Stretching from Lake Erie to the Delaware River, the Keystone State has a wealth of lakes and rivers just waiting to be explored. And the fish species you’ll encounter here are as diverse as the state scenery, drawing in thousands of anglers each year. Of course, the targets shift depending on when you visit, so it’s wise to get familiar with the fishing seasons in Pennsylvania before you go.
With various mountains, forests, and rivers, Pennsylvania is a fantastic place to visit if you’re a fan of spending time in nature. As far as fishing goes, it takes place throughout the year, although you may need to opt for ice fishing during the depths of winter. At other times of the year, all you have to do is head out and enjoy the vast expanse of some ever-changing scenery.
If you’d like more details on what fish you can catch during the different fishing seasons in Pennsylvania, read on. We’ll present all the information in a month-by-month format. This way, you can pick between reading it all or focusing on the month when you’ll be planning your trip. If you’re ready, let’s get into it!
When is the best season to go fishing in Pennsylvania?
Even though it really depends on what you want to catch, fishing in Pennsylvania during the summer season will give you by far the most options. It’s when the weather is the most favorable, the days are the longest, and the waters are at their warmest.
Summertime marks the peak fishing season on pretty much all of Pennsylvania’s major bodies of water . This includes the famed Lake Erie, the Susquehanna, Allegheny, and Youghiogheny Rivers, as well as the mighty Delaware River. So whether you’re looking to catch Bass, Catfish, Muskellunge, Walleye, or most other species that inhabit Pennsylvania’s waters, you can do so during summer.
Naturally, other fish have their own unique seasons. For example, while Trout can be caught year-round, their spring and fall runs are considered the best times to target them. Or, if you’re looking for trophy Musky, you’re more likely to see big ones bite during fall than in the summer. To find out more, check our monthly breakdown below, or see what’s biting in Pennsylvania at the moment.
January is the coldest month in Pennsylvania. If you’re keen on reeling in some fish at this time, remember to dress in layers. The average high temperature hovers around 38ºF, while the low average is 25.5ºF.
Depending on the particular season and which part of Pennsylvania you intend to go fishing in, some waters can be frozen while others could still be flowing. If you’d like to try your hand at ice fishing, hit lakes such as Parker, Justus, and Cloe and reel in some Trout, Bass, Panfish, and a few other species. Alternatively, try visiting Lake Wallenpaupack near Scranton. It’s one of the state’s best ice fishing lakes.
On the other hand, many rivers, especially the big ones, will still be flowing freely in January. The great part about river fishing during winter is that the fish are typically easier to locate. They’ll usually be lurking around calm, deep pools, near eddies, river bends, and creek mouths. The Susquehanna River, as well as the Delaware, offer plenty of Smallmouth Bass. The Allegheny River, on the other hand, will likely net you some winter Walleye.
Depending on the weather conditions, February can still be the prime time for ice fishing in Pennsylvania. We’ve already named a few lakes to explore in our January write-up, but those are not the only ones. Tionesta Lake, Presque Isle Bay, and Kahle Lake are all solid choices if you’re interested in catching Walleye, Northern Pike, Perch, and even the occasional Muskellunge.
If the weather gets too warm for ice fishing, that just means that river angling is going to be more favorable. Winter fishing on rivers is tricky when they’re flowing with ice. However, when the temperatures are higher than usual, the conditions improve, meaning you can get your fish on.
One thing to pay attention to is that many lakes, streams, and rivers are classified as “Trout-stocked waters.” These get closed for all fishing from February 21, until the opening day of Trout season, with some exceptions. Check out all the regulations regarding that here.
As the temperatures rise and the spring arrives in the Keystone State, the fishing will get better and better. After ice-out, many anglers hit Pennsylvania’s waters to try and catch their fill of Trout. As we previously mentioned, many lakes and rivers are closed for fishing until early April. However, you can still do some catch-and-release Trout fishing on Justus Lake, North Park Lake, and portions of the Susquehanna and Lehigh Rivers, to name a few.
Also, if you visit Erie – a city located on, you guessed it, Lake Erie – you’ll find some guides offering Steelhead trips. Provided that the weather conditions are favorable, March is a good time to fish this Great Lake’s watershed for these chrome beauties. You’ll be in for a real treat, as Steelhead are among the finest fighters you can encounter as a freshwater angler.
