Ice Fishing Western Pennsylvania

             Like a rose in a vase, ice fishing Western Pennsylvania is a wonderful thing to enjoy, but not something to be taken for granted. One must take time to smell the roses before the flowers wilt. To fish the ice in Western PA an ice fisherman must make time, and hit the ice before it melts. One day there could be six inches of good, clear ice, and the next it could be slush. One thing that ice fishing Western Pennsylvania has taught me is to enjoy the ice while it lasts.
            The lakes and waterways of Western Pennsylvania offer fantastic ice fishing, providing wide array of opportunities and challenges. No two lakes are the same. In fact, no two are even very similar. One might have ice while the others are open water. One might be producing jumbo perch while the others are producing slab crappies. Whatever, your ice fishing pleasure it can most likely be found at one Western PA’s waterways.
            First and foremost is Pymatuning Reservoir. Pymatuning is Pennsylvania’s largest inland lake and is shared by both Pennsylvania and Ohio. Both states stock generous amounts of walleye every year, making it the premier walleye lake in PA. It is also known for its great numbers of slab crappie and jumbo perch. If you are into toothy critters, Pymatuning possesses respectable numbers of trophy muskellunge. Ranging in depths up to 32 feet of water, the bottom of this lake offers stump fields, boulders, submerged islands, giant weed beds and a creek channel. If you want to ice fish here, be prepared for anything!
            Another popular western Pennsylvania ice fishing destination is Lake Wilhelm in MercerCounty. My earliest ice fishing experience was at LakeWilhelm. It was cold. My God was it cold! We fished at night for crappie and it was so cold that when we threw a fish out of the shanty, it would hit the ice, flop one time, then be frozen solid by the time it hit the ice again. At 1,860 acres, it is not a small body of water. It is a warm water fishery that reaches a maximum depth of 24 feet near the dam. The average depth is around eight feet, but that is plenty of room to hold large schools of crappie and perch. The smallmouth and largemouth bass populations are strong, as are the muskellunge and northern pike. Though known for crappie and perch in the past, Wilhelm is beginning to show the negative effects of having had gizzard shad illegally introduced. Numbers are still healthy for crappie and bluegill, but the average size is much smaller than in past years. However, if you put your time in you can still find plenty of 12”-14” crappie and some nice perch.
            The first thing you think when you step out onto the ice at Presque Isle Bay is, “Wow! That’s a lot of ice! Where do I start?” The bottom does not vary much and the depth is fairly consistent, so where are the fish holding? Well, one thing I have learned about PresqueIsleBay is that if you drill a hole, regardless of where, there will be fish under it. They may not be the kind of fish you are after, but there will be fish. Take a variety of baits and gear with you because you are just as likely to find yourself drilling over a school of 14 inch perch as you are drilling over a school of steelhead.
            Presque Isle Bay holds enormous schools of fish. Due to its sheer size, locating fish can be difficult, but once you find them you should be able to stay busy. The average depth is 20 feet and the water is commonly clear enough to sight fish. Brown trout, steelhead, yellow perch, crappie, bluegills, and pumpkinseed are the most common targets here, but you never know what you are going to catch. If you fish here, be sure to read the regulations specific to Lake Erie and bring your safety equipment. This ice is not monitored.
            The vast majority of my ice fishing adventures have taken place on Kahle Lake, which falls within Clarion and VenangoCounties. At a paltry 251 acres, one would think that KahleLake would be easy to master. It is not. Its numerous humps, troughs, trenches, weed beds, and mud flats offer such a wide variety of structure and cover that an ice angler can drill all day long without hitting the jackpot. However, do not be surprised if you pull out some jumbo perch or slab crappie. Bluegills over ten inches are taken here every year.
            Western Pennsylvania has much to offer the dedicated ice fisherman. Beautiful vistas of icy opportunity are ample here and are great assets to our area. The fishing pressure is seldom intense and the fishermen are friendly. I welcome anyone to enjoy our bountiful resources, but if you decide to give it a try don’t wait too long. Get out on the ice whenever possible. It doesn’t last long. Make time to drill a few holes and take advantage of the ephemeral beauty of our ice season. Take time to smell the roses.

