Indiana, PA - Indiana County

JEFF KNAPP: It's time for muskies

by on April 09, 2013 10:30 AM

These first days of warm weather jump-start the fisheries in many lakes. This was apparent last weekend when I spent a couple days walleye fishing on Pymatuning Lake. Boat access areas that were iced in a week prior were busy with activity.

Though many of these initial forays are aimed at walleyes or crappies, now’s also a good time to target the lake’s excellent muskie fishery.

Pennsylvania stocks 7,000 6-inch fingerlings each fall. Most years the Ohio DOW supplements those stockings with advanced age-class fingerlings in the 9- to 11-inch range.

A look at the physical characteristics of Pymatuning shows why it is such a productive muskie lake. The lake is shallow and fertile. Its dark waters are loaded with nutrients that support a large biomass of gamefish and food fish. Since it lacks any extreme depths, an angler can feel confident his or her lure is being seen by a fair number of muskies during a day’s fishing.

The northern basin of the lake has a lot to offer the muskie angler, especially early in the season soon after the ice comes off. Muskies will be in shallow water at this time. Baitfish will be drawn to the warming water of the shallows, pulling in muskies. And though they don’t successfully spawn in Pymatuning, muskies will attempt to reproduce, which also places them in the shallows.

On the upper portion of the lake, key early-season areas will be the many small bays that break up the shoreline from Padanaram to Linesville. Some of these bays are found tucked in behind major islands such as Clarks, Harris and Whaley, as well as smaller island clusters. Stump fields located around the larger islands can also be attractive to muskies, particularly later in the spring when the fish are migrating out of the shallows.

Pymatuning’s southern basin is somewhat deeper, but certainly not “deep” by most standards. Here an angler will find depths that average 15 or so feet; 30-foot depths are located in the bottom of the old Shenango River channel near the dam. Much of the lake (the north and south ends) is broad, though it does neck down considerably in the extreme lower reaches within about two miles of the dam.

As with the upper basin, early-season muskie fishing efforts should focus on protected bays that attract muskies attempting to spawn and looking for food. Many of the more productive bays are found along the western shoreline of the lake from the Jamestown State Park (Pennsylvania) campground north to the Ohio State Park swimming beach (located just south of the causeway). Many of the larger bays will play host to moored sailboats by summertime, but during the first month or so, open water will harbor good numbers of muskies. Another area that warms quickly under the rays of the April sun is the large bay behind Ackerman Island, just north of the dam.

The stretch of water north and south of Stocker Island provides some of the best muskie habitat in the southern basin. To the north of Stocker, the Bay 41 area warms quickly and provides plenty of protected water. The same is true of the bays to the west and south of Stocker. The large, shallow flat that extends to the east of Stocker collects muskies as they migrate away from the shallows as spring gives way to summer, particularly if good weed growth develops.

Pymatuning’s submergent weeds are mostly a combination of milfoil and curly pondweed. During years with reasonably stable springtime weather, which provides plenty of sunshine and fairly clear water, weed growth is good. Rainy springtime weather often results in spottier weed growth.

The southern basin also features several submerged humps that collect muskies, places that make choice summertime casting spots during prime times such as early morning, the evening twilight, and rainy days. Look to the shoreline south of Stocker Island, along the section where the wide portion of the lake begins to neck down. Beer Can Island (actually a submerged hump) is one of these spots. Several others exist, some of which are marked with hazard buoys.

Other humps are found along the eastern shoreline, about 50 yards off shore, between the Snodgrass launch and Ackerman Island. Most of these spots aren’t marked with buoys and require a bit of searching to locate.

Since Pymatuning is a border water, it carries with it muskie fishing regulations that differ from other inland waters. There is a 30-inch minimum-length limit with a two-fish creel limit, though most ardent muskie anglers release their fish, regardless of regulations. The lake has a 20 horsepower limit.

Jeff Knapp is an outdoors writer for The Indiana Gazette. His columns appear Tuesday on the Outdoors page and in the Indiana County Area Sports section on The Indiana Gazette Online.
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