This month, try these top-rated winter waters from shore, boat or on ice -- as conditions allow. The trout are waiting for you! (February 2009)
Unlike some trout-rich states, Pennsylvania doesn't shut down its salmonid fishing in February. It utilizes a host of year-round programs, including Catch and Release areas, Trophy Trout Projects, Delayed Harvest sites and Approved Waters Open to Year-Round Fishing -- so that trout angling in February can be as richly rewarding as any other month.
Later in March, anglers can also work the state's select Early-Season Trout Stocked Waters.
Of course, any discussion of February trouting must acknowledge the conditions you might face when fishing these sites. This month, there's the strong probability that above Interstate Route 80, most waters will still be frozen and that ice-fishing will be the name of the game.
If the past three years indicate what conditions we can expect this season, then the lakes in the state's northeast corner have the strongest chance of remaining frozen through a substantial part of the month.
At the same time, while February may offer a few days of frozen fishing in the state's southeast corner, a wise gambler would expect mostly open water in the flatland region south of Blue Mountain.
During any part of February, however -- especially during a cold snap -- skim ice can cover many southeastern Pennsylvania lakes.
Skim ice isn't good for real ice-fishermen, nor for boaters who need to break their way through the stuff to reach open water.
As far as trout numbers go, anglers planning to get in on some hot lake action would be smart to select impoundments that have been stocked since the beginning of December.
This late-season stocking generally ensures the presence of trout both before and after Valentine's Day.
But for you to be really certain that a lake holds trout in February, I'd suggest fishing those waters listed under the state's Winter Trout Stocking Program, which are stocked from late January into February.
In my own unofficial count, on the eastern side of the state there are 14 lakes in that category -- sites that will be stocked during the first two months of 2009.
Of course, all the waters listed below are subject to changes in regulations and stocking dates. For example, in its own recent review of Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regulations for year-round trout angling, the "commission staff discovered that this special regulation program was never formally adopted by the commission."
In other words, the program didn't legally exist! With that in mind, it's tough for us regular anglers to keep up with what's official or not.
Nevertheless, here are some of the best February trout waters on the eastern side of the state:
Upper Woods Pond
The truly deep Upper Woods Pond in Wayne County won't be stocked until Feb. 25. At that time, anglers are likely to experience a host of conditions from solid, walkable ice to thin sheets of skim ice -- or even completely open water. In some years, PFBC personnel needed to cut through the ice with chain saws to deliver a load of trout to this 90-acre lake, while at other times, it was a simple drive-and-drop maneuver.
But even if you visit Upper Woods Pond before the late February stocking, you're likely to find some trout hovering in its placid depths.
Upper Woods Pond is a natural glacial lake where the commission once attempted to stock landlocked salmon. That experiment didn't work. But with the pond's maximum depth of over 70 feet, trout from previous stockings usually provide plenty of action for early and mid-February anglers.
Upper Woods Pond is listed on the state's Early Season Trout Stocked Program, so you can fish here through March. However, if there is a lot of snow in the region, it may be a difficult drive on back forest roads to reach this lake.
Nevertheless, the ramp is on only a slight incline, and unless the lake is frozen, anglers manage to launch their boats in the water. There is also a handicapped dock at this lake, but don't expect it to be useable at this time of year. Its position is too far back in a corner, and the lake recedes away from it quickly so that this facility is often high and dry.
Despite that, good shore-angling can be found right around the boat ramp. Heavy woods and few trails border the rest of the lake.
Upper Woods Pond lies off Upper Woods Pond Road and Route 371, east of Route 191 and Rileyville.
LITTLE SCHUYLKILL RIVER
The Little Schuylkill River is not scheduled for a winter stocking. But with good numbers of holdover trout and an admirable amount of wild fish, it's a good February choice for moving-water anglers.
Other good news is that the PFBC recently extended the boundaries of Class A wild trout waters on this river. The agency now lists the presence of wild trout from the river's headwaters downstream to Panther Creek. The reason for this adjustment is that wild trout were found farther upstream in recent surveys.
In winter, I love to fish above Tamaqua for the wild browns and brook trout that inhabit these waters.
In this small-stream environment, a 12-inch trout is a large fish. But fishing from the frost-covered rocks west of Route 309 is a pretty experience.
In addition to the upper reaches of the Little Schuylkill River, winter anglers should try the wider, more popular area around New Ringgold.
Managed under Delayed Harvest-Artificial Lures Only regulations, the 1.7-mile stretch usually offers good numbers of holdover trout through the cold winter months.
This stretch is also fairly shallow for the most part. On sunny February days, the trout don't hesitate to take winter stoneflies and midges.
This month, there's the strong probability that above Interstate Route 80, most waters will still be frozen and that ice-fishing will be the name of the game.
The Special Regulations section runs from the Route 895 bridge downstream to the T-8
You'll find parking for this section halfway down Mill Mountain Road, a rural road near the Route 895 bridge at New Ringgold.
For more information on the river, contact Wilderness Trekker in New Ringgold at (570) 943-3151.
Despite the mild winters of the last three or four years, Antietam Reservoir in the high hills south of Reading has managed to have fishable ice at least in the beginning of the month.
By the end of February, it's been a different story.
At just 17 acres, Antietam Lake is small, but still a major winter fishery. The lake was scheduled for stocking on Dec. 3 and Jan. 6. Those two plantings usually offer plenty of trout for Valentine's Day and beyond.
Antietam Lake is a favorite because every angler who fishes it has an equal opportunity of catching trout. Because Antietam Lake lacks structure -- its bottom is only sand and silt -- the trout continue to circulate around the kidney-shaped basin and can show up at any time.