North East Pennsylvania’s Polar Express, Ice Fishing Pennsylvania

Ice Stripers, although not a common catch stripers are pulled from Lake Wallenpaupack every winter.NEPA is blessed with myriad lakes which support a wide variety of popular sport and table fish species. Add to that a climate which trends colder than most of the state and you have the makings of and ice fishing paradise. Although not by design, some highways in NEPA are situated such that residents can hop on an expressway and be ice fishing Pennsylvania at any number of fine destinations in an hour or less. Route 84 in particular passes by a string of significant ice fishing lakes which are just a few minutes off the main drag. Climb on board as we explore North East Pennsylvania’s Polar Express,
an Ice Fisherman’s Paradise

Located just south of Scranton, PA off route 380 is the western terminus of interstate route 84. Traveling rte. 84 in an easterly direction will bring us to exit 20, rte. 507 and Lake Wallenpaupack.. Route 507 follows the lake at a distance from the upper end, where Wallenpaupack Creek enters the lake. It continues along the eastern shore connecting with rte.6 at Wilsonville and onto the PPL dam. PPL has provided strategically placed boat launches and access points all around the lake. Ledgedale, Ironwood Point, Wilsonville, and Caffery recreation areas have parking and reasonable access for ice fishermen. Shuman Point natural area can be used as parking for ice fishing but it involves hiking a trail for about one half mile to get to the ice.In addition to the PPL access areas the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission maintains the Mangan Cove Boat Launch. This large facility is located on the northwestern shore off rte. 590

Fish species found at the “pack” include: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, calico, walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, pickerel, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, channel catfish and yellow perch. Striped bass and hybrid striped bass have been stocked in the lake, and although not specifically targeted, a few are pulled through the ice every season.

The shoreline of this rocky lake follows the contours of the hills and valleys that were inundated when the impoundment was created. There are many coves projecting off the main lake channel. Try the backs of the coves if you like to chase flags for pickerel. You will catch an occasional northern pike or largemouth bass using large shiners in the coves too.

The inundated Wallenpaupack Creek bed runs the entire length of the lake. It is a focal point for baitfish movement and the predator species that prey on them. Stick to the creek bed and adjacent features if you are after walleyes, trout and stripers. Perch and other panfish can be found in deeper water where the coves meet the main lake and on the flats that occur near Wilsonville, Shumans Point and across from Ironwood Point.

Upper Promised Lake boasts some slammer pickerel.Following rte. 84 east to exit 26 brings us to rte. 390, at this point we are just a few minutes from Promised Land State ParkPLSP features ice fishing on two lakes, 422-acre Upper Promised Land Lake and the park’s other lake, 173 acre Lower Promised Land Lake. Both of these offer great opportunities for ice fishing enthusiasts. Primary fish species targeted by ice anglers include: largemouth bass, pickerel, calicos yellow perch, and bluegills. Lower PL Lake is designated as approved trout waters and stocked with brook, brown and rainbow trout by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

There are several parking areas provided around Upper Promised Land that ice Promised Land State Park's resident eagles are ever watchful for a free lunch.fishermen can use to access the lake. The aptly named Pickerel Point offers access to the central lake area and is a good area to try if pickerel and bass are your quarry. The Snow Shanty access is popular with panfishermen and there is a large parking area with access near the dam off rte. 390 that will put you on deeper waters. Lower PL Lake can be accessed via two parking boat launch facilities. One is located on the shallow and weed choked inlet end and the other is near the deeper end of the lake near the dam and outlet. Don’t be surprised to find that you have company observing your ice fishing activities. Bald eagles inhabit the park year round. They will quickly swoop down on any fish left on the ice unattended. Remember that feeding the eagles is a federal crime and you can be arrested for doing so.

Our last stop on the Polar Express is Shohola Dam, also known as Shohola Marsh Reservoir and Shohola Lake. Shohola is a 1,137-acre manmade lake located on Game Lands No. 180 in Pike County. The Pennsylvania Game Commission created the lake in 1967 to enhance waterfowl production in the area. In the process, they created an awesome ice fishing resource.  This is an exposed lake; up on top of the Pocono Plateau the wind can be brutal. Also be sure to check the ice thickness often, there is a significant current in the channel that will freeze later and thaw earlier than the surrounding ice. Access to Shohola Reservoir is provided via 3 boat launch parking areas. Two of them are located near the outlet of the lake and the other one is about midway up the lake on the northern shore. To reach it you must follow an oftentimes icy and unplowed game lands road. Shohola offers really good pickerel and bass fishing as well as better than average fishing for perch, bluegill and calico. This is a very shallow and weedy lake. The deepest parts, at around 10 feet of water, are the creek channel and the areas nearest the dam. Some panfishermen use the weeds to their advantage. They find small openings in the weeds and harvest the panfish using the area. Some anglers will even use heavy tungsten jigs to punch through the weed cover to reach the bluegills and pumpkinseeds living under the weed bed.

