Nestled in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania's Crawford County is Conneaut Lake, a 925-acre glacial lake that is also the largest "natural" lake in the Quaker State. During the summer this lake, home of elegant properties and cottages, is a recreational Mecca that host many local events, regattas, festivals and other fun times for vacationers with "something for everyone" appeal.
That is all good and well, and enticing to the whims of many. But for anglers who like the challenge of giant fall smallmouth bass with a chance at several other species, this clear water jewel can offer a unique and rewarding opportunity.
Local angler, outdoor writer, and guide Darl Black has been fishing Conneaut's crystal waters since the mid 1970's ... that's a long time! He has seen ups and downs and shifting fish populations over those decades. But one thing that has remained a constant is the lure of bulky three to over 6-pound smallmouths from this summer vacationing spot as many other anglers often head to other waters such as the Allegheny River or Lake Erie for autumn bronze.
Along with his wife Marilyn, they make an effective duo as they search mid-lake humps and rock piles and deeper weed edges in quest of "footballs."
Conneaut is a fine multi-species fishery in its own right, with such headliners as largemouth bass, northern pike, crappies, big bluegills and currently boasts the Pennsylvania records for both musky (54 pounds) and white bass (4 pounds). But Darl likes to target those impressive smallmouth bass from October through late November with various lure options such as blade baits, hair jigs, tubes or drop-shot rigs over deeper structure.
He informed me that the unofficial lake record for the brown bass was an 8-pounder caught accidentally by a muskie fisherman a few years ago. More realistically, a 5- to 6-pound smallmouth would be considered a trophy class fish.
It's not a "high numbers" game that river bassing can sometimes offer, but rather a "big fish" quest for trophies that are somewhat overlooked.
I first got a whiff of the smallmouth potential on Conneaut from Garmin rep Mark McQueon and outdoor writer Bill DeCouteau in May of 2014. We were all guests at Darl's Pennsylvania Crappie Camp event and Mark and Bill took a side trip to Conneaut on a pouring rainy day. Casting un-weighted Senkos along shoreline bulkheads for pre-spawn fish, the boys had just about a career day on the brown bass. They caught and released around 40 fish during a five-hour stint.
However, their top eight fish went 38 pounds, including three individual fish that were well over the 5-pound mark. Many others exceeded the 3-pound mark. That is "world-class" smallmouth bass fishing, anywhere!
Of course, all the stars and planets don't always align for lake smallmouths and often the effort in cold, clear water is well-earned. Darl fishes for them up until about the Thanksgiving weekend. After that, the increasing cold and wind can make boating and fishing dangerous on the lake's mid-depth humps and open water areas.
When that happens, he'll sometimes hit nearby Pymatuning Lake, a 17,000-acre Army Corp of Engineer flatland reservoir that can offer some shelter with its vast coves and intricate shorelines. The main draw on that lake is the abundant crappie and walleye bite.
Darl seeks to put his clients on giant smallmouths in the fall at Conneaut, but if conditions or dynamics change he will shift gears and put anglers on the best bite that is currently happening and always with safety in mind.
There are numerous lodging and accommodations in and around Meadville and cabin rentals at Pymatuning State Park near Jamestown. One can also check out the Facebook page of Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau or call them at 800-332-2338 for details on a number of fall festivals and other outdoor events scheduled during October and November.
For guided trips to Conneaut and other northwest Pennsylvania lakes contact Darl Black at 814-720-1407 or 814-425-8011. You can also check out his Facebook page, or visit blackwolfecommunications.com for more information about his guided trips and services.
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