Somewhere in the depths of these top-rated Keystone State muskie lakes lurks the next state-record tiger or purebred. Here's where to start your search - the rest is up to you!
By Bob Frye
Louis Walker Jr.'s dream, put into words more than 75 years ago, is one that's undoubtedly shared in the soul of every muskie fisherman today.
In 1924, Walker was fishing Conneaut Lake in Crawford County when he caught a muskie that weighed an amazing 54 pounds, 3 ounces. It stretched 59 inches in length, and though its girth was not measured, Walker contended it was "the thickest and fattest muskalonge I have ever seen."
Writing about the fish in a 1927 magazine article, Walker told of his desire to catch an even larger Pennsylvania muskie.
"Since catching this whopper, I have been fishing for others I know of, which I believe will go to 60 or 65 pounds," he wrote. "I have seen them both, but have never been fortunate enough to have them strike my bait. I have a hunch that if I continue this wonderful sport, I will sometime get hold of another big muskie."
Walker never did break his own record - no one else has touched it, either - but more people than ever are trying. And, they've got a lot more fish to cast over, and a lot more places to do it.
"The number of waters suitable for (muskie) stocking has grown over the years," said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "And Pennsylvania does stock a fairly large number of muskies in comparison to states in the heart of the muskie belt."
Indeed, the PFBC stocks 200,000 muskie fingerlings each year, half of which are tiger muskies. Several waters in the western half of the state benefit from that effort and are producing good fishing as a result. Here's a look at 10 waters, all within easy driving distance of Pittsburgh, that are worth a try this month.
Muskie fishing is a demanding sport on the best of days, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Photo by David Morris
LAKE ARTHUR Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park west of Route 8 in Butler County has been long known as a great largemouth bass lake, and rightly retains that distinction today.
The 3,225-acre lake is also a real hotspot for muskies.
"The muskie fishing there has really taken off in the last five years," said Craig Billingsley, the PFBC's Area 1 fisheries manager. "Muskies there seem to be doing especially well."
The PFBC stocks 3,300 purebred muskie fingerlings in the lake each year, Billingsley said, but it might be the unexplained introduction of gizzard shad that's sparking the muskie boom. No one knows how shad got in the lake, but they provide an excellent forage base. Fisheries biologists have heard rumors of muskies over 50 inches being caught in Lake Arthur, and survey personnel once caught a muskie in a survey net that was 48 inches long.
"Our scale goes up to 35 pounds, and that's it, and it pegged it," Billingsley said.
The lake has a long shoreline and features plenty of muskie-holding coves and bays, Billingsley said. A map available at the park office details where artificial fish structure has been built at the lake.
Anglers can take advantage of 10 boat launches, but are limited to motors of 18 horsepower or less. For information about the lake, call Moraine State Park at (724) 368-8811.
PYMATUNING LAKE Pymatuning Lake, a 14,000-acre waterway bordered by Route 18 on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border in Crawford County, is another waterway Billingsley recommends for muskie anglers.
"We're getting a lot of muskies in our sampling there," Billingsley said. "The muskies are not necessarily of great size, but we are getting the numbers."
That's good news and a possible hint of better things to come given the lake's history, he said.
In the 1980s, red spot disease, a bacterial infection that impacts only muskies and northern pike, all but wiped out Pymatuning's muskie population. The disease seems to have run its course and the lake's muskie population is rebounding.
"When I came here in 1988, you were lucky to see three or four muskies in a survey of the whole lake," Billingsley said. "Now we see three or four in every net."
Billingsley noted that he's netted a few muskies ranging into the 40-inch class.
Pymatuning has plenty of shoreline, several islands and some bays that hold fish. A number of boat launches are available within the park, and anglers can fish anywhere on the lake - even into Ohio - so long as they stay in their boat. There is a 10-horsepower motor limit.
For information, call Pymatuning State Park at (724) 932-3141.