This 22 inch Shohola largemouth bass was taken on a tip up baited with a large chub.Tip ups are the ticket for the bass and pickerel at Shohola. Large chubs and shiners on quick strike rigs do the trick.  If you are after slammer pickerel a wire rig is recommended. Some guys will thread colored beads and spinner blades onto their leaders to add a bit of noise, and flash to the struggling bait. The weeds in Shohola offer the bass and pickerel lots of food and cover allowing them to grow to healthy proportions. Be ready for action and don’t be too surprised of you catch an icy trophy.

With a line up of lakes such as those strung along rte. 84 it is easy to see why I like to call NEPA’s Polar Express and ice fisherman’s paradise. Hop in your vehicle and see if one of the fish lurking in the depths will punch your ticket.

Pennsylvania Ice Fishing Reports

View NEPA Polar Expressway Route #1 in a larger map

Ice Fishing Newbie

Picture this. It’s 6am on a cold February morning. The wind is blowing hard and there are a few inches of new snow on the ground. There’s a fire in the fireplace keeping the house toasty warm and the Mrs. is laying under a couple blankets snoozing softly. And there I am, sitting on a bucket in the middle of a frozen wasteland reeling in another football shaped perch to add to the bucket. Ahhhhh, heaven. The crappie bite was even better than the perch that day!

New to ice fishingI was an ice fishing newbie, relatively new to hardwater fishing prior to last year. I had only tried it once before with a buddy a few years earlier and we never got a nibble. Other than that, I never had much to do with ice fishing. I grew up fishing the shores of Long Island. Flounder and porgies were the usual fare with the occasional sea robin and dogfish. Not much ice. As a young man I moved to Colorado. I didn’t get much fishing in, I wasn’t used to that type of fishing. I was a beach bum! But one day, I was driving into the mountains one cold winter day just north of Boulder and passed a small lake. The name of the lake is gone from memory, heck, that was over 30 years ago. But the strange thing that I couldn’t forget was the small multi-color tents and sheds that seemed to look more like outhouses to my eye. All congregated in the middle of the lake! What the heck? Later that day I talked to a friend that grew up in the area and he explained to me the insanity of the sport known as “ice fishing”. I never gave it another thought after that, until I saw a fishing video where a guy went ice fishing with a couple buddies. It looked like they were having the time of their lives chasing flags and barbecuing burgers! Barbecuing! On the ice! It got me thinking about the outhouses on the lake in Colorado. Then a hunting buddy of mine mentioned that he was going ice fishing and that he had an extra jigging pole. I was in. I wanted to see if you could really catch a fish through a hole in the ice. Well as it turned out, nope, you can’t. We didn’t get a nibble, bite or even a nasty look! But it didn’t matter, it was fun just being out there on that ice. I got a lesson in checking ice thickness for safety, and why ice-cleats are a good investment. But I really didn’t know much about the fishing end of it. So where could I go to learn about ice fishing, about bait, and tackle, and tactics on the ice? Heck, where could I go to find out what kind of fish I could catch through the ice? I went were everybody else goes these days, the internet!

I googled around for a while and found a few ice fishing sites. But I wasn’t looking for a massive machine that scrolls threads by soPerch and crappie from the ice to the frying pan. fast that they get lost in the masses. I wanted a comfortable spot that I could talk to folks and get answers and help to get started. I signed on to IceFishin247; the guys there welcomed me with open arms! I guess most of my dumb questions had been asked before because everyone seemed to have the same answer, but some of my dumb questions ended up not being so dumb. It seemed a lot of guys were asking the same questions but didn’t know how to ask. Or maybe I just wasn’t as worried about lookin’ dumb! I was invited to hit the ice with a few of the guys so I showed up with my grandson’s snow sled, a bucket to sit on, and a couple jigging poles. I had some ok jigs, a pocket full of wax worms and an auger, I was set. Unfortunately the auger wasn’t drilling holes too well. I learned that you need to check your blade screws… lesson learned. One of the guys came over and gave me a few tips then drilled a few holes for me. He even let me try out his Marcum flasher for a bit. The bite wasn’t on, but I managed to pull my first fish through the ice! A chunky little slab! I met several guys from the site and even had a nice bowl of chili for lunch! It was a crash course on ice fishing, without crashing of course! One day on the ice and I was hooked. At the time, I didn’t realize just how deep I ate that hook! I started researching flashers and fishfinders. I even bought a few old fish finders and made them work to a degree. I made a jigging pole out of old busted rods that I loving named Frankenstein, I built a sled big enough to get my gear on the ice in style. I asked for advice and got it. Then tried it every other way only to find out why I should have done it right the first time. But I guess that’s how we learn.

