Rod Bates took this channel catfish

A recent survey by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission showed a strong channel catfish population in Mahoning Creek Lake.  Rod Bates took this channel catfish from the Susquehanna River. 

Located in northeastern Armstrong County, Mahoning Creek Lake supports a diverse warm-water fishery. Given its location off the beaten path, and physical characteristics that feature a wooded, steep valley, the 279-acre impoundment is ideal for those looking for an interesting angling situation in a setting that is not crowded.

Though relatively modest from a surface acreage standpoint, Mahoning Creek Lake stretches for several miles from its headwaters near the tiny hamlet of Milton to the dam breast, not far from the equally tiny village of Belknap. Save for a small cove, where Glade Run joins the impoundment, it’s primarily a bank-beater lake, with the available cover being associated with the original primary creek channel.

Due to its key function as a flood control lake, Mahoning Creek Lake experiences dramatic water level fluctuations. The recent (2012) retrofitting of a hydroelectric facility within the dam also contributes to this situation. With a winter drawdown that’s in excess of 20 feet below summer pool, the lake experiences no weed growth. The major forms of cover include wood and rock.

As I recall, decades ago the year-round pool level was held at what’s now basically the winter pool elevation. A change was made to raise the pool level to such that it backed up water near the Route 839 bridge. Some timber was left standing in this newly inundated area. Thus, anglers will find moderate levels of vertical, standing timber in the upper third of the reservoir.

From a fishery standpoint, Mahoning Creek Lake supports a population that includes largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, crappies, bullheads and channel catfish. Traditionally the lake was stocked with fingerling stage walleyes, an effort that ended when surveys results did not meet the minimum level for a quality walleye fishery. The last walleye stocking was in 2011. Anglers might still catch remnants from such stockings, or from natural reproduction.

Efforts to establish a tiger muskellunge fishery via stocking have not met with success. However, the news is not all bad for muskies within the lake. While the tiger musky fishery did not develop as hoped, purebred muskies are indeed present. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Area 2 Fisheries Biologist Brian Ensign points out the purebred muskies were stocked in 2005 and 2006. Since that time purebred muskies have shown up in two fisheries surveys. Based on the age class of collected pure muskies, as well as reliable angler information, there’s strong evidence of a naturally reproducing true musky population within the lake.

Last year the Fish and Boat Commission conducted a fisheries survey to measure the channel catfish population within Mahoning Creek Lake. Agency stocking activities of channel catfish in the lake date to the 1970s.

According to the report, authored by Ensign, results from May trap net and gill net sampling were encouraging and yielded a total catch of 82 channel catfish. Good numbers of both younger and especially larger size adults were documented with multiple year classes represented. Additionally, of the 82 channel catfish captured, 59 percent (48) were greater than 20 inches in length, with the largest fish measuring 30 inches and weighing 13 pounds. The calculated catch rate was well above the maximum statewide objective established for all channel catfish lakes described as having a high-quality population.

While the survey was directed toward channel catfish, the agency also documented other species collected in trapnets and gillnets. Northern pike up to 34 inches were collected. In terms of panfish, black and white crappies were collected in large numbers, though abundance of quality-sized crappies was low.

Black bass typically don’t show up in netting surveys, which is why electrofishing is generally the tool used to evaluate bass numbers. However, PFBC Fish Warden Matt Colian, whose district includes Mahoning Creek Lake, reports good catches of smallmouth and largemouth bass in not only the lake, but the stream section just above the lake.

Two boat access areas are located on Mahoning Creek Lake. The most accessible one is the Milton Loop access, owned by Armstrong County. It’s found just off State Route 839 north of Dayton. This access area is only useable when the lake is at full summer pool, an elevation of 1,098 (feet above sea level).

The second access area is found within the lower third of the reservoir. It’s owned by the Fish and Boat Commission and is known as the Sportsman’s Launch. The access is set within a steep hillside and parking is limited to perhaps 10 rigs. The ramp extends into the lake even at winter pool. Typically, the Corps of Engineers leaves the access road open into the fall/early winter, until winter driving conditions make its use hazardous.

Boats are limited to 10 horsepower. Colian reminds anglers and boaters to be on the lookout for floating hazards such as logs and debris, especially common following high-water events. Army Corp of Engineers lakes provide PFD regulations that include mandatory use for boats less than 16 feet. Shore fishing is limited to the access areas due to the steep, forested hillsides.

It’s wise to check in with the Corps of Engineers before embarking on a trip to make sure the lake and its facilities are open. A recorded message, updated regularly, can be heard by calling (814) 257-8017. Updates are also posted on the lake’s official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MahoningUSACE/.