Here's a close look at the best bass waters in Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

With bass season opening June 11, there are plenty of waterways to explore across Pennsylvania, but do you know which ones are rated as the best?

There’s high quality fishing across Pennsylvania, according to Mike Acord, owner of Susquehanna Fishing Tackle in Columbia, Lancaster County.

He said the Susquehanna River is unique. It’s often exaggerated as being a mile wide, but a foot deep. The waterway flows between Maryland, Harrisburg and New York providing many miles of good smallmouth bass fishing. “It has tremendous natural habitat which allows the smallmouth to really thrive on that river. Right now we're in some of the best fishing we’ve ever had on the river as far as size goes,” he said about bass in the 3-pound and 4-pound class.

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“It’s a beautiful river with a lot of natural habitat, lots of wildlife that you see while fishing. It’s just a very unique fishery and probably one of the best shallow smallmouth rivers in the whole northeast.”

Raystown Lake as pictured here on May 14, 2021, is known as a top bass fishery in Pennsylvania. Boats of all sizes can be seen cruising the waterway.

The fishing has been improving as the water quality is getting better. With it being a shallow river, he suggests top water baits like poppers. “There’s a whole hodge podge of stuff you can throw,” he said about the top water lure designs, rigs, tubes and spinnerbaits.  Minnows have been productive but artificial soft plastic baits are easy to throw and fish along the grass beds and edges. “Anything that represents crayfish and river shiners are top bets,” he said.

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There are a lot of different ways to fish the Susquehanna area including fishing from the shore, kayak or jet boat. “It’s just a great river. It’s a beautiful river and we’re very fortunate to have it in Pennsylvania.

For those wanting a deeper waterway, he suggests visiting Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County. “It’s having its best period in many years,” Acord said.

“Lakes have ebbs and flows and this is the best peaking out on that lake,” he said about having a lot of smallmouth and largemouth bass in grassy areas. “It’s a mountain lake, so it’s really beautiful. It’s a pristine lake. And the fishing is fantastic.”

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It’s a good top water lake, but it’s also good for drop shots and little shad baits that can be fished deeper. In the grassy water, he suggests the Carolina Rigs and Yamamato Senko soft plastics to catch bass.

While his business is in southeastern Pennsylvania, he said the entire state has quality waterways to consider. “Lake Erie around Presque Isle Bay in the northwestern corner of the state is a legendary fishery,” he said about the smallmouth and largemouth fishing. “That place is fantastic.”

Erie's Presque Isle Bay is known as a top bass fishery in Pennsylvania.

Jeff Staaf, a salesman at Poor Richard's Bait and Tackle in Fairview, Erie, agreed with Acord saying there are large numbers of bass in the region.

He said anglers are buying golden shiner and lots of night crawlers. For those going with artificial baits, he suggests tube jigs, and rubber night crawlers that are in the more natural colors, like the color of motor oil.

If the water is dirty, he suggests going with brighter colors. “Usually the smallmouth are in there earlier and then later on the smallmouth seem to disappear and you start catching largemouths,” he said about the changing over from spring to summer. “Every year is a little bit different; it depends on the water. If the water temperatures go up, they start moving into the deeper water,” Staaf said.

He also recommends a variety of spinners and spoons for bass. When they are spawning, he said the bass are protective of the beds and will hit a variety of lures that are getting too close to the bedding areas.

Artificial plastic leeches, crayfish and top water lures jitter bugs, poppers as well as Rapala minnow imitation lures that are perch colored and spinners like Rooster Tails are working well.

“For some reason, black works in clear or dirty water and also your brighter colors work in dirty waters, your chartreuses, yellows, brighter stuff,” Staaf said.

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“Every year we see a lot of bass fishermen,” he said. 

Bass season opens June 11 in Pennsylvania and anglers are allowed to creel six fish a day that are at least 12 inches long.

Some waterways have special regulations, including the Big Bass Program and catch and release only waters.

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Under the Big Bass program, the regulations allow four bass that are at least 15 inches to be creeled between Jan. 1 through April 8, and June 11 through Dec. 31.

April 9-June 10 is a catch and release period.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission lists the following places as the best fishing waters for largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Largemouth bass greater than 15 inches

Large Reservoirs

Lake Wilhelm is a 1,680-acre lake in Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Sandy Lake, Mercer County. Boats up to 20 horsepower are permitted and the waterway is known for having wetlands.Marsh Creek Lake can be found in north central Chestery County in Marsh Creek State park. It’s a 535-acre lake that welcomes electric powered boats from its two launch areas. There’ s a nice breeze on the lake making it attractive to sail boats.Nockamixon Lake, part of the Nockamixon State Park, is found in eastern Pennsylvania in Bucks County. It’s a 1,450-acre lake that is popular with migrating birds. Boats with gas motors up to 20 horsepower are welcome to launch from five parts of the lake.

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Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County is the place to go if you want big water in the central part of the state. It’s an 8,300-acre reservoir managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s common to see kayaks to massive yachts floating on this waterway. It’s the largest body of water that has all of its borders in Pennsylvania.Yellow Creek Lake is part of Yellow Creek State Park in Penn Run, Indiana County. The lake is 720 acres and is supplied with water from Yellow and Little Yellow creeks. There are four launch areas, and the waterway accommodates boats up to 20 horsepower gasoline motors.