LAKE SOMERSET A much smaller impoundment, but one that's definitely good for muskie fishing, is Lake Somerset in Somerset County. Though just 253 acres in size, the lake is stocked heavily with muskies, to the tune of three fish per acre in even years and five fish per acre in odd years. Anglers and biologists have found some big muskies in the lake, too, including specimens stretching more than 40 inches and weighing more than 30 pounds, according to Rick Lorson, the PFBC's fisheries manager for Area 8, who once recorded a 48-inch muskie in a survey net. That was a few years ago, but there should still be some big fish out there, he said.
Lake Somerset is within two miles of the Somerset exit of Interstate Route 76, yet it does not get a lot of targeted muskie pressure, Lorson said. However, it has the potential to satisfy anglers, and not just those equipped with boats.
"The lake is accessible from shore, In fact, the word we get is that anglers get as many muskies and tiger muskies from shore as they do from boats," he said.
Those who do try the lake with a boat are limited to electric motors only.
Gizzard shad provide much of the forage base at Lake Somerset, though there are a lot of small panfish there, too.
For information about Lake Somerset, contact the PFBC's Southwest Region office at (814) 445-8974.
LOYALHANNA LAKE Another lake in the southwestern corner
of the state that's proving to be good for muskies is Loyalhanna Lake, a 480-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment north of Route 22 in northern Westmoreland County.
Loyalhanna is stocked heavily with muskie fingerlings, receiving three purebreds per acre on even-numbered years and 10 tiger muskies per acre every year.
"There are a few people targeting muskies there, but not many," biologist Lorson said.
That could be a mistake. Lorson last surveyed the lake in 1999 and found plenty of muskies, the biggest going 35 inches. He expects that things have only gotten better since then.
Lorson suggested that anglers concentrate their efforts on the bay that lies to the left of the boat launch and at the dam. Some of the bays near the dam are good, too.
Loyalhanna Lake is open to boats of unlimited horsepower. For a map of the lake and other information, call the lake office at (724) 639-9013.
ALLEGHENY RIVER The Allegheny River is heavily fished, but the good news for muskie anglers is that most of the fishermen on the river target walleyes and saugers.
That fact, combined with a heavy muskie stocking effort, means there are plenty of muskies available, said Lorson.
He singled out several river sections - from Clinton to Lock and Dam 2 in Sharpsburg, from Lock and Dam 2 to the Harmarville pool and the pools at Tarentum and Freeport - as having the potential to give up substantial numbers of muskies. Each river stretch has been consistently stocked with muskie fingerlings, often with more than 4,100 fish per pool per year.
"Anglers can often find those fish in the slack water near the mouths of tributaries," Lorson said.
Each pool has access points for shore-anglers. The Harmarville and Freeport pools each have one boat launch, while Tarentum has two. There is no launch at Clinton, but anglers can access the river there by traveling through the lock system.
Anglers fishing the river should also consider Allegheny Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Dam, which about 19 years ago, gave up a muskie known as the "Kinzua Giant." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were surveying the lake when they caught a muskie in their gill nets that weighed 53 pounds, 14 ounces. It was 54 3/8 inches long and had a 29 1/2- inch girth.
No one's caught a muskie quite that size since, but the dam may well hold other fish that big, said Allen Woomer, the PFBC's Area 2 fisheries manager. For information about any of the locks, or the Allegheny Reservoir, call the U.S. Corps of Engineers at (814) 726-0661.
CONNEAUT LAKE Conneaut Lake has seen a lot of changes since Louis Walker Jr. caught his monster muskie. For one thing, the lake is now surrounded by summer homes and condominiums.
One thing that hasn't changed is Conneaut's reputation as a muskie producer. The state's largest natural lake at 929 acres, it is stocked with purebred fingerlings every year, and they seem to fare well, said biologist Woomer.
"We get a lot of nice fish when we survey it, but I don't think we always get the numbers of fish that are representative of what's actually there," he said. "I think there are bigger ones than we will ever see."
