Perched on the doorstep of another summer season, it’s not uncommon for a sense of wanderlust to consume the angler. So many potential places to fish, yet so little time.
Why not hitch up the boat, pack the waders and associated gear, load up the cooler with staples, and hit the road on an adventure aimed at trying some of them?
Here are some great suggestions to get you started.
Every road trip needs a kick-off place, and it would be hard to find a better one than Pennsylvania’s comparatively small share of Lake Erie, which encompasses 51 miles of shoreline. But within that area, one will find some of the best bass fishing in the state.
In the main lake itself, the draw is oversized smallmouth bass. Early summer will find fish in shallower zones, as this is spawning time. Expect to find good numbers of bass in 25 feet of water and less. Rocky ridges with sharp breaks tend to collect fish, as do shoals associated with incoming streams.
Suspending jerkbaits are effective, even in water as deep as 15 feet. Typically, the water is clear, and fish can see baits from a long distance. Other good choices include swimming grubs (regionally popular Galida’s Grubz are favorites), tube jigs and drop shot rigs with round goby imitators.
The bass fishing isn’t limited to the lake proper. Presque Isle Bay, a protected 3,000-acre basin the fronts the City of Erie, provides outstanding bass options. During June there will still be plenty of smallies in the bay, ones that migrated there to spawn. By July the brown bass will be mostly gone. But“Erie Bay” also has a strong largemouth population. Expect to find green bass relating to the Bay’s abundant submergent weed growth, where flippin’ jigs excel in triggering bites.
It would be remiss in not mentioning Lake Erie’s walleye fishery, which currently is at a high point. Walleye fishing in Pennsylvania waters tends to be better from mid-summer on.
If You Go
Erie boasts several excellent bait and tackle shops including Lake Erie Bait and Tackle, which is located on Peninsula Drive (814-790-5728). Captain Mark Rose (markrosefishing.com) specializes in targeting Erie bass.
Jump on Interstate 79 and travel less than an hour south and you’ll be in Pymatuning country, likely the state’s best inland walleye lake.
Traditionally a great early spring walleye lake, during recent years I’ve had much better success from late spring well into summer. Earlier, walleyes are strongly keyed in on spawning alewife, which is mostly a nighttime affair. But by late May the daytime angler starts to get in on the action.
Two solid patterns exist now. Slow trolling or drifting spinner/crawler harnesses around the edges of shallow humps produces fish. Expect to contact fish in 5 to 15 feet of water. If there’s a drifting wind, setting up controlled drifts that target these areas is productive. If the winds are light or nonexistent, pulling spinners behind bottom bouncer sinkers often works well. Use your electric trolling motor and shoot for a speed around 1 mph. Pymatuning is loaded with yellow perch and sunfish that also use these zones so bring plenty of crawlers and expect to re-bait often.
If the crawler pattern isn’t producing, it’s time to move out over the main lake basin and troll crankbaits. A productive approach is to include a lead core rod or two that puts the lures within a foot or two of the bottom and some high riding long lines for suspended fish. Storm Hot n’ Tots, Rapala Shad Raps and Berkley Flicker Shad are all worth trying.
If You Go
Richter’s Bait and Tackle, located along Route 322 outside of Jamestown, is a good spot for bait, tackle, info and cottage rentals. Guide trips can be arranged through the Keystone Connection (keystoneconnection.com).
LAKE ARTHUR LARGEMOUTH BASS
Another drive to the south on I-79 puts you near Lake Arthur, which is just east of the Route 422 exchange. For decades Lake Arthur had the reputation as one of the state’s premier big bass lakes. And while that standing may have diminished a bit in recent years, it’s still a top destination for lunker largemouth, annually putting at least one of the state’s top five largemouth on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s list.
Lake Arthur’s 3,300 acres are made up of a network of bays and coves. During early summer, when bass have recently concluded spawning, expect plenty of largemouth to be relating to the weedy cover in these bays. Milfoil runs out to depths of around 5-feet.
Later in the summer, a portion of the largemouth population will have moved out to main-lake structure, such as that provided by the submerged Route 422 roadbed and a submerged railroad bed that runs the length of the lake, from the upper end in Muddy Creek bay, exiting near the dam.
Alewife are the predominate baitfish species in Lake Arthur. Crankbaits that exhibit silver and blue are productive. Buzzbaits worked around weed edges early and late in the day often excel, as do flippin’ jigs worked along major points near the dam area.
If You Go
Moraine State Park surrounds Lake Arthur, and offers a host of amenities, including cabin rentals. Camping is not available within the park, though several private campgrounds exist nearby.
LITTLE JUNIATA RIVER TROUT
It’s time to set a course to the east and put those boots to work in pursuit of a cold-water species, in this case the stream-bred brown trout of the Little Juniata River.
