When it comes to thrilling angling experiences, Pennsylvania offers a wealth of opportunities for anyone seeking the elusive and spirited smallmouth. With its diverse waterways, beautiful lakes, and winding rivers, the state of Pennsylvania has become a paradise for anglers and nature lovers alike.
As a passionate angler myself, I have spent countless hours exploring Pennsylvania’s finest fishing spots while seeking the exhilarating adrenaline rush of reeling in a feisty smallmouth.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the top eight best bass fishing lakes and rivers in Pennsylvania, uncovering the secrets of these legendary waters and learning how to ensure a successful and unforgettable fishing adventure.
The Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is well known for offering some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country. With its large number of lakes, rivers, and streams, the state provides a huge range of angling opportunities for enthusiasts of all skill levels.
The variety of smallmouth fishing experiences in the state is truly impressive, ranging from scenic mountain streams to expansive reservoirs and narrow winding rivers. This diversity gives you a chance to find the spot that works best for your preferred fishing technique.
One popular fishing technique is using artificial lures such as crankbaits, jerkbaits, soft plastics, and topwater baits. These lures mimic the smallmouth’s natural prey and entice strikes. I have also had luck with finesse techniques on drop-shot rigs, shaky heads, and Ned rigs in clear and highly pressured waters.
The best seasons for smallmouth fishing in Pennsylvania are spring, summer, and early fall. During spring, the water temperatures rise, and smallmouth becomes more active and move towards shallow areas to spawn. This period offers excellent opportunities to target aggressive and hungry fish.
Summer is another prime season, with smallmouths seeking cooler water and providing exciting action. In early fall, as the water begins to cool down again, smallmouths become extremely active, feeding voraciously in preparation for the approaching winter months.
Smallmouths in Pennsylvania commonly range in size from 12 to 18 inches, weighing between 1 and 4 pounds. However, some areas in the state are also very well known for producing trophy-sized smallmouths exceeding 5 pounds.
The Best Smallmouth Bass Lakes in Pennsylvania
1. Lake Erie
As the fourth largest lake in the United States, Lake Erie is a renowned small and largemouth bass fishing destination you should not skip over. Located in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, this extremely massive freshwater lake provides an incredible angling experience. Its rocky shorelines and abundant forage areas make it an ideal habitat for smallmouth to lurk.
You can expect excellent fishing opportunities from the shore or a boat, with the chance to catch trophy-sized smallmouths weighing over 5 pounds. The lake’s huge size and depth allow for year-round fishing, although I have found the best time to target smallmouths in Lake Erie is between the mid-summer and early fall months.
2. Raystown Lake
Situated in the central part of Pennsylvania, Raystown Lake is a true gem for smallmouth fishing and is one of my personal favorite spots. Known for its pristine beauty and clear waters, this reservoir covers 8,300 acres and provides excellent fishing opportunities. The lake’s submerged structures, including rock piles, points, and deep channels, attract smallmouths in abundance.
I would highly recommend using a variety of techniques, such as drop-shotting, jigging, and topwater fishing, to entice strikes from the feisty big bass in this location. Raystown Lake’s smallmouth population boasts impressive sizes, with fish often exceeding 4 pounds. The months of May through September are particularly productive, with early mornings and late evenings being the prime time for fishing here.
3. Lake Wallenpaupack
Nestled in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, Lake Wallenpaupack offers an exceptional bass fishing experience. Even if you can’t pronounce the name, this 5,700-acre reservoir is known for its pristine beauty and crystal-clear waters, making it a bucket list destination for any bass fishermen on their next fishing trip.
The lake’s rocky shorelines, submerged structures, and deep channels create prime habitats for smallmouth to feed, spawn, and gather. You can use various techniques with success, including drop-shotting, jigging, and using swimbaits to get a strike.
Smallmouths in Lake Wallenpaupack are commonly seen around 18 inches in length, with the potential to catch considerably larger trophy-sized fish too. The summer months are particularly productive for bass fishing in this lake, with early mornings and late evenings being the times when I have seen the most bass activity.
4. Pymatuning Lake
Located in the northwestern part of the state, Pymatuning Lake offers a fantastic bass fishing experience for both professionals and novice anglers alike. Spanning over 17,000 acres, this huge reservoir straddles the Pennsylvania-Ohio border.
Pymatuning Lake’s underwater terrain includes submerged timber and drop-offs that provide you with countless opportunities to catch smallmouth. I have used a variety of different techniques, like casting crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits, to get quick and aggressive strikes.
Smallmouths in Pymatuning Lake commonly range in size from 12 to 16 inches, but I have seen a few large trophies pulled out of this spot too. Spring and early summer are prime seasons for bass fishing at the Lake, with fish becoming more active and moving towards shallow areas in these seasons.
The Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Rivers in Pennsylvania
1. Susquehanna River
Flowing through the heart of Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River is a true haven for smallmouth bass fishing anglers. This majestic river stretches approximately 444 miles and can provide some of the most productive bass fishing in the state by far.
Popular sections of the Susquehanna River for small and largemouth bass fishing include the North Branch, Middle Branch, and Lower Susquehanna. All three of these areas offer diverse habitat changes, including rocky stretches, submerged structures, and weed beds that serve as prime feeding grounds for smallmouths.
You can expect to find a healthy population of smallmouth growing and reproducing here, with sizes ranging from 12 to 20 inches and weighing up to 6 pounds. I have found this to be the absolute best river for beginners as well since the fish seem very willing to strike throughout the year.
2. Juniata River
A tributary of the Susquehanna River, the Juniata River is another gem for smallmouth bass and trout fishing in the state. This sizable river winds its way through central and southern parts of the state, providing a serene and productive fishing environment.
The Juniata River is known for its abundance of different structures, including boulders, rock ledges, and fallen trees which all create an ideal habitat for smallmouth to feed, spawn, and hide.
You can get these fish to strike hard and fast using a variety of topwater lures, jigs, and soft plastics. The Juniata River is particularly popular for its trophy-sized smallmouths, with catches exceeding 20 inches and weighing 6 pounds.
3. Delaware River
Forming part of Pennsylvania’s eastern border, the Delaware River offers an outstanding smallmouth fishing experience for all skill levels to truly enjoy. Stretching for approximately 330 miles, this iconic river provides you with an opportunity to catch smallmouth bass amidst some absolutely breathtaking scenery.
The Delaware River is known for its deep pools, swift currents, and rocky sections that create an ideal habitat for smallmouths to spawn and feed. You can easily target big smallies in this river using various techniques, from crankbaits to tube baits and spinnerbaits.
The average size of smallmouth bass in the Delaware River ranges from 12 to 18 inches, but larger specimens exceeding 4 pounds are not uncommon. Combining outstanding fishing opportunities with stunning surroundings, the Delaware River is a must-explore destination for most anglers in Pennsylvania.
4. Allegheny River
Flowing through the western part of Pennsylvania, the Allegheny River is a top-notch small and largemouth bass fishery that every angler should try to visit at some point. This river spans approximately 325 miles and offers some absolutely exceptional angling opportunities throughout its length.
The Allegheny River features some of the most diverse fishing conditions I have seen on a single river, including deep pools, rocky bottoms, submerged structures, weed beds, whirlpools, and so much more, providing ample hiding spots for smallmouth. You can get smallmouths to bite using jerkbaits, crankbaits, and soft worms, particularly in the areas where tributaries merge with the main river.
Smallmouth is generally on the smaller side in the Allegheny River and commonly range from 12 to 16 inches, but larger individuals exceeding 3 pounds are frequently caught. There is no wrong spot to fish on this river, and I would absolutely recommend it for beginners.
Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips
Location Is Key
Some of the best bass fishing lakes and rivers are known for their preference for rocky structures, submerged logs, and areas with moderate currents. Look for these types of features when scouting for potential fishing spots. Focus on areas with structure, such as drop-offs, rock piles, and weed beds, since smallmouth bass often use them as ambush points to prey on baitfish.
Match the Hatch
Understanding the local forage in the water body you’re fishing can greatly improve your chances of success. Smallmouth typically feed on crayfish, minnows, insects, and other small fish, so choose lures that mimic their natural prey, such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, hair jigs, and soft baits in appropriate sizes and colors.
Vary Your Presentation
Smallmouth can be selective in some areas, so it’s important to experiment with different lure presentations and see what works best. Try various retrieval speeds, depths, and techniques like hopping, pausing, or jerking the bait to trigger a reaction strike. If one approach isn’t working, don’t hesitate to switch it up until you find what entices that particular population of bass.
Pay Attention to Water Temperature
Smallmouth are sensitive to water temperature, and their behavior changes as the water does. In colder months or early mornings, start by fishing slower and deeper as the bass tend to be less active. As the water warms up, focus on shallower areas and increase the speed of your retrieves to match the increased activity of the fish.
Time Your Fishing
Early mornings and late evenings are prime times for smallie fishing since the fish tend to be more active during low-light conditions. However, don’t overlook daytime opportunities, especially when fishing in shaded areas or on overcast days. Adapt your fishing schedule to the feeding patterns and behavior of the fish to get the best results.
Stay Mobile and Persistent
Smallmouth can be highly active and will move from one area to another pretty quickly, so it’s important to try and cover a lot of water and explore different areas as often as possible. If you’re not getting bites in one spot, move around until you locate active fish. Patience and persistence are definitely the key in smallie fishing.
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