April 10, 2018
These are the most promising Pennsylvania bass waters for 2018.
Pennsylvania is blessed with a wide assortment of bass-fishing venues. The big waters such as Wallenpaupack, Raystown, Youghiogheny, Shenango, Blue Marsh and Pymatuning meet the needs of those who like their bass fishing on a grander scale. Medium to smaller-sized impoundments offer bassin' on a more intimate level, and often feature even higher bass densities.
And flowing waters of the three major river drainages add the "river smallie" bass element, from the main rivers themselves to their many tributaries.
Bob Lorantas serves as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Warmwater Unit Leader. As such, he oversees the management of state's black bass resource, and receives input from area biologists from all regions of the state. From what Lorantas reports, bass anglers have good reason to be optimistic about this year's bass-fishing potential.
"Generally speaking, there should be good bass fishing in most waters across the state," Lorantas noted. "The assessments that fisheries managers have carried out have shown average to above-average densities. That includes the rivers — the Allegheny, the Susquehanna, the Delaware and their major tributaries. That's a good thing."
Rivers tend to experience more fluctuation in bass production than do most reservoirs and lakes, as they are susceptible to the sometimes extreme weather variations during the spring spawning period. However, things are looking good on all of the river systems.
"There have been some challenges on the Susquehanna," Lorantas explained. "However, there has been good evidence of three of the last four year classes contributing average, or even above-average, densities of smallmouth bass in that section of the river."
Lorantas added that the Delaware might be a bit below average, and the Allegheny slightly above that level, but in general, the moving-water fisheries are not experiencing significant deviations from solid, normal levels.
In reservoirs and lakes, where the water levels enjoy a higher degree of stability, Lorantas said things are running on an even keel. However, of particular note is the current status of many smaller impoundments — ones that had been drained due to safety concerns, but have been repaired and refilled in recent years, and are now at a level to offer good fishing.
"One highlight is that we have carried out some rehabilitation of reservoirs that have been refilled and restocked in recent years," Lorantas noted. He says that survey work by fisheries managers indicates good survival rates of stocked bass, as well as evidence of natural reproduction.
"North Park Lake is showing really good densities of bass," he said. "Coyler Lake in the central part of the state, Speedwell Forge in the east — fisheries managers are reporting good numbers of bass in all those lakes. So, for folks that have been holding out fishing those waters, they are now capable of providing some great bass fishing opportunities."
Lorantas pointed out that many of these recently refilled waters are currently under a catch-and-release restriction. Consult your Summary of Rules and Regulations to see a complete list of waters currently under Catch and Release bass regulations in the state.
As mentioned earlier, some of the state's better bass fishing is available on smaller bodies of water, many of which are limited to electric motors only. As such, they don't hold as much attraction to the bass-boat crowd, and escape much of the fishing pressure. Lorantas sees these as having great potential for many anglers.
"In speaking with area fisheries managers, it's evident that many smaller-to-intermediate-sized lakes, ones that might not receive a lot of tournament fishing attention and other avid bass anglers, show really good densities of bass," he said. "I think in some ways these waters become sleeper waters. Especially for folks just starting out, there are some really great options out there. Some are within the confines of state parks, like Canoe Creek Lake."
Canoe Creek Lake is located in the park of the same name. It's better known for its trout fishing, as the lake is stocked with trout, as is the creek itself. The impoundment, however, supports a good warmwater fishery, including bass. Canoe Creek Lake covers 155 acres and features two launch ramps, one near the dam, the other close to the lake's upper section.
"Cross Creek Lake, in Washington County, produces some of the highest catch rates of bass across the state," he continued. "Kahle Lake is another example of (a lake with) high catch rates. Lackawanna Lake is another. Stephen Foster Lake in the east. The Twin Lakes in Westmoreland County offers excellent opportunities for shore anglers."
Earlier Lorantas made some positive comments on the current situation on the main stem of the Susquehanna River, which for over a decade has experienced issues with its fabled smallmouth bass population. Successive years of young-of-year die-offs and evidence of disease in adult fish led to restrictive regulations, including total catch and release regulations and a prohibition of targeting black bass during the spring spawning period on both the lower Susquehanna and lower Juniata rivers. However, during the past couple of seasons many anglers have experienced outstanding bass action on the lower Susquehanna, catching many quality-sized bass as well as adult fish of many sizes, indicating a strong population.
"The prevailing suspicions are that it was an episode of largemouth bass virus that affected young fish, and caused the poor survival of several year classes of those fish," Lorantas said, referring to problems first witnessed at least a dozen years ago. "So, anything anglers can do, particularly mobile anglers that fish multiple bodies of water, to properly clean their gear to prevent the possible spread of disease, should do so. This includes livewell water, which can carry diseased microorganisms, as well as the transferring fish from one waterway to another."
Excellent advice on cleaning your gear and boat is available on the Fish and Boat Commission's website. Visit www.fishandboat.com. Simply type "clean your gear" in the search box located on the homepage.
For obvius reasons, the intentional transfer of fish species is also especially troublesome.
"There are a number of examples of where folks, no doubt with good intentions, have introduced a forage species, gizzard shad for instance, that have not been a part of the food community in that waterway. An example would be gizzard shad in Lake Wilhelm," Lorantas said. "They tend to compete with young bass."
This is also the reason you should not discard unused bait by emptying your minnow bucket into a lake or river at day's end. No telling what you might be "stocking" in that body of water, particularly if you captured the bait yourself.
More spring bass tips
Lorantas also notes that largemouth bass virus is just one possible factor of many that may be in play on the Susquehanna.
"It would be remiss of me to not suggest that environmental conditions also play a role, as there are a number of stressors during the during the spring that fish experience, including fluctuating water temperatures and flow rates, that can challenge bass, adult bass included," he explained." So, we could be looking at somewhat of a perfect storm scenario, starting back in 2005 when these diseased fish and mortalities were first observed."
He adds that biologists are witnessing fewer incidents of diseased smallmouth bass, noting that a "survival of the fittest" scenario could be part of the explanation for such. How the Susquehanna River's bass population responds in the future will determine if any of the restrictive regulations are lifted, or elevated, as the case may be.
"The Susquehanna River biologist has identified very specific criteria to call for changes in the Susquehanna River bass regulations both if the disease outbreak resumes, or if we continue to see low incidents of disease," Lorantas stated. He adds that this criteria includes the abundance of year classes, not just in one year, but over a several-year span, as well as the abundance of adults.
"Ultimately that decision would rest with the Board of Commissioners, but we as the fisheries management division would offer advice," he noted.
This talk of smaller impoundments and rivers isn't meant to detract from our larger bodies of water, just to highlight some opportunities folks might be missing, and also to provide options for those lacking the watercraft to target the bigger lakes. Indeed, the fishing should be excellent again this year on the big ponds.
For example, Pymatuning, Lorantas notes, appears to be on the upswing with respect to its bass fishery. Folks experienced poor fishing for a variety of species last year on this sprawling reservoir, but much of that was blamed on the crazy spring and early summer weather experienced there. Also, two consecutive mild winters led to a glut of baitfish numbers, as hard winters typically knock back gizzard shad and alewife numbers. With more bait fish surviving, the bass had an easier time feeding, and well-fed fish are often hard-to-catch fish.
The statewide bass season opens in mid-June, but is open to catch and release fishing on most waters of the state during the closed season. Be sure to consult your current Summary of Rules and Regulations for the latest information before heading out on the water.