The Little Juniata, or Little J as it’s known locally, is one of the state’s most productive wild trout waters, harboring a good population of buttery-flanked brownies. Expect to fish over lots of trout in the 10- to 15-inch range, with ones in the upper teens readily available as well.
Access is good along much of the Little J. Some of the more popular sections are upriver of the town of Spruce Creek, where several roadside turnouts are found. The Rothrock State Forest section, accessible from a lane that parallels the river upriver of Barree, is another nice stretch.
Fly hatches during June and July include the Yellow Drake, Slate Drake and Sulphurs. Tan and cream caddis flies also make appearances now. All-purpose nymphs such as the Prince, Pheasant Tail and muskrat excel when there are no bugs on top. Swinging soft hackles in the current also produces summertime trout. None of this is to imply fly fishing is the only way to fish the Little J. Most of it is managed as All-Tackle, Catch and Release, so if spin fishing is your thing, ply away with hardware or live bait and you’ll likely do fine.
If You Go
Spruce Creek Outfitters, located in the town of the same name, is an excellent place to pick up a few of the local favorites and get the latest scoop on the trout fishing.
NORTH BRANCH OF THE SUSQUEHANNA SMALLMOUTH BASS
Pennsylvania is blessed with hundreds of miles of excellent smallmouth bass fishing on free-flowing rivers. The North Branch of the Susquehanna is one of the best.
The North Branch quickly gains size as it enters Pennsylvania from the north, picking up major tributaries such as the Chemung River and Lackawanna River. It joins the West Branch near Sunbury. Throughout it provides exceptional smallmouth bass fishing for the bank angler, wader, canoe/kayak angler, and motorboat, with jet drives appropriate for the latter if you plan on covering any great degree of water.
Late spring and early summer can be a down time for river smallmouth, as the fish will have recently completed spawning. Typically, though, but mid-June the fish are in summer patterns, and willing to chase down lures. Smaller suspending jerkbaits, soft jerkbaits (flukes) and soft swimbaits all excel. If the fish are not in a chasing mood, slow down and work tube jigs or Senko-style worms near the bottom. The most active bass will be relating to areas with faster current, i.e. riffles and moderately shallow runs. Stonecats are an important part of the NB smallies diet; anglers that go to the trouble of fishing these fare well.
If You Go
To truly experience the quality of the North Branch’s smallmouth bass fishing consider hiring a guide for the day, such as Reel River Adventures (facebook/reelriveradventures).
Despite intense boating and fishing pressure, Lake Wallenpaupack continues to be a quality destination for the bass angler, one well worthy of a stop along our summertime road trip.
Nestled in the Pocono Mountains in both Wayne and Pike counties, it covers 5,700 acres and attains depths of around 60 feet. It supports both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Those seeking smallmouth bass might do well to concentrate on the upper end of the lake, where Wallenpaupack Creek enters the impoundment -— not that smallmouth aren’t distributed around the lake. But smallies like current, so you can figure on there always being some near where river sections enter a reservoir.
Throughout Wallenpaupack there are extensive points that jut out into the main basin. These are typically associated with the lake’s major bays and coves. Seek out weedy points that give way to secondary creek channels, or the primary river channel, and odds are you’ll be putting your bait in front of a bass.
As mentioned earlier, Wallenpaupack is a watery playground. So, plan on fishing early, late or after dark. Don’t attempt the latter until you’ve become somewhat familiar with the lake.
If You Go
Wallenpaupack Sports Shop, in Hawley, can help with your tackle needs. For guiding, contact Wallenpaupack Guide Service.
LOWER SUSQUEHANNA CHANNEL CATS
The main stem of the mighty Susquehanna River is well known for a variety of fishing opportunities, highlighted by its excellent smallmouth bass fishing. But it’s also a great catfish destination. Channel cats exist in great numbers providing a great resource, particularly for those looking to prop the rod in a forked stick or rod holder, and wait for a bite.
The lower part of the Susquehanna, that which is influenced by a network of hydro power plant dams, contains some of the better channel cat populations. Key in on free-flowing sections found between the impounded pools.
While channel cats will respond to several offerings, commercially prepared baits excel, and eliminate the need to mess with bloody concoctions and chicken livers. Slather some prepared bait like Team Catfish’s Sudden Impact on to a treble hook, cast it out to the base of the riffle (with enough weight to peg it to the bottom), and you’ll likely be into a channel cat soon.
Most of the lower Susquehanna’s forktails will run 14- to 18-inches long, but plenty of 20-inch plus fish are available.
If You Go
Koinonia Guide Service specializes in both flatheads and channel cats. So, there you have seven good choices to get you up and at ‘em this summer.