Pennsylvania is home to a diverse array of natural wonders, and when winter arrives, the state’s lakes transform into icy playgrounds for avid anglers. Ice fishing enthusiasts flock to these frozen landscapes, armed with their fishing gear and a spirit of adventure.
Whether you’re a seasoned ice angler or just starting out, Pennsylvania offers a wealth of picturesque lakes that are ideal for this thrilling winter sport. In this article, we will explore the eight best ice fishing lakes in Pennsylvania, each with its own unique characteristics and abundant fish populations.
Ice Fishing in Pennsylvania
Ice fishing in Pennsylvania offers a unique and exhilarating way to enjoy the winter season. The ice fishing season typically begins in late December or early January, depending on weather conditions, and extends until early March. During this time, the lakes across the state freeze over, providing a solid platform for you to set up your equipment and drop a line.
One of the highlights of ice fishing in Pennsylvania that I absolutely love is the diverse range of locations available. From the tranquil waters of Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono Mountains to the expansive Pymatuning Reservoir near the Ohio border, you will have a multitude of choices.
When it comes to the type of fish you can catch, Pennsylvania’s lakes are teeming with a variety of species. Popular targets for ice anglers include panfish such as bluegill, perch, and crappie, as well as larger game fish like northern pike, walleye, and muskellunge. Trout, both stocked and native, are also commonly sought after during the ice fishing season.
In terms of size, the fish in Pennsylvania’s ice fishing lakes can range from pan-sized to trophy-worthy. Some lakes are known for their abundance of larger fish, offering you the chance to reel in impressive catches. However, it’s important to check the specific regulations for each lake to ensure you are within the law for size and possession limits.
To increase your chances of success, mastering the right techniques is very important. Jigging is a popular method that I personally swear by. It involves the use of small lures or bait to attract fish of various types.
Vertical jigging, where the lure is repeatedly moved up and down in the water column, is particularly effective. Tip-ups, which are ice fishing devices that suspend a baited line beneath the ice, are also commonly used for targeting larger game fish across multiple ice holes.
Choosing the best lures for ice fishing in Pennsylvania depends on the exact species you’re targeting. For panfish, small jigs in various colors, such as chartreuse, white, or pink, are often successful. For larger game fish, spoons, jigs with larger profiles, or tip-ups with live bait are popular choices. You should always carry a selection of different lures to adapt to changing conditions and fish preferences.
When it comes to bait, live options such as waxworms, mealworms, and minnows are highly effective in enticing fish to bite. These can be used in combination with lures or independently on tip-ups. It’s essential to keep your bait lively and fresh to attract fish.
As for gear, a few key items are essential for ice fishing. A manual ice auger is necessary to drill holes in the ice, allowing access to the water below. Ice fishing rods and reels designed specifically for ice angling are shorter and more sensitive than regular fishing gear. They are better suited to handle the challenges of ice fishing.
Warm clothing, including insulated boots, gloves, and multiple layers, is very important to stay comfortable in cold weather. A sled or an ice fishing shelter can also be beneficial for transporting gear and providing shelter from the elements, but it is not strictly required.
Before heading out, it’s very important to check ice thickness and general weather safety conditions. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission provides regular updates on ice conditions during the winter months and provides a range of safety guidelines to help keep you safe while fishing.
The Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Pennsylvania
1. Lake Wallenpaupack
Located in the Pocono Mountains, Lake Wallenpaupack is Pennsylvania’s third-largest lake and a prime ice fishing destination which I absolutely love. This beautiful lake offers excellent opportunities to catch a variety of fish, including bass, trout, perch, pickerel, walleye, and panfish, such as bluegill and crappie.
The lake’s depth and structure provide plenty of hiding spots for fish of all types, making it a productive location for ice fishing. Popular bait choices include live minnows and waxworms, while small jigs and spoons in bright colors like chartreuse and pink tend to attract bites too.
2. Pymatuning Reservoir
Situated on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, Pymatuning Reservoir is a sprawling body of water known for its abundance of fish. Ice anglers flock to this reservoir to target walleye, perch, crappie, bluegill, and muskellunge.
The reservoir’s size and depth provide plenty of room for anglers to spread out and explore different areas. Jigs tipped with live bait, such as minnows or maggots, are commonly used, while larger spoons and tip-ups with live bait are effective for targeting muskellunge.
3. Lake Erie
As one of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie offers exceptional ice fishing opportunities in Pennsylvania. Anglers brave the icy conditions to target walleye, yellow perch, and steelhead trout.
