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Crappie camp highlights for 2016
I got pretty lucky by boating this 30-inch class northern pike on 2-pound test line at Shenango River Lake while fishing fallen brush for crappies. I'll take it! (Jim Gronaw photo)

Recently, my son Matt and I had the opportunity to enjoy a week of fishing in Northwest Pennsylvania as guests for the 2016 Crappie Camp held at Pymatuning State Park and hosted by outdoor writer and guide Darl Black.

A regionally and nationally recognized angling writer and photographer, Darl and his wife Marilyn have hosted the event for a number of years now and fishing and fellowship never disappoints. This year's guest included a number of writers, tackle reps and crappie fishing pros that brought their skills, tackle and know-how to the table, culminating in a well-attended crappie fishing seminar that was held on May 19 at the Reynolds VFW Post in Transfer, Pa.

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At the beginning of the week, I'll admit ... fishing was tough, as a near blizzard-like coating of wet snow had invaded the region just the day before. Water temperatures had dropped to 54 degrees, but predicted warmth showed promise for the coming days. The first day we fished with Dale Black, owner and president of Gama Lines and a local angler with expert advise. We fished the lower portion of Pymatuning where a few islands and shallow brush and fallen wood were reportedly holding some crappies.

We worked several fallen trees and then zeroed in on a small patch of brushpiles where both Dale and Matt caught black crappies to just beyond the 13-inch mark — nice fish anywhere, but very nice for northern climes.

Our fish took small jigheads baited with minnows as we casted and drifted over the wood in a steady rain. Collectively, we picked up about 15 crappies but also caught other species such as bass, warmouth, yellow perch and a small walleye. One of the nice things about fishing the waters of northwest Pennsylvania is that variety rules, and most panfish efforts result in several species.

Our morning efforts resulted in about 25 fish, not bad coming off a cold weekend and lousy spring weather.

That afternoon, we hooked up with Mark McQuown, Regional Sales Manager for Garmin Electronics, and fished with him at nearby Conneaut Lake, the largest "natural" lake in the Quaker State.

Conneaut's 928 acres is surrounded by posh and attended homes that few of us working stiffs could afford. It doesn't give the overall appearance of a fishing hotspot, but the variety and especially the bass fishing can be exceptional at the right time. At the last Crappie Camp in 2014, Mark and writer Bill Decoteau smashed high-end smallmouths there with several fish over 5 pounds in the pouring rain. That is GOOD bassing!

We fished a similar pattern from the previous year which was stick worms fished weightless near bulkheads and shoreline docks and slips. As the afternoon warmed up the fishing did too. Matt was first to score with a nice 17-inch class largemouth and then Mark picked up a "near four pound" smallie on a Senko.

We worked hard for eight bass, with several quality smallmouths and some decent largemouths in the mix as well. Matt got bit off by a nice northern pike, as toothy critters are indeed present in this glacial lake. The Pennsylvania record for musky, 54 pounds, was taken here many decades ago and has yet to be equaled.

Conneaut has no horsepower limit and is the site of many events throughout the year, including wine festivals, entertainment and art and food events. Ice fishing is also popular and the panfishing for crappies, bluegills and white bass (another state-record at 4 pounds) are in the mix.

Our last stop on the trip was to Shenango River Lake where Manager John Kolodziejski greeted us in the a.m. with a box of fresh donuts — that got my attention!

Always a fine host, John was eager to see how the fishing would turn out at this Army Corp of Engineer lake. At 3,800 acres, it is known as a fine crappie fishery with a sidebar on smallmouths, wipers, white bass and assorted toothy critters. By now, it was warming day by day and the water was into the low sixties and fish were more active.

I fished again with Dale Black and Matt fished with Mark and Bill. We caught a wide variety of fish, mostly black and white crappies on riprap and brush. Our top fish were just shy of the foot-long mark. But on another boat, Bill Decoteau scored the best crappie of the entire event, a 17-inch white crappie while fishing with crappie pro Dan Dannenmueler Jr.

Matt's top fish of the day was a 17-inch white bass that struck a Rat-L-Trap (a bucketlist fish for me) and I was fortunate to land a 30-inch class northern pike on 2-pound test line ... how cool is that?

There is much, much more to highlight, great fishing with local hot-stick Ken Smith and a fabulous fish fry at the end of the week. But space limits me here, and there will be more on the way in future columns.

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One thing for sure, there is a whole world of fishing in Northwest Pennsylvania in Mercer and Crawford counties — a great place for family, fishing and vacations.

410-857-7896

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