Of course, there are plenty of other species that’ll be biting along Pennsylvania’s rivers and lakes. Smallmouth Bass is an ever-popular choice for many anglers. There’ll also be Walleye, Northern Pike, Crappie, Muskellunge, and several other fish you can hook into. Some solid choices at this time include the Clarion and the Allegheny Rivers.
The beginning of April marks the opening of the long-awaited Trout possession season. This means that all the waters that were closed for fishing from late February will reopen again. Pennsylvania is home to some of the best Trout fishing out there. Besides the native Brook Trout, which are the state fish, you’ll get the opportunity to catch Rainbow and Brown Trout, as well as Lake Trout.
Thanks to the state’s extensive stocking program, you’ll find no shortage of these beautiful fish swimming around. Some of the major rivers and lakes where you can fish for Trout in Pennsylvania include Allegheny River and reservoir, Raystown Lake, Blue Marsh Lake, and Lehigh River. For Lake Trout, you’ll naturally want to head to Lake Erie.
If you find yourself in Philly around this time of year, try your hand at some spring Striper fishing along the Delaware River. The nearby Schuylkill River is also a fantastic option if you’re looking to catch some Shad, Bass, Sunfish, Perch, and even Catfish.
Most charter fishing captains on Pennsylvania’s portion of Lake Erie start their seasons in May. Join them at this time of year and you’ll get to reel in Lake Trout, as well as Smallmouth Bass, which like to lurk around Presque Isle Bay. While it’s not quite yet the best season to go for Lake Erie Walleye, you’ll still get the chance to catch them in May.
In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River and the Manayunk Canal are solid choices for anglers looking for some urban Bass fishing. You can catch both Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass in these waters, in addition to Bluegill, Perch, and several other fish. Of course, you can also fish the Delaware River for Striped Bass, Catfish, Pike, and even the occasional Walleye.
Elsewhere around the state, the Susquehanna River is teeming with Smallies. You’ll find available guides all along the river, from towns such as Towanda and Falls, all the way to Herndon and Harrisburg. Or, head to the Allegheny Reservoir, Lehigh, or Youghiogheny River, or any of the numerous creeks around the state and catch your fill of Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and more.
By June, the Walleye fishing on Lake Erie will be in full swing. The lake’s waters offer what’s arguably the finest Walleye action in the world. If you’re keen on catching a few fillets for dinner, look no further than Erie.
The conditions on the various rivers we’ve mentioned throughout this article so far are only improving. As the waters heat up, Muskellunge fishing gets hotter and hotter. Waters such as Keystone Lake are home to Tiger Musky. In addition to their striking looks, these fish are some of the most elusive and difficult to entice, presenting a challenge for freshwater anglers to revel in.
As for other species you can catch in June, there are, of course, Trout. Different insects hatch throughout May and June, bringing the fish close to the water surface, eager to feed. If you’re a fly angler, you know what this means – it’s high time to get on the water and try your luck.
The Trout action usually drops off during the heat of the summer. Of course, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to catch them at all. You’ll just have to be out there when they’re feeding, which is usually early in the morning and again in the evening. Also, choosing the right waters to fish is essential. You’ll have far better chances of reeling in Trout in cold feeder streams and deep lakes.
If you’re not itching for Trout, Walleye are a much better option during July. Simply hop aboard a Lake Erie fishing charter and you’re likely to come back to land with your full limit of these fish in tow. Alternatively, you can fish the Presque Isle Bay and reel in jumbo Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, and even Musky.
Bass fishing is on fire elsewhere around the state, too. The Susquehanna River remains a top fishing destination in the summer. Besides the ample Bass fishing the Susky offers, you’ll also get a shot at Musky and Catfish. On the Allegheny River, you’ll also find Smallies in good numbers.
On Lake Erie, the summer Walleye fishing is sometimes so good that it takes anglers only two or three hours to limit out. If you hop on a boat, your captain will usually take you to waters around 45 to 60 feet deep. Soon after you start trolling, you’ll be reeling in Walleye after Walleye.
Another spot where you can catch Walleye is the Pymatuning Reservoir, located on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. It’s known as the place “where the ducks walk on the fish,” because visitors like to throw bread along the spillway, attracting an incredible number of Carp and birds. Along the reservoir, you’ll also get the chance to reel in some Muskellunge.