I've seen anglers sit and fidget for hours both on shore and over hard ice, and then suddenly catch their limits within a few minutes.
Antietam Lake has a large parking lot at the upper end, away from the dam, and most anglers park their vehicles there. But the lake is also encircled by a rural road. Other anglers park where they can and then crab-walk down the steep banks.
Whether they then go out on the ice or fish from the rocky shores doesn't really matter. Antietam Lake will have trout in February, and either type of fishing will produce.
To reach the lake, take Route 73 to Pricetown Road to Antietam Road, or take Oley Road above Route 622 at the bingo hall to Basket Road and then turn onto Antietam Road.
SCOTTS RUN LAKE
A popular and excellent place for winter trout in the lower rung of the southeast corner of the state is Scotts Run Lake, at the opposite end of Berks County from Antietam Reservoir.
This lake has not seen much ice in recent years, but it's a February magnet for many trout fishermen.
The 21-acre Scotts Run Lake was scheduled for stocking on Dec. 10 and Jan. 6, and these plantings should insure adequate number of fish before and after Valentine's Day.
If the lake is devoid of fishable ice, and if skim ice presents a problem for boating, you can easily fish Scotts Run from shore.
At least three-quarters of the lake is accessible via the parking area or along the dam or a path.
To reach some deep water, cross over the spillway bridge and work the face of the dam. The dam has a riprap face. Except when it's slippery, anglers can climb down and fish out from the slanted wall.
The lake has an average depth of seven feet and a maximum depth of 22 feet close to the dam.
To reach Scotts Run Lake from Pottstown, take Route 100 south to Route 23 west. Turn right onto Route 345. Follow Route 345 to French Creek State Park.
For more information, call the park in Elverson at (610) 582-9680, or log on to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes park officials update the lake's winter conditions on their site, and sometimes they don't.
One stream that anglers may not have considered for February fishing -- but one that certainly calls for examination -- is little Stony Creek in Dauphin County.
The lower part of the creek, for several miles above the Susquehanna River, is a stocked trout stream and fairly devoid of trout in February.
But the farther you travel upstream, particularly into State Game Lands No. 211, the more wild trout you are likely to find.
In fact, the PFBC includes Stony Creek on its list of Approved Trout Waters Open to Year-Round Fishing. The new area is from .4 mile upstream of Cold Spring Road downstream to the gate at SGL 211.
If I interpret this listing correctly, the wild trout population is making a strong showing in this portion of the stream, and the PFBC expects this water to have some holdover fish.
In February, Stony Creek will be an adventure to fish. The gate at SGL 211 will probably be closed, so any anglers will need to hike or ride a trail bike into the upper reaches.
Stony Creek is not a wide stream in this regulated zone, perhaps only 15 to 20 feet wide during normal flows. But the creek has a steep gradient, and throughout this stretch, there are therefore good numbers of pocket pools. On warm February days, my choice would be to concentrate on the sun-drenched pools.
The lower section of Stony Creek is about 30 minutes north of Harrisburg. Your adventure begins by taking Susquehanna Avenue from the river town of Dauphin, and then Stony Creek Valley Road.
It's a seven-mile drive up from Dauphin to the gated parking area, with the final two miles on a gravel and chip road through SGL 211.
After that, anglers must travel on foot or by bike.
Even local anglers may not realize that a long section of Tulpehocken Creek continues to be open to year-round fishing.
For many years, a 3.8-mile section of Tulpehocken Creek has been under Delayed Harvest-Artificial Lures Only regulations, which allow for year-round fishing. This section is from Blue Marsh dam downstream to the covered bridge.
However, the lower quarter of Tulpehocken Creek is open to year-round angling under the Approved Trout Waters Open To Year-Round Fishing Program. For the month of February, there's a three-fish creel limit. The zone in the spotlight is from the covered bridge downstream to the mouth of the Schuylkill River.
The specially designated section is wide, brawling water that includes a major pool below a secondary dam and the broad, rocky water that stretches downstream to the river.
This is an exciting piece of water and a good choice during the off-season months.
My experience is that this stretch is best fished from one side of Tulpehocken Creek -- the side opposite the municipal park. A trail runs down the park side, but from this trail there's a steep incline down to the creek.
The climb is not easy. Besides, most of the good holding water lies underneath the trail hill, and this would be a tough approach.
It's better to c
ross the stream by the bridge and then work downstream on the far side of the creek, casting into the deep water beside the steep embankment.
There are a surprising number of wild brown trout in this zone.
Because it is primarily spring-fed, Bushkill Creek in the Easton area is a great winter choice for anglers who like moving waters.
The stream has a 1.1-mile Catch and Release section from the dam at Binney and Smith downstream to the 13th Street bridge. Wise anglers will spend a lot of time in the deep pool below the dam. It's not the most bucolic place in the world, but its rainbows are often very eager.
In addition to willing fish, there's a substantial parking lot nearly across from the dam pool on Bushkill Road.
Other downstream sections of Bushkill Creek are more popular with the flyfishermen who generally work this flow. But the dam pool holds a lot of fish.
Downstream, below the bridge below the dam, Bushkill Creek braids and twists into a series of riffles, short runs and moderate pools. Come February, winter stoneflies and midges often make a showing.
The creek, with a number of parking areas, is on the northern edge of Easton along Bushkill Road.
MORE WINTER STOCKED WATERS
In addition to those cited above, other eastern Pennsylvania trout waters are scheduled for stockings from December through February.
For a list of winter-stocked waters, additional fishing information on trout waters, maps and Special Regulations listings across Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Harrisburg at (717) 705-7800, or log onto their Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us.
For winter travel information, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.