Biologist Billingsley said he knows of one local angler, a former PFBC employee who once worked with muskies, who believes he had a new state-record muskie on his line. He got it up to the boat, only to lose it when a friend tried to net it.
"He's convinced it was a new record, and he knows muskies," Billingsley said. "He said it straightened the hooks on his lure!"
Boats of unlimited horsepower are allowed on the lake, so it gets busy on weekends with a mix of water skiers and anglers. The PFBC maintains one public boat launch on Route 618 west of the lake. For information about accommodations in the area, visit the Web at http://conneautlakepa. areaguides.net.
LAKE WILHELM Lake Wilhelm is a 1,740-acre lake in northeastern Mercer County east of Route 19. It's a good lake for a lot of fish species, muskies included, said Woomer.
"It's just a really nice lake," he said. "There are plenty of access areas and trails for the shore-bound angler. It's a great place to go fishing."
The lake's muskies grow to impressive size, too. Woomer said survey crews have come up with several fish in the 35- to 46-inch class, and he suspects there are bigger ones out there.
Panfish and suckers provide a good forage base, and the PFBC stocks muskie fingerlings in the lake on a regular basis.
Boats are limited to 18 horsepower on most of the lake, but only non-powered boats are permitted on the section of water that falls within the state game lands boundaries.
There are eight boat launches in the park, five within the park and three on the game lands property.
For information, call the park at (724) 253-4833.
WOODCOCK CREEK LAKE The muskie fishing at Woodcock Creek Lake, a 325-acre U.S. Army Corps project in Crawford County bordered by Route 98, can be summed up in a comment Woomer received from a panfish angler while survey crews were operating.
"There was a guy who was panfishing, and he kept complaining that the muskies wouldn't quit biting," Woomer said. "I guess if you've got to have something to complain about, that's a pretty good thing."
Woodcock Creek Lake offers plenty of shoreline fishing opportunities. There's one good boat launch, too, though boats can be equipped with no more than a 10-horsepower motor.
A mix of panfish and suckers provide good forage for muskies, and the PFBC routinely stocks purebred muskie fingerlings in the lake. The lake's muskie management program seems to be doing very well based on recent fisheries surveys.
"We saw quite a few fish from 25 inches on up to 46 inches, so there were plenty of fish in a variety of different sizes," Woomer said. "There are good numbers of fish in the lake."
For information on this lake, call the U.S. Corps of Engineers office at (814) 763-0629.
TIONESTA LAKE One more lake Pennsylvania muskie anglers might want to visit is Tionesta Lake in southern Forest County, north and west of Route 36. Tionesta Lake is another U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment and covers 570 acres. It can be tough to fish from shore because the lake is in some rugged, mountainous countr
y and has steep banks in many places.
Boat anglers can find some nice muskies here, though, said biologist Woomer.
"There are muskies in there pushing 50 inches, I'm sure," he said. "We don't always catch them in our netting, but that doesn't mean they aren't there."
There are a few panfish here, but plentiful suckers provide a strong forage base for muskies.
There are several boat launches on the lake, and boats of unlimited horsepower are allowed. That can make for some crowded weekends, but anglers who fish early and late can do well.
For more information, call (814) 755-3512.
Of course, there are plenty of other places to fish for muskies in Pennsylvania. The PFBC posts information about muskie-stocked waters and fisheries management reports for various lakes and river sections on its Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us.
Interested anglers may also call the agency at (717) 705-7800 for more information. Out-of-town anglers looking for a place to stay while visiting any the lakes mentioned should check out the Pennsylvania Visitors Network at www.pavisnet.com for information on hotels, motels and campgrounds, or visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us for a list of state park facilities.
Now is the time to sample some of western Pennsylvania's top muskie waters.
"The water quality in western Pennsylvania's rivers and lakes has improved over the past few decades, and that's been good news for all fish species, including muskies," Lorantas said.
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