JEFF KNAPP: Keystone Lake fits backup plan
My friend Wes Wasik was fishing in a rather nonchalant manner, twitching a soft jerkbait over the top of a submerged weedbed while telling a story.
We were fishing Keystone Lake, more out of necessity than choice. It’s become a tradition for Wes to fish with me on the Allegheny River for several days during the July 4 week. For the second year in a row, heavy rains had blown out the river, making it a marginal prospect at best. I’d suggested we spend a day on Keystone, hoping the Allegheny would fall enough during his week, before he had to head back south to Texas. He was lukewarm with the idea, since he had his heart set on the river and the great smallmouth bass action we typically enjoy. His attitude changed when a 3-pound largemouth rose up out of the weeds and inhaled his Winco Solid Body River Darter.
Wes battled the nice largemouth out of the weeds, impressed with the strong fight the fish put up. Before we wrapped up the day, we boated more than 20 bass, both largemouth and smallmouth. One big smallie — in the 20-inch range — followed Wes’s lure halfway to the boat but wouldn’t eat it.
[PHOTO: Dave Keith admired a nice Keystone Lake largemouth bass taken recently on a Texas-rigged plastic worm. (Jeff Knapp/Gazette photo)]
But it was great to see such a quality-sized bronzeback, one that would hold its own with even the biggest bass we catch on the Allegheny.
Later in the week, we salvaged a day on the river. We managed to coerce a few quality-sized Allegheny smallies to bite in the high, muddy water, ones that reacted to the heavy thump of a spinnerbait. But Wes didn’t forget the Keystone experience. As he was loading the last of his gear in his rental car he said, “Well, if it rains again next year I know we have a great backup in Keystone.”
Having grown up in Plumville — a few minutes down the road from Keystone Lake — I’ve fished it since it was first opened up to the public. I’d guess that to be in the neighborhood of 45 years ago. It can be tough — as many clear-water lakes that experience heavy fishing pressure can be — but it continues to hold a good fish population, particularly of largemouth and smallmouth bass. Here are a few points you might find useful in fishing Keystone:
• The main bass-attractor in Keystone is the abundant submerged weed growth that’s present from early summer on. Largemouth make the most use of the weeds, though it’s not uncommon to catch smallmouth there, too; since the water is so clear light penetration is great.
This allows weeds to grow out to depths in the 15-foot range. The 15-foot zone is also the level at which the lake’s baitfish tend to concentrate, that is often very productive.
Many anglers simply fish too shallow on Keystone. Targeting the base of the weeds in depths of 15-or-so feet is usually good for at least a few fish.
• A Texas-rigged plastic worm — using a slip sinker in the quarter-ounce range — is a good setup for fishing these deep weeds. The weight is enough to get the worm to the bottom in a reasonable length of time, with a drop rate that’s also slow enough to allow a bass to intercept it during the initial fall.
• Another good option for working deep weeds is the drop-shot rig. With this rig, the sinker is attached to the end of the line, with the hook tied in via a Palomar knot 18 or so inches above the sinker. Though there are specialty drop-shot sinkers available, a good old Water Gremlin teardrop-shaped bass casting sinker works fine, one in the quarter- to three-eighth-ounce range. Since I tend to target the area just outside the weeds with a drop shot, I like an open hook, like a size 2- or 4-octopus-style live bait hook. I’ve had good luck with Jackall’s Cross Tail Shad and Flick Shake Worm, as well as Roboworm’s Straight Tail Worm, on the drop-shot rig. While the best approach with the Texas-rig is to make repetitive casts as you work around a weed point of flat, with the drop shot it’s often best to just drag it along with the boat, more like live bait fishing for walleyes.
• Bass can also be coaxed up and out of the weeds with a lure like a soft jerkbait (fluke-style bait) or a hard-bodied suspending jerkbait. This is especially true in zones where the weeds tops are still 2 or 3 feet from the surface. I suspect bass that are more active suspend within this fringe of weeds and only have to rise up a few feet to strike the lure.
• When the lake is full, as it has been this year, it’s also often productive to work up tight to the bank. There’s enough overhead cover to provide bass with protection and ambush points.
Smallmouth bass in particular can be found tucked in near shore. A suspending jerkbait like Rapala’s X-Rap is often a good tool for targeting these fish.