Population cycles are common to crappie. Lakes where crappie fishing is great every year are rare. For many years that was the case at Chautauqua Lake, though, until factors combined to cause a severe decline in the crappie population.
It seems likely that the reason crappie fishing had been so good for so long at Chautauqua Lake was eutrophication brought about by sewage from the many homes and camps that surround the lake. It was soon after modern sewage was installed around the lake that the crappie population fell, although that does not prove the reason for the crappie decline.
There were other things that likely contributed. There was an explosion of the gizzard shad population. Some people feared that nuisance was there to stay, but following a large doe-off that is common for gizzard shad populations in lakes similar to Chautauqua this species have not again returned in such large numbers.
A fish assessment from early in the 20th Century showed a presence of gizzard shad.
White bass and white perch also had been in the lake before the crappie population dropped. But these fish increased in numbers considerably at about the same time as the crappie decreased.
Whatever the main cause, Chautauqua Lake is now just an ordinary crappie lake, with ups and downs, though it has not risen to any great numbers again. Now it takes much more fishing knowledge to consistently catch crappie at Chautauqua Lake.
Local anglers can still find excellent crappie fishing close enough for a day of fishing.
Presque Isle Bay currently has a very good crappie population. I do not recall ever having a year with so many nice crappie in the bay. Crappie fishing is maybe more consistent than most area lakes, but in most years it could not be rated with the best in the region. If you hit the bay on a good day you can look forward to a good mess of crappie that are 10 inches, and longer. Limit catches should be regular, if not common.
Hot spots are the head of Presque Isle Bay, the Stink Hole, near the Yacht Club, Dobbins Landing, Chestnut Street, Liberty Park, the border Patrol, in the lagoons and Misery Bay.
A large portion of the crappie at Presque Isle Bay are black crappie, which can be considerably more finicky than white crappie. Tip a jig with either a grub, a piece or worm or a shiner, of use bait on a plain hook.
Probably the top-rated crappie lake in the region is Pymatuning Lake. Definitely over the long run this is one of the best on the Northwest Region.
Crappie get to be very large at Pymatuning Lake. Commonly they are in the 10-inch to 14-inch bracket. I have seen trap nets used to capture muskie or walleye for hatchery use filled with huge black crappie, by which I mean longer than 15 inches.
My favorite area for crappie at Pymatuning is an area called the stumps. It is at the north end of the lake. Launch at Wilson, turn left, then go right, between the islands. A few stumps are visible to the left. You should see plenty of boats if anything is happening there.
Lake Wilhelm rated as one of the best, if not the best crappie lake in Pennsylvania for several years. But a few years ago it went into a down-turn in the crappie population cycle. It appears to be on the upswing now. Do not expect to catch large crappie. Most will be less than 10 inches. But size should improve through the year. It is well worth a visit now, and should be very good next year.
Edinboro Lake does not get the attention it deserves for crappie fishing. Boat traffic gets unbearably heavy during summer, but during the spring crappie fishing peak there are not many boats.
Look around the north end of the lake for crappie during spring. This is the shallow end of the lake. Sometimes crappie fishing is good in a couple of long, narrow bays at this end.
For many years I have watched the crappie cycles at Edinboro Lake. Every so often this lakes gives up the biggest crappie in the area. That probably will not happen this year, but this is a nice lake with decent crappie numbers, as long as too many pleasure boats are not on the water.
We are now going into the second spring of the year, or maybe winter did not arrive until late April. In any case, there will be good crappie fishing ahead.