JEFF KNAPP: Armstrong waters off quality fishing
Neighboring Armstrong County has a long list of quality fishing options. Waters such as the Allegheny River, Crooked Creek Lake and Keystone Lake are well known. The county has other angling venues, though. With the weather finally warming up, it will soon be time to check them out.
MAHONING CREEK LAKE: Located in northern Armstrong County, Mahoning Creek Lake — as far as medium-sized reservoirs go — would have to be considered off the grid. Though it covers only 350 surface acres, it winds for several miles through a steep, heavily forested valley.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake responsible for protecting the Allegheny River drainage, Mahoning Creek Lake’s fishery is one of quality more so than quantity. Given the low retention rate of the lake — the water flows through it comparatively fast — it doesn’t build up the nutrients necessary to support a dense fish population. There are, however, quality-sized individuals of several species.
The lake contains largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, with greater numbers going to the former. Walleyes are present and attain lengths in excess of 30 inches. So are northern pike, which also grow to impressive sizes. Muskies show up consistently, with fish in the 4-foot range available. The lake holds good-sized crappies and plenty of channel catfish as well.
Mahoning Lake experiences a fall/winter drawdown that lowers the lake approximately 20 feet. As such, it doesn’t have any submergent weed growth. Cover options for fish are mostly wood and rock. There is some standing timber present in up-lake coves. Many of the inside turns feature some shallow water along with submerged stumps and gnarly root systems. Rock slides are common along the steep banks.
Typically the lake is at full pool from late spring through mid-fall. At this stage the up-lake access, the Milton Launch, is usable; it’s found just off Route 839 north of Dayton. The “Sportsman’s Launch” is located near the dam. It can be reached by taking SR 1023 north out of Dayton. Due to the steepness of the terrain, the road leading to this launch is narrow and twisting, and parking is limited. The ramp does still reach the water during the drawdown period, though. The Corps gates the road to the ramp when winter weather arrives. Motors are limited to 10 horsepower.
Heavy rains often translate into an elevated pool level on Mahoning, effectively cutting off the fishing. Due to the terrain and lakeside cover, there’s little shore fishing along the reservoir other than at access areas. The spillway pool, located downstream of the stilling basin, can be productive but requires wading out to a midstream island to be fished properly.
A recorded message on the status of the lake can be heard by calling (814) 257-8017.
TROUT STREAMS: Armstrong County boasts a nice assortment of trout streams, ones where anglers can find not only stocked trout but wild ones, too.
Buffalo Creek is the largest stocked stream. It has several miles of water managed under standard regulations, as well as a Delayed Harvest-Artificial Lures Only project that flows through portions of Armstrong and Butler counties. Major stream improvement work by the Arrowhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited has taken place through the years on this 3.7-mile project.
Cowanshannock Creek, as well as the North and South Fork of Pine Creek, are well-stocked and tumble their way to the Allegheny within wooded, scenic venues.
Though no streams in the county have dense wild trout populations, there are several that have adequate numbers of stream-bred brown trout, enough worthy of attention. Though these runs wouldn’t benefit from the added fishing pressure of specifically naming them, for the most part they flow directly into the Allegheny and feature a high gradient that provides a series of falls/plunge pools that hold some nice fish. Many of these runs require good physical condition to fish them.
WARM-WATER STREAMS: Perhaps the most overlooked resource in the county is found on the larger warm-water streams, ones that provide sport for smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and muskie. This includes Crooked Creek, Mahoning Creek, Red Bank Creek and the Kiskiminetas River.
Red Bank Creek forms the Armstrong/Clarion County border to the north. The Kiskiminetas River does the same to the south, separating Armstrong and Westmoreland counties. Portions of Mahoning and Crooked Creek are in public ownership, basically the sections above the lakes, but still within the project zone. Landowner permission is required to fish private lands.