Just this past May I had the great opportunity to sample some outstanding angling at the 2014 Pennsylvania Crappie Camp hosted by outdoor writer and photographer Darl Black.
Although the main drive of the event was to showcase the excellent crappie fishing in northwest Pennsylvania, we were offered the chance to fish these same waters for other species.
On the second day of camp I hooked up with a couple of bass fanatics at Mercer County's Shenango River Lake. They were Garmin regional sales manager Mark McQuown and Billy "Hawkeye" Decoteau, who is the senior editor of BassEast.com. We were in Marks' high –performance bass boat on this beautiful Quaker State jewel for an afternoon of bass fishing.
Shenango River Lake is an Army Corps of Engineers complex that covers 3,600 acres and is fed by two major flows … the Pymatuning branch and the Shenango River.
Many species inhabit the system, to include crappies, hybrid stripers, white bass, channel cats and largemouth and smallmouth bass. At our trip in mid-May, the lake was about 1.5 feet above normal pool level and upper lake conditions were turbid.
John Kolodziejski, resource and lake manager at Shenango, was a great accommodating host and pointed us in the direction of seasonal hotspots with maps and advise from local expert Ken Smith. Fired–up and ready to go, Mark, Billy and I headed out in the vicinity of the dam to cash in on pre-spawn bass.
I had no bass gear, so Danny hooked me up with a vintage, light action rod and a handful of various jigs. Mark and Billy used medium weight bait casting gear with 10 pound fluorocarbon lines to toss Scroungers and Flukes to promising looking shorelines that had recently been flooded.
We all had action from a variety of fish, with the headliners be quality sized smallmouth bass that had recently moved shallow in prep for the spawn. Shallow, sloping banks yielded almost all the fish, and steep-sided banks were empty of fish. Even out of the back of the boat, I managed to collar some nice smallies to 16 inches on the 1/8th-ounce ball head jigs and Blue Ice Bobby Garland Shad bodies. Great fighting fish on the light stuff.
Along the way we had a few surprises, most noteworthy of which was an excellent white bass that Billy got on the Scrounger/fluke combo. Giving a good account of itself, Billy was rightfully proud to have landed this excellent whitey that was pushing 17 inches. A bunch of photos were in order.
Meanwhile, Mark continued to have the occasional 2- to 3-pound class smallmouth take his Scroungers. These were obviously pre-spawn fish, as almost all were shallow and fought like demons. Our larger fish were in the 18 to 19 inch range, approaching 4 pounds. We rounded one particular bend where Billy hooked a beauty that would be our top fish of the trip. We took a few pics and then watched her swim away. It had been a good afternoon of fishing a "new-to-us" body of water that obviously had a substantial population of good smallmouths. Larger fish in excess of five pounds have come from Shenango, but those giants eluded us on this balmy, 80-degree May afternoon.
We also caught black crappies, white crappies, rock bass and largemouth bass during the trip. Variety and quality!
Bass fishing at Shenango can be like any other place, with seasonal timing being the main ingredient for success. Late April to late June sees consistent activity and September and October can be good as well. Other species can steal the show, as there are high numbers of black crappies and some occasional white crappies that can measure 15 inches.
There is a legitimate white bass run up the Shenango and Pymatuning Branch in April and it is also one of the better hybrid striped bass fisheries in Pennsylvania. For information and lake maps contact John Kolodziejski, Lake Manager, Shenango Lake, 2442 Kelly Road, Hermitage, PA, 16148-7308. You can also phone at 724-962-7746 or email at email@example.com.