Medium Reservoirs from 50 - 500 acres

Cross Creek Lake in Washington County is a Big Bass Program lake. It’s a 244-acre lake in southwestern Pennsylvania. Boats are limited to 10 horse power motors. It’s owned by the Washington County Department of Parks and Recreation and the PFBC points out anglers should be aware that an Annual Use Permit, which can be obtained from the Department of Parks and Recreation office, is required for all boaters using the lake, launch ramp, and courtesy docks.Green Lick Reservoir is a 101-acre lake in Fayette County. It’s managed by the PFC with an electric motor only regulation for boats. There’s one launch ramp to access the waterway.

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Lackawanna Lake in Lackawanna State Park in northeastern Pennsylvania is regulated by the Big Bass Program regulations. Located in Lackawanna State Park, near Scranton, the 198-acre impoundment is 2.5 miles long giving anglers more than seven miles of shoreline to consider.Pinchot Lake in northern York County is in the state’s Big Bass Program. The 340-acre lake is found in the center of Gifford Pinchot State Park and was built for recreation. It’s limited to boats with electric motors, but there are 286 shoreline mooring and canoe rack spaces available. It’s also a good place to see sailboats while you’re fishing.Shawnee Lake is located in the heart of Shawnee State Park in Bedford County, bordering Maryland. It’s included in the Big Bass program.It’s a 451-acre lake with three boat launches for watercraft limited to electric motors. It’s known for both small and largemouth bass opportunities. 

Lake Erie

Presque Isle Bay off Lake Erie is a nationally renowned fishery in Presque Isle State Park in Erie. The peninsula forms a bay similar to a seashore line found at oceans. Anglers catch both small and largemouths as they swim to the shore line from the deeper waters. There are four launch areas that accommodate a wide variety of watercraft.

Small reservoirs, less than 50 acres

Hamilton Lake is a 42-acre lake near Wellsboro in Tioga County. If you’re traveling, it’s worth your time to see Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon that’s just a short distance away.Mammoth Lake in Westmoreland County is a Big Bass Program waterway. Located near Mount Pleasant, this 24-acre lake proves you don’t need a lot of water to find a lot of bass. Only non-motorized kayak and canoes up to 16 feet in length are permitted

Smallmouth Bass at least 15 inches

Large Reservoirs

Lake Wallenpaupack in northeastern Pennsylvania has 52 miles of shoreline to find the bass hot spots. It encompasses 5,700 surface acres of water in Pike and Wayne counties. The PFBC reports it is owned by Brookfield Renewable and operated as an auxiliary electric generating facility. It is open to the public for recreation purposes like fishing, boating and waterskiing. There is no horsepower limit for boaters, but boats are limited to 45 miles per hour from sunrise to sunset on weekends and holidays from the Saturday before Memorial Day to Labor Day. Boats are also limited to 25 miles per hour between sunset and sunrise.

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Lake Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania is known for all types of fishing. From smallmouth bass, to steelhead and lake trout to walleye and perch, you can’t go wrong at Lake Erie. It’s the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes and offers every kind of water condition an angler desires.Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County made the list for both large and smallmouth. The lake is the place to go if you want big water in the central part of the state. It’s an 8,300-acre reservoir managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s common to see kayaks to massive yachts floating on this waterway. 

Flowing Waters

The Allegheny River starts in Pittsburgh and anglers can fish 325 miles of stream as it flows into New York and back into Pennsylvania.

The Clarion River is actually a tributary of the Allegheny River. It flows 110 miles in west central Pennsylvania. It’s a popular waterway for those who like fishing from canoes and kayaks. There are recreational stops along the river as it flows near Cook Forest State Park, Clear Creek State Park, the Allegheny National Forest, Bendigo State Park and Elk State park. It’s the place to have a true wilderness adventure while catching smallmouth bass.

The Clarion River is a popular attraction in Cook Forest State Park.

French Creek is another tributary of the Allegheny River in northwestern Pennsylvania. The 117 miles of river is known as a biologically diverse waterway with more than 80 species of fish.

Juniata River is the hotspot in central Pennsylvania for smallmouth bass. It flows 104 miles through wilderness and mountain areas as a tributary to the Susquehanna River. In the summer months, you will want to check on the water level as the PFBC reports it may sometimes be too shallow for your watercraft. There is a catch-and-release regulation for part of the river. From SR0075 bridge at Port Royal downstream to the mouth, including all tributaries to a point 1/2 mile upstream from the confluence in Dauphin, Juniata and Perry counties is catch and release for both smallmouth and largemouth bass.

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Susquehanna River is one of the main waterways in eastern Pennsylvania. It travels from Maryland around Harrisburg and north into New York. It’s a wide, but shallow waterway that provides excellent habitat for smallmouth. There are some special regulation areas. From the inflatable dam near Sunbury downstream to Holtwood Dam, including all tributaries to a point 1/2 mile upstream from the confluence in Cumberland, Dauphin, Juniata, Lancaster, Northumberland and Perry counties is catch and release for smallmouth and largemouth bass.

Scott Stough of Friendsville, Maryland, kayaks Tuesday, April 20, 2021, on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park.

The Youghiogheny River flows from Somerset County to Pittsburgh in southwestern Pennsylvania. The 134-mile river is a tributary of the Monongahela River. There’s a flood control dam located in Confluence that is designed to keep the river from flooding Pittsburgh. While on the river it’s common to see white water rafters. There are various rock formations and diverse habitats that make the stream a destination for anglers and boaters.

This listing is a great start to the many places you can catch bass, but it’s far from a complete list. From local farm ponds and small reservoirs, bass are plentiful throughout the state. Hopefully this list encourages you to venture out to some new destinations and confirm that Pennsylvania is blessed with incredible waterways that are quietly waiting for you to enjoy.

Brian Whipkey is the Pennsylvania Outdoors columnist for the USA TODAY Network.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.