June 16, 2008

Local Lakes Deliver a Challenge for Anglers

By Bob Frye

Knowing that a lake holds lots of bass is one thing. Being able to catch them is another.

If you doubt that, just ask Rick Lorson.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's area 8 fisheries biologist recently surveyed 101-acre Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County. That work revealed a pretty good largemouth bass population.

But getting fish -- even ones you know are there -- to hit a lure is no sure thing.

"We spent some time fishing before we left, and it was tough. When you see all of those fish, then can't catch them later, it's pretty humbling," Lorson said with a laugh.

Raccoon Lake is one of at least two Western Pennsylvania waters that -- according to some just-completed examinations -- hold lots of bass. Greenlick Dam in Fayette County is the other.

Both present challenges for anglers, however.

Lorson and his crew spent 60 minutes electroshocking Raccoon Lake. They handled largemouth bass ranging in size from 3-21 inches, with a number of those larger fishing weighing between four and five pounds.

The typical bass was pretty nice, too. Lorson saw 17 bass stretching more than 12 inches, with 12 of them longer than 15 inches.

By comparison, commission guidelines say that a lake is a good bass water if it produces seven bass above 12 inches and two above 15 inches in an hour.

"So, the bass population out there is pretty good," Lorson said.

If you want to fish Raccoon Lake, though, you'd better take everything you might need with you. While the park has a boat concession, the only bait shop/convenience store in the area has closed, said waterways conservation officer Emmett Kyler.

That may be one reason the lake doesn't get a lot of pressure, he said.

"You'll see destination fishermen from Pittsburgh and some locals, but I wouldn't say it's heavily fished," Kyler said.

Likewise, 100-acre Greenlick Dam doesn't get the number of anglers its fishery suggests it should.

Lorson spent 72 minutes night electrofishing it earlier this spring. It produced even better than Raccoon, giving up 54 largemouth bass, 37 of them greater than 12 inches and 24 greater than 15 inches.

Greenlick, though, is not known for producing big catches, said Ron Evancho, waterways conservation officer with responsibility for patrolling the lake.

The lake is often crystal clear and has a large forage base, so its fish are often spooky and selective. Only about half of it is accessible by shore, too, so anglers without a boat are limited in where they can go.

Yet, those who take the time to learn the lake can do well, he said.

"It doesn't get a lot of pressure, but it is seeing more and more people, even at night," Evancho said.

All that aside, Greenlick is, like Raccoon, home to a lot of bass, Lorson said -- even if it takes some doing to catch them.

"The fish are at least there in good numbers, so I'd send people there to fish for bass," Lorson said.

Bass cheat sheet

If you want to fish for largemouth bass, be it at Raccoon Lake, Greenlick Dam or elsewhere, keep these tips from the Fish and Boat Commission in mind.

Where: Largemouth bass can tolerate a wide range of conditions, but focus your efforts on the weedy areas of lakes and ponds and the sluggish or backwater areas on rivers.

When: Early morning and early evening are best, especially when the weather is as hot as it's been.

How: If you prefer live bait, try a large minnow or a shiner fished under a bobber. Use hooks size six and larger. If you're going to try lures, jigs, crankbaits, plastic worms, twisters and poppers all work, especially if they are black, brown, purple or green. Try lures in a variety of sizes, from 1/16 to 1 ounce. Six- to 14-pound test line is good for most conditions, though you may want to go heavier if you'll be horsing fish out of thick weeds of heavy timber.

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