May 11, 2012
By Mike Bleech
Nothing could be finer than bass in Pennsylvania in the sprii-i-iinggg-tiiime. Come on, sing along. Get in the spirit of the season. This is the time to fish for bass in most of the state. The bass are in shallow water, they tend to be aggressive, and the trophy fish are feeding heavily.
If I wanted to, I could probably build to a thrilling climax by leaving the best for last. But no, let's jump right into smallmouth bass fishing at Lake Erie, the best smallmouth bass fishing on the planet.
Smallmouth bass fishing at Lake Erie starts to get good when the water temperature reached the high 30s, then improves as it rises through the 40s and 50s. This may last from April into June. Actually it starts even sooner in Presque Isle Bay, but we will cover that separately.
Most of the better smallmouth bass fishing in the Pennsylvania section of Lake Erie is on the east side of Erie, from Erie to the New York state border. The reason is simple: in this part of the lake there is more of the rocky, rubble bottom that smallmouth bass prefer. Some of the first fishing in the lake takes place by cribs just outside the entrance to Presque Isle Bay.
Bass anglers usually launch from one of the boat ramps in Presque Isle Bay, at Chestnut Street on the city side of the bay, at the marina in Presque Isle State Park, at a couple of access areas just outside the bay, East Street and Lampe Marina, or farther to the east at Shade's Beach or North East Marina.
Of course there is some very good smallmouth fishing on the west side of Erie. Anglers launch at Walnut Creek Access to get to it. But this is mostly done by local bass anglers who know the precise locations of hot spots that are fewer in number.
Finding bass on the east side is much easier. Bass fishing is not equal wherever you go on the east side, but you might catch bass just about anywhere. One of the more popular places for bass fishing is off Sixteenmile Creek. Another is an area known as the W's, so called because cuts eroded in the cliffs take the shape of W's, sort of.
Locating the best bass-holding places can be challenging to anglers who are not accustomed to fishing this huge lake. Shoreline markers are just about worthless except for getting into the right general area. You need to know how to read your sonar.
Smallmouth bass fishing is generally best during May because the bass are shallower than they are during summer. However, "shallow" here may not be shallow in the terms of anglers who are more accustomed to fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers or smaller lakes. The bass might be any where from a depth of 10 feet out to a depth of 35 feet, which may be more than a half-mile from shore.
Two factors combine to make the perfect smallmouth bass habitat in Lake Erie. One is a rock-rubble bottom, as opposed to the flat shale which forms bottom in large areas of the lake. Second is an irregular bottom, particularly drop-offs, depressions and humps. The latter can be detected on sonar/fish finders quite easily. But telling the difference between flat shale and rock rubble is much more difficult. There is no simple explanation, except that on days when the lake is calm a sonar with fine detail will show the small ups and downs of rock rubble versus the very flat shale.
But even on a shale bottom, a drop-off usually will hold smallmouth bass.
Top lures for spring fishing are blade baits such as the Heddon Sonar or Cicada in silver-and-blue or gold-and-chartreuse color patterns. As the water warms into the 50's, switch to tube jigs and other jigs. Very good examples are the Yum F2 Ferocity in green pumpkin and chartreuse or melon candy, the Lake Fork Crawfish Tube, the Kalin Lunker Grub in Avocado/Green S&P, and Berkley Power Bait 4-inch Power Tube or 4-inch Chigger Craw.
Any color pattern that resembles a goby should be very good. An Ohio study showed that the goby has become the top forage for Lake Erie smallmouth bass, a fact that will not surprise many anglers familier with Erie.
Each year the 'Pennsylvania's Biggest Fish' list indicated the heaviest fish of each species reported in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission 'Angler Recognition Program'. Lake Erie fish dominate the smallmouth bass category, with examples that weigh 7 pounds upwards to more than 8 pounds. Over the past four years, all but three of the list's of top five for each year have been from Lake Erie.
Special regulations apply to bass fishing in Lake Erie, and specifically named tributaries. From January 1 through April 16 and from June 18 through December 31, the daily limit for bass (combined species) is four, and the minimum size limit is 15 inches. From April 16 through June 17, the minimum size limit is 20 inches, and the daily creel limit is one bass, either species.
Cross Creek Lake is a big bass hot spot in the southwest corner of the state. Few other waters in Pennsylvania have such outstanding potential for giving up largemouth bass that weigh more than 5 pounds. In the list of Pennsylvania's List of Biggest Fish of 2010, the number 4 entry came from this lake. It weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces, had a length of 23.5 inches and a girth of 15 inches.
That catch was far from an isolated incident. Serious bass anglers who fish Cross Creek Lake claim to catch and release bass in the 5-pound to 8-pound size class with some degree of regularity.
Cross Creek Lake is in Washington County, not far from the West Virginia border. It is located off PA Route 50 between Hickory and Avella. Go 2.5 miles west from the intersection of Route 50 and PA Route 18.