This is going to be a great winter coming up. I have most of the gear I need, a good flasher, and a pop-up hunting blind for a shanty. I still have my home made sled. I intend to further customize it before first ice. I need to lighten it up and maybe add some removable wheels for pulling it on pavement and through woods.  I have a few light rods, and of course there’s ol’ Frankenstein ready to go, although I have no idea what I would try to catch with it?! I’m gettin’ some tip-ups for this year as well, but I’ll probably be asking a ton of dumb questions about them. I have an old pair of heavy lug, insulted hunting boots with screws in the bottom to keep me from slippin’ on the ice and busting something. And I have a bunch of buddies to hit the ice with. Yeah, I can’t wait for winter, the colder the better. Yep, I got hooked deep.

Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing

Northeast Pennsylvania has consistant early ice fishing.

Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing
Northeastern Pennsylvania is unquestionably the “ice fishing capital” of the Keystone State. This is due to the fact that it is blessed with a natural abundance of lakes to accommodate her legions of hard water enthusiasts. But, even more importantly, the geographic situation of NEPA Ice Country finds many lakes perched on mountain plateaus at elevations nearly 2,000 feet above sea level. Other NEPA waters are tucked in the hollows between these mountains and actually experience colder conditions than those reached on the mountain tops. Northeastern Pennsylvania is comprised of the following counties: Bradford, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming. It is not unusual to find winter temps in the region rivaling or dipping below those found in upstate New York. One measure of the northeast’s domination of Pennsylvania’s ice fishing scene is early ice. Year after year “first ice” in NEPA is 4 to 6 weeks earlier than in the rest of the state. I have personally made my first foray onto solid ice in NEPA on or about December 10th every year for the last four years.

Lake Wallenpaupack is one of NEPA's premiere ice fishing destinations.

Lake Wallenpaupack is one of NEPA’s premiere ice fishing destinations.

Early ice is one thing, but the quality of the Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing is another. With hardwater destinations like Lake Wallenpaupack, Lake Jean, Lake Lackawanna, Promised Land, and Shohola Dam topping the list of favorites, there are litterally dozens of opportunities for ice fishermen on any given weekend. Fish species targeted run the gamut from the big three trout species available in the region: brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout to bluegills, sunfish, crappie, and perch. There are walleye, bass and pickerel in many of the lakes and good catches of all are reported with regularity. For fans of the esox family (toothy critters), all of the state park lakes in NEPA are regularly stocked with muskellunge. Some of these lakes have yielded specimens in the 40lb class. The lake at Frances Slocum State Park has a history of producing trophy muskies through the ice. There are opportunities for exotic species to be had through the ice at some locations. Lake Wallenpaupack has a reputation of producing a few trophy striped bass, 20lbs plus, every winter. I personally caught a northern pike in the twenty pound class two years ago at the “pack”. If you are interested in a truly unique ice fishing experience the frigid temps in NEPA can on occasion cause the Susquehanna River to freeze. When this occurs there is a cadre of locals anglers who have been waiting and watching for the opportunity to fish the river ice. Ice fishing on the river is without a doubt more dangerous than ice fishing on the lakes and ponds but the rewards are significant. Walleye, musky and northern pike are the prime targets but, channel catfish, 10 to 12 lbs, and monster carp, to 40 lbs, are frequently pulled out onto the ice.

If you want to learn more about ice fishing or the fantastic hard water fishing to be had in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the community is here to be a friend, lend a hand and be a resource in your icy pursuits. Whether you are a beginner or an icy veteran seasoned by many winters spent on our frozen lakes, you will find a warm fire, good friends, and extraordinary tales when you step through the doors of  IceFishin247.

Return to:
IceFishin247 - Forum
Pennsylvania Ice Fishing Forum