This is a great state to go ice fishing as it is located in the Great Lakes region and is in the Northeastern part of the United States. Pennsylvania has 749 square miles along the waters of Lake Erie, so there will be many spots for ice fishing. It is the only state that does not border the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the ice fishing lakes in Pennsylvania is good every year but some will have exceptional hatches of one fish or another.
Pennsylvania Ice Fishing
There are many species of fish that you can catch in the lakes of Pennsylvania when ice fishing. You can catch yellow perch, northern pike, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, and bluegill. Most of the state waters are occupied by bluegills, according to the Pennsylvania Angler and Boater. You can find this fish at about 10 to 20 feet in cover during the day and make up a good portion of catches every winter.
The season for ice fishing starts at the end of December and goes through early March, depending on the ice conditions. The peak time for ice fishing in Pennsylvania is from January to February. For a small group of anglers they can stand on four inches of ice so make sure you test your ice’s thickness with your auger.
The best areas for ice fishing for bluegills are in the north-central part of the state. If you want to fish for largemouth bass, you would need to ice fish in the south-central part of Pennsylvania. Ice fishing for largemouth bass is best done five to 20 feet deep during the day.
Techniques and Tackles
When you ice fish for bluegill you should use jigging rods with size 10-12 hooks and two to four-pound test line. With lures, the ones most effective are wax worms, small jigs, and grubs. If your prize is largemouth bass, use rods with size four to eight hooks and eight-pound line or jigging tip-ups. The best lures to use are shiny spoons, spinners, or large-size minnows.
All fishermen over the age of 16 have to have a valid fishing license from Pennsylvania to ice fish. You can use up to five devices when you ice fish. These can include hand lines, rods, and tip-ups. The fishing equipment can only contain a single fishing line and you cannot have more than three hooks attached. Ten inches is the maximum width of an ice fishing hole.
Best Places to Go Ice Fishing in Pennsylvania
Presque Isle Bay
On this lake, you can catch steelhead, brown trout, northern pike, and crappie but the fish that seems to be drawing the most activity is the yellow perch. On this lake, the ice fishing method to use is a jigging spoon with a small emerald shiner or to tip a small leadhead jig. Also popular are two- and three-hook rigs with the weight at the terminal end. If you want to find a hot spot where the fish are biting, ask when you purchase your bait.
When you go ice fishing for steelhead, use the fishing tip-ups at various depths, such as about five feet under the ice over the deeper water. Use larger emerald shiners, about four inches for bait. If you do not have these, you can use golden shiners. In addition to yellow perch, this lake is also good for crappie with there being a mix of black and white crappie. To catch crappie, you can use a small jigging spoon that is tipped with a grub or shiner and a teardrop jig tied into the line. It should be tied about 18 inches above the jigging spoon. With the teardrop jig, you can also catch pumpkinseed and bluegill.
This lake closes at sunset so there is no overnight ice fishing here.
Canoe Creek Lake
The ice fishermen in Pennsylvania think of this lake as a stocked trout lake. The surface of this lake is 155 acres with a maximum depth of 22 ½ feet near the damn. Along the southern shoreline, there are several fish-attracting structures like porcupine cribs, stake trees, fallen trees, stumps, and rock piles.
One of the best things about ice fishing here is that it will regularly produce big fish. Fishermen here can expect to catch fish frequently. You can catch largemouth bass, northern pike muskellunge, walleyes, white or black crappie, channel catfish, and bluegill. You may also catch yellow perch.
The bluegill in this lake can get big. To catch them, you can use tip-ups and a very light jigging rod for maximum versatility. If you want to catch pike and walleye, rig the tip-ups with five to six-inch minnows. You can put a 1/16 ounce leadhead jig or small jigging spoon at the terminal end of the jigging line. About 18 inches above the jigging spoon, tie a teardrop jig on the line and tip it with a grub. If you want to catch large crappie, use tipping jigs with minnows.
Foster Joseph Sayers Lake
This has been for many years, the best sunfish and crappie lake in the north-central region of Pennsylvania. There are also many man-made structures on the lake bottom to attract fish. This is a man-made lake that covers 1730 surface acres with a maximum of 44 feet. It is a good place to fish for crappie.
This is a very interesting lake because it has all the characteristics of being a bigger lake than it is but it does not lose its smaller-lake character. The lake is 950 acres with a depth of about 125 feet. Some of the fish you can catch there include chain pickerel, trout, perch, walleye, muskellunge, pumpkinseed, and bluegill. In the eastern counties, this lake offers some of the best walleye fishing.
High Point Lake
This lake got its name because it is very close to Mt. Davis, which is the highest point in Pennsylvania. The reservoir covers 338 acres. One way to ice fish here is to use tip-ups with medium-size minnows on them. Do not set them all one depth until at least one pike is caught. It is often productive to set your bait just four feet under the ice as pike use the entire water column under the water. Your terminal rig and line should not be too bulky because pike is shy.
You can also find other fish here like yellow perch, walleye, black crappie, and bluegill. You may not attract many walleyes if you use a lower pike tip-up. If you just want to catch whatever is biting you should use tip-ups for walleye and pike and one jigging rod for panfish. If you decided to use a two jig-rig, tip one of the jigs with a small minnow and the other with a grub.
This is one of Pennsylvania’s largest lakes for ice fishing with a surface area of 5,700 acres and depths of 60 feet. This is another lake that has a reputation for big fish and is also a good lake for catching walleye. You can also catch yellow perch, brown trout, redbreast sunfish, black crappie, northern pike, bluegill, chain pickerel, and pumpkinseed.
Tips for Safe Ice Fishing
- Make sure that you never go ice fishing in Pennsylvania alone. If you should accidentally fall in or have an accident, having someone there can save your life.
- Test the ice before you venture out by drilling a sample hole near a dock or pier. As you move farther out on the ice, take some time to make experimental holes in order to check the thickness of the ice. Always stay alert for differences in appearance and thickness of the ice as you move around
- Wear a life jacket because if you break through the ice, it will keep you afloat and help to insulate you from the cold water.
- Always carry a rope, especially if you are alone and out on the ice. Find a sturdy tree and tie one end around it so if something happens, you can pull yourself in. If there is nothing to tie it to, carry the rope with you so you can throw it to someone to help pull you in.
- Wear ice picks, which are handheld spiked devices you can use to pull yourself out of the water if the ice breaks. It is almost impossible to gain traction on ice with just your hands.
There are many different lakes to go ice fishing in Pennsylvania with a variety of fish from crappie to trout to bluegill. Follow the simple rules to help you stay safe when ice fishing to make sure that you will have an enjoyable experience. Take the family and make it a day, taking the fish you caught back to have a nice fish fry. Nothing tastes better than fresh-caught fish. Always watch the ice to make sure it is not too thin and will break on you. Make your plans now to go ice fishing in some of the best lakes in Pennsylvania.
You may also be interested in reading about the Best Places to Go Ice Fishing in Maine.