If you’re looking for a multi-species adventure, try hitting Beltzville Lake around this time of year. It holds Striped and Largemouth Bass, Walleye, as well as plenty of Panfish. Alternatively, the nearby Pohopoco Creek and Aquashicola Creek can offer some nice summer Trout action.
As the waters start cooling down and the dog days of summer pass, many fly anglers return to the rivers in the hope of catching Trout. Aside from spring, fall is the best season to fish Pennsylvania’s rivers whether you’re looking to catch Brook, Brown, or Rainbow Trout. Visit Oil Creek, Yellow Breeches Creek, Spring Creek, or the scenic Youghiogheny River and you’ll get to enjoy some truly spectacular fishing.
For Smallmouth Bass, rivers such as the Allegheny or the Susquehanna are still the hotspots. If you’d like to catch some Yellow Perch or Striped Bass, try fishing Lake Wallenpaupack around this time of year. And if you’re near Philadelphia, fishing the Schuylkill River can net you some fall Musky.
On Lake Erie, you’ll still get to catch plenty of Walleye. By mid-September, you could even see Steelhead staging for their fall run up the tributary rivers and streams. Walnut Creek, which flows between Fairview and Erie is one of the spots where you can catch Steelhead. The streams in the area are great to explore, including Twenty Mile Creek, Sixteen Mile Creek, and Elk Creek.
The Steelhead fishing along the Lake Erie tributaries that began in September is now in full swing. On the lake itself, you’ll get the opportunity to catch some fall Lake Trout, as well as Smallmouth Bass and Yellow Perch. All in all, Lake Erie is definitely worth giving a shot even though the temperatures are dropping.
Trout fishing is great elsewhere around the state, too. Around October, many lakes get their fall Rainbow Trout stocks, which means there’ll be plenty of hungry fish in the water. You can access Pennsylvania’s Trout stocking schedule by downloading the app from the state’s website.
If you’re looking to catch some other species in addition to Trout, consider paying a visit to French Creek. There, you’ll get your shot at Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Muskellunge, and Northern Pike, to name a few. In fact, French Creek provides a habitat for over 80 different fish species. Amazing, right?
Depending on rainfall, water levels on certain rivers and streams could be high, making fishing difficult. If you still decide to head out, try fishing the river bends, slacks, and different covered areas where the fish like to hide.
If the weather favors you, Lehigh River, Aquashicola Creek, Mauch Chunk Creek, or Buckwa Creek, can all be good places to catch some Trout. Just remember that Trout spawn at this time of year, so if you go wading, make sure to watch your footing and avoid stepping on the redds.
On the other hand, Lake Erie still has fish on offer. Although November is quite far from the high season, you can actually catch some big Smallmouth Bass at this time of year. The tributary streams are also worth exploring, as you could still find some Steelhead swimming upriver.
Even though the winter season is starting, fishing is still excellent all over Pennsylvania. Among others, Beltzville Lake and Lake Wallenpaupack offer some nice Striped Bass action at this time of year. Musky fishing is also productive along waters such as Tionesta Lake and French Creek.
On the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers, you’ll get to catch some hungry Walleye as they prepare for the winter. In addition to that, the Susquehanna River offers some nice Bass fishing, while the Allegheny will give you a shot at Northern Pike. For Pickerel, you can give the Delaware River a try.
Finally, Trout fishing is still going strong even in December. It’s all about checking which waters have recently been stocked and making your way there. Some of the lakes you might want to visit include Lily Lake, Briar Creek Lake, and Lake Irena.
Pennsylvania: Where the Fishing Season Never Ends
For a willing angler, there’s no time of year that’s bad for fishing. This holds true in Pennsylvania, as each month has its own merits and its own share of fish for you to catch. The weather may deter you at times, but other than that there’s never a bad time to hit the water. Even on a slow day, you’ll be out there, surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery across the US. It’s what the Keystone State is all about.
If you’re considering Pennsylvania for your next fishing trip, there’s one more thing to cover – the regulations. It’s always good to get an idea of what you can fish for at the time of your trip, as it’ll help you set expectations and pick a location. You can check these online by visiting the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.
What’s your favorite fishing season in Pennsylvania? Which species do you enjoy targeting the most? Let us know in the comments below!