending well
into the night.
Catfish action on the Susquehanna isn't limited to channel cats. Flatheads have been caught around the Safe Harbor and York Haven dams. The commission asks anglers to keep flatheads that were likely illegally introduced into these waters and not to release them elsewhere.
Fish and Boat Commission access areas on the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County include City Island, Fort Hunter, Halifax, Middletown and Millersburg. The river near Harrisburg is shallow and free-flowing, suitable for jet drives and low-horsepower prop drives outfitted with a prop protector.
The portion of the Schuylkill River that flows through Valley Forge National Park contains an outstanding catfish population. When the Fish and Boat Commission surveyed the river last fall, it found good numbers of channel cats and flathead catfish.
During the commission survey, which included two electro-shocking sessions, 82 channel cats ranging in size from 19 to 30 inches were collected. Another 16 flatheads ranging in length from 12 to 36 inches were also revealed, with most of the shovelheads being in the 20- to 25- inch slot.
The Schuylkill River includes long, deep pools and little current, providing perfect habitat for catfish.
Shore-fishing and boat-fishing are possible within Valley Forge National Park. According to the PFBC, shore-anglers may gain access to good habitat along the west bank from a parking area near Valley Creek in Valley Forge National Historic Park. Boat anglers may use the National Park Service access area on the north side of the Betzwood bridge. Foot access is also available adjacent to the Pawlings Road bridge.
You can obtain more information on Pennsylvania's 2006 catfishing opportunities on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us. Go to www.visitpa.com/visitpa/home.pa for more information about travel in the Keystone State.