This 258-acre lake is owned by the county. A permit is requited to operate a boat on the lake. There are several places to fish from shore. There is a 10 hp limit on boat motors. Phone (724) 228-6867 to get information about the county park, boating and special events.
Big Bass Regulations apply here. As these special regulations apply to lakes, from January 1 through April 15 and from June 18 to December 31 the daily creel limit is four bass and the minimum size limit is 15 inches. Then from April 16 to June 17 fishing is on a strict catch-and-release basis. All bass that are caught must be released immediately, and during this time bass tournaments are not allowed. As always, check the regulations before you hit the water.
Even in the great trout country of the Allegheny Highlands in the Northcentral Region, there is some mighty fine bass fishing. One of the most pleasant places you will ever fish for bass is at George B. Stevenson Reservoir. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Cameron County along little traveled PA Route 872, it is a far cry from our better-known bass lakes. Boats are limited to electric motor power, which keeps the lake calm and peaceful. The high-powered bass boat crowd does not give it a second look, except for a few in the know who tilt up their big outboard motors and let their bow-mounted electric motors pull them around.
George B. Stevenson Reservoir has a surprising history of producing over-sized largemouth bass. The 4th largest largemouth bass on the list of Pennsylvania's Biggest Fish of 2008 was caught here, a 7.1-pound bass with a length of 24 inches and a girth of 18.5 inches. It sucked in a plastic worm during mid-July.
Largely because boats are limited to electric motors, the majority of bass fishing takes place in the upper half of this 142-acre lake. Get into the lower, much deeper end of the lake and you typically have a lot of water to yourself. This is a great place to look for bigger bass, especially once the lake warms to summertime temperatures. During spring you are likely to find plenty of largemouth bass in the upper reaches of the lake where there is ample underwater vegetation.
On any given day, most bass anglers will be found near mid-lake fishing with bait. If you prefer artificial lures, one which has proven to be effective in clear water is the Berkley 7-inch Power Worm in the Blue/Black color pattern.
This lake, like so many of the state's small- to medium-sized man-made lakes, is in a state park, in this case Sinnemahoning State Park. This makes fishing here very convenient for visiting anglers. The park offers camping from the second weekend in April to late December.
Porcupine cribs, post stumps and rock rubble humps have been placed at several locations in the lake to enhance fishing. These are very good places to find bass. In addition, the Fish and Boat Commission had constructed bass nesting structures.
East from the Susquehanna River there are many excellent largemouth bass lakes (so many that picking any that stand out is difficult). Suffice that one of many very good bass lakes is Nockamixon Lake, in Bucks County. In spite of very heavy fishing pressure, this lake continually provides good fishing for largemouth bass. Big Bass Regulations play a very significant role in maintaining this fishery. This inspired set of regulations helps Pennsylvania maintain outstanding bass fisheries where bass are available in good numbers, and with trophy potential.
Nockamixon Lake is just a short drive from Philadelphia or Allentown. Situated in Nockamixon State Park, the 1,450-acre lake is one of the regional favorites. The park does not have a campground, but there are rental cabins.
Numerous artificial structures have been placed in the lake to enhance fishing. Some anglers think these structures are placed there for the fish, but in fact they are there for anglers because they tend to attract congregations of fish. Cast around these structures with spinnerbaits or plastic worms.
Boats are limited to 20 hp motors.
Nockamixon State Park is along PA Route 563, just off PA Route 313 about 5 miles east from Quakertown and 9 miles west from Doylestown.
Marsh Creek Lake is another exceptional state park lake in the Southeast Region. A study in 2010 by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists turned up a catch rate that exceeded average for the region, and the average for this region is much higher than in any of the other regions. The overall catch rate of 76.9 bass per hour compares well with the region average of 50.4 bass per hour.
Even more impressive was the catch rate for larger bass. For bass 12 inches in length and longer, the Marsh Creek Lake catch rate of 39.3 bass per hour is more than triple the region average of 12.3 per hour. The Marsh Creek Lake catch rate of bass 15 inches and longer of 17.7 bass per hour leaves the region's average catch rate of 3.6 bass per hour in the dust. It is third highest in the region. That is getting into super lake status, and yet, anglers have worried that the stocking of muskellunge and tiger muskellunge was hurting the bass fishery.
Multiple year classes of bass were observed in biologists' surveys, however, and there is a particularly large 2009 year-class present. So the future of bass fishing in Marsh Creek Lake looks good so far.
This 535-acre lake is under Big Bass Regulations. Largemouth bass are much more abundant than smallmouth bass.
This lake is in Chester County, about 4 miles north from Downington in Marsh Creek State Park..
Information about state parks, including dated when open, facilities, reservations for camp sites and rental cabins, can be found at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources web site, www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Get more information about bass fishing in Pennsylvania from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission web site, www.pfbc.state.pa.us.