Within about two hour's driving distance, close enough to go for a day of ice-fishing, we can find a wonderful variety of ice-fishing situations. There are a great variety of fish and all the changes of scenery you could want.
Our home lake, the Allegheny Reservoir, seems to be off to a reasonable start. As usual you can not trust the ice on this big lake. If not now then very recently there have been open areas. In some of the bays, though, adventurous ice-fishermen have been catching nice perch and a few walleye.
I must admit now that climbing the steep slopes to get to the Allegheny Reservoir ice is more difficult than I feel it is worth. One of the great parts about this lake is that some of the best ice-fishing is available only to folks who are willing to put a lot of effort into it.
Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist
Chautauqua Lake can be called our other home lake. Driving there is not much farther that driving to the reservoir, and by the time you get onto the ice it is a lot easier to get there. Ice has been pretty thin so far this winter. Most attention is being given to Burtis Bay. Crappie, long the main attraction at Chautauqua Lake, have not been abundant, but perch are bigger and more numerous than ever. Bluegill and pumpkinseed also make the ice-fishing worthwhile.
All things considered, Presque Isle Bay may be the best place in the region for ice-fishing this winter. Shipping activity has been playing havoc with the ice, but when it has been good in the main part of the bay, perch fishing has been very good. Usually we do not get really good perch fishing there until February.
I like to fish in Misery Bay, which is one of the first places to freeze in Presque Isle Bay. This year we have enjoyed excellent ice-fishing for bluegill. Crappie fishing was good during the first few days of safe ice, but it has declined since. Since it was good, though, we can assume that it will be good again this winter.
Steelhead make ice-fishing at Presque Isle very exciting. We catch a few every winter by accident. If you wish to catch more, set some tip-ups baited with shiners. Set the baits at various depths.
Lake Wilhelm may have been the best crappie lake in Pennsylvania for several years. Then, as with most crappie lakes, the bottom fell out. Now it appears to be on the rise again. Not many big crappie have been caught this winter, but mixed with big bluegill you can usually bring home of mess of fish.
Shenango Lake is a bit far, but the crappie fishing has been so good for the past few years that it is worth the drive if the crappie are hitting. That, of course, is not a guarantee.
Just this weekend I got word that crappie have been hitting at Cassadaga Lake. Unfortunately I do not know where. Cassadaga is a small lake, more accurately a series of three small lakes. But if no one else is ice-fishing there, finding crappie might be difficult. I have never seen other ice-fishermen there when I have ice-fished it.
Only now does it occur to me that I have not ice-fished at Chapman Dam yet this winter. Usually, since it is so close, I make a few trips there. With fall and winter stocking the ice-fishing usually is good.
All of the stocked trout lakes have good ice-fishing. One which stands out is Lake Pleasant. I doubt that many ice-anglers from Warren travel to Lake Pleasant to ice-fish under the assumption that it is like any other trout lake. But it is a lot more. Lake Pleasant holds good numbers of crappie, bluegill and perch.
The first time I ice-fished at Lake Pleasant there was no one else there. With nothing better to go on, I drilled a few holes where tracks indicated that someone else had ice-fished. I had a few hits but could not catch anything until I put a shiner on my jig. Whoever had been ice-fishing there before me had dumped their shiners on the ice when they left. By tipping my Swedish Pimples with those shiners I put together a catch of several very nice perch.
The mystery lake in ice-fishing season has to be Tionesta Lake. Other than a few anglers who live in the vicinity, very few holes are drilled in the ice over Tionesta Lake. Of course, if ice-fishing was hot there every year word would get out and it would get more ice-fishing pressure. Being inconsistent saves it for ice-fishermen who like solitude.
Tionesta Lake holds crappie, perch and bluegill. Crappie are the only one of these three species that are large enough to make drilling holes worthwhile.
If you want something different, try ice-fishing at East Branch Lake, which is located near Wilcox. I have never had great ice-fishing there, but where else can you ice-fish for lake trout?