It is not here yet, but the time for open water fishing appears to be approaching. Several moderately warm days and rains have gotten a good part of the snow out of the woods. It is time to check your fishing boots for leaks, your favorite trout spinners to be sure hooks have not rusted, your outboard motor to be certain it will start. It is time to check the tackle shop racks for new lures, and to spool new line on your ultra-light reels.
A few trout anglers will head toward special regulations waters like Kinzua Creek, Oil Creek, or Caldwell Creek where there is no closed season on trout. If you do this with the fly rod, try flies with bright blue or green in the pattern. It might take this to attract trout in cold water.
This is generally a good time for steelhead fishing, once the creeks come back down to reasonable flows. The best situation is when the creeks are up a little and have enough color to hide steelhead in most pools. If nothing else, that keeps fishermen from crowding around the clusters of fish.
No matter where you choose to fish early in the open water season, it is great to feel the sun on your neck on those 68-degree days. It is great to be outdoors without the need of wearing heavy layers of clothing.
Fish somehow also seem to be enlivened by the change of seasons. Some of the best fishing each year typically occurs soon after ice-out. Some of my best days of crappie fishing have been on the first day of open water at Chautauqua Lake.
Chautauqua Lake crappie fishing may not be nearly what it was a couple decades ago, but you can still catch crappie there. You just have to look harder, and have some actual fishing skills. Start looking in the soft-bottom bays where the water warms soonest.
If you want some great crappie fishing, head south to Shenango Lake. That may be the best crappie lake in Pennsylvania now, and for the past few years. It took over about the time the crappie population at Lake Wilhelm dipped. That appears to be returning, but I do not anticipate that crappie will be large enough for my taste until next fall, at least.
Shenango Lake has crappie of all sizes which promises good things for the next few years. Locating crappie is not difficult. You can use the tried and true method of looking for clusters of boats, or the more satisfying method of finding some yourself.
I like to launch near the middle of this lake which allows me to go anywhere in a reasonable time. My 14-foot semi-v had just a 20 hp motor which is no speed demon. I am seldom in a big hurry these days. Rushing is a poor way to start a day of fishing.
Another place which appears to be on the good part of its crappie population cycle is Pymatuning Lake. Finding crappie here can be more difficult than at Shenango Lake, but local bait shops can help. The lure of huge crappie is enough to overcome any difficulties.
Unlike Shenango Lake where there are no restrictions on boat motors, boats are limited to 20 hp at Pymatuning Lake.
A few years ago while observing the netting of both muskellunge and walleye for egg and milt collection at Pymatuning Lake, I saw more big crappie in those trap nets that I could have imagined lived in the entire state. It was astounding, breath-taking, looking at countless crappie that weighed two pounds and more.
There is good crappie fishing all over that big lake, near enough to just about all of the boat launch areas
One of the things I hope for each year as winter is winding down is for open water at Chapman Dam before the end of March. Trout fishing can be great. My favorite method in this situation is trolling. For several years, since the first year when there was open water during March under the Late Season - Trout Stocked Waters Program, I have been using an electric motor on a small aluminum boat, my current version is a 14-foot jon boat, to troll an assortment of lures around the small lake.
Since the lake is so small, it can be covered thoroughly several times in a day, allowing me to establish repeatable fishing patterns. Speed using my electric motor, which has five forward speeds, is number 2 when most lures are used. A few lures require number 3 to get the designed action. Wind may change the need for control so that I use anywhere from number 1 with the wind at your back, to number 3 into the wind.
Even when the temperature does dip some, once the water is open at Chapman Dam I am likely to be there. It is so close there is no reason to sit at home when the fish might be hitting.