The lake’s massive surface area and depth make it an ideal habitat for these game fish species. Jigging with small spoons and minnows is a popular technique that I have had great luck with, while tip-ups with live bait such as emerald shiners or golden shiners can attract larger walleye.
4. Presque Isle Bay
Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay is a hotspot for ice fishing enthusiasts, and it’s a great spot to go if you love chatting with other anglers while you fish. This shallow bay is known for its productive fishery of yellow perch and walleye.
I often use small jigs tipped with minnows or maggots to entice bites and have had some excellent luck here. The bay’s proximity to the main lake and its various structures, including weed beds and drop-offs, make it an excellent location for ice fishing success, even if you are a beginner
5. Marsh Creek Lake
Situated in Chester County, Marsh Creek Lake offers a serene ice fishing experience for all skill levels. This 535-acre lake is known for its massive population of panfish, including bluegill, crappie, and perch.
I would definitely recommend you use small jigs, ice flies, or soft plastic baits to target these species. The lake’s clear water and vegetation-rich areas make it a favorite among ice anglers looking for a tranquil fishing outing.
6. Lake Arthur
Located in Moraine State Park, Lake Arthur spans over 3,200 acres and offers a crazy amount of ice fishing opportunities. Anglers can target a variety of fish here, including largemouth bass, crappie, perch, and muskellunge.
Tip-ups with live bait, such as shiners or suckers, are commonly used for muskellunge, while jigs with minnows or soft plastic baits are effective for panfish and bass and are my chosen go-to tackle. The lake’s submerged brush and weed beds make it an attractive location for ice fishing.
7. Yellow Creek Lake
Nestled in the scenic Allegheny Mountains, Yellow Creek Lake is a gem for ice anglers of the intermediate to experienced levels. This 720-acre lake offers a chance to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and yellow perch.
I often find success using small jigs or ice flies tipped with waxworms or mealworms, but I have found some of the fish populations here do require patience as they can be very hesitant to strike.
8. Promised Land Lake
Located in Promised Land State Park, Promised Land Lake is a serene setting for enjoying the day with a bit of ice fishing. This 422-acre lake is home to a variety of fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, pickerel, and panfish.
Most anglers I speak with will use small jigs, spoons, or tip-ups with live bait to entice aggressive bites. The lake’s scenic beauty, combined with the opportunity to catch a range of fish species, makes it a popular choice for ice fishing in the state.
Ice Fishing Tips and Techniques
Use a fish finder or consult local fishing reports to identify underwater structures, drop-offs, and weed beds where fish tend to gather. Drill multiple holes and move around until you find active fish.
Ice fishing often requires mobility to find fish, so if you’re not getting bites in one spot, don’t be afraid to move to a different one. Sometimes just a short distance can make a significant difference.
Experiment with different jigging techniques to attract fish. Try varying your jigging speed and depth to entice fish to strike. Some effective techniques include twitching, jigging vertically, and using a combination of short and long lifts.
Be Mindful of Noise
Keep noise to a minimum when ice fishing. Loud sounds and vibrations on the ice’s surface can spook fish, causing them to swim away from your location. Avoid stomping or dragging heavy equipment on the ice as much as possible, and keep conversations at a moderate volume.
Downsize Your Tackle
In the winter, fish tend to be less active and more selective in their feeding. Downsize your lures, bait, and line to match the smaller prey they are likely to target. Lighter tackle can increase your chances of enticing bites.
Use Glow-in-the-Dark Lures
When fishing in low-light conditions or during dawn and dusk, consider using glow-in-the-dark lures. These lures emit a subtle glow that can attract curious fish and improve visibility in murky water.
Experiment with Bait and Lure Colors
Fish can have preferences for certain colors depending on the conditions and their feeding patterns. Try using different colored jigs, spoons, or bait to see what attracts the most bites. Bright and contrasting colors like chartreuse, pink, and white are often effective choices.
Stay Warm and Comfortable
Dress appropriately in warm and layered clothing to stay comfortable during long hours on the ice. Wear insulated boots, waterproof gloves, and a quality winter hat. Being comfortable will help you stay focused and enjoy the experience.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
Always prioritize safety on the ice. Carry essential safety gear, including ice picks, a rope, a flotation device, and a first aid kit. Check ice conditions regularly, be aware of potential hazards, and inform someone about your plans before heading out.
Stay updated on local fishing regulations, ice thickness reports, and weather conditions. Local bait shops, fishing forums, and online resources can provide valuable information and tips specific to your fishing location.