There may be no better way to spend a warm spring day in Pennsylvania than fishing for crappie. There’s just something about the crisp air, the gentle lap of the water, and the lively jolt of adrenaline when your float quickly disappears beneath the surface.
Crappies are among the most plentiful panfish in Pennsylvania. Lakes and reservoirs all over the state harbor both black and white crappie, and some waters are known for producing some impressive specimens.
Crappie fishing in Pennsylvania is by no means strictly a springtime activity. Keystone State anglers catch crappies through the ice in winter, along deep weed lines in summer, and among stump fields and brush in fall.
Crappies are always out there. It’s just a matter of tracking them down.
The following are the best Pennsylvania lakes for crappie fishing, whether you’re aiming to catch a few keepers for the table or out after some bragging-sized slabs.
Sprawling across the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio, Pymatuning Reservoir has a longstanding reputation as Pennsylvania’s best crappie lake (and quite possibly Ohio’s best crappie producer as well).
At approximately 17,000 acres, Pymatuning is the largest reservoir in either state.
Black crappies are more common than white crappie in Pymatuning, but both species are abundant. Incredible numbers of 10- to 14-inch crappies are caught here, along with some that are quite a bit bigger.
One of the things that stands out about Pymatuning Reservoir is that the crappie fishing kicks into gear really early. Almost as soon as the ice is gone in early April, you can start catching crappies from shallow cover.
That’s because the shallow, dark-bottomed bays along the northern shoreline of Pymatuning warm up very quickly. Early in the spring, warmer waters draw crappies, so these areas are like crappie magnets.
Some of the best places include Stewart Bay, the area behind Clark Island, and the entire stretch of shoreline around the Padanaram access area. Shallow stump fields in the north end of the lake—locals simply call this area “the stumps”—can also be excellent.
Early in spring, some of the main cover that attracts crappies are the stems of the previous year’s lily pads. As lily pads and milfoil beds start regrowing, these areas remain productive throughout May and June and sometimes well into July.
Casting small soft plastics is a great tactic. Another popular approach is “dipping” jigs and minnows into the heavy cover using a 10′ crappie pole. Pymatuning State Park offers multiple access points on the Pennsylvania side of the reservoir.
Shenango River Lake
Spanning 3,560 acres at normal pool, Shenango River Lake is a major crappie hotspot in Western Pennsylvania. It’s also one of the great multi-species lakes in this part of the state, often noted for its white bass and hybrid stripers, as well as catfish and muskies.
Where crappie are concerned, Shenango River Lake impresses with both numbers and size. On a good day, every fish you catch might be a keeper.
Most years, the crappie bite gets going a little later here than in other area lakes (Pymatuning Reservoir is a close neighbor). Expect to start catching solid numbers of crappies in shallow cover by late April.
The flip side is that local anglers often catch crappies well into summer. Shallow brush, trees, and weed beds produce throughout May. Even when the water warms up in June and July, the bite doesn’t stop. It just moves deeper.
Humps, ledges, and submerged cover in 12 to 20 feet of water provide great summer crappie action. The fish may move around, but there’s a lot of great structure in the middle portion of the lake. Vertical jigging with a 1-inch Sassy Shad-style jig is a popular tactic.
The water may be muddy at times, so also bring a few bladed baits like Roadrunner Jigs. The whole midsection of the lake, which includes the PA-18 causeway, the railroad bridge, and the Shenango Recreation Area campground and boat launch, is a great place to start.
Black and white crappies are both present in Shenango River Lake, but the black crappie are far more common. The most recent trap net survey conducted on the lake by the PA Fish & Boat Commission brought in 1,541 black crappies and 81 white crappies, with some of these panfish up to 16 inches.
The lake also is known by Shenango Lake or Shenango Reservoir.
Lake Arthur encompasses about 3,200 acres in West-Central Pennsylvania’s Butler County. It’s an excellent crappie and largemouth bass fishing lake, and you’ll often catch both species using minnows below a slip float on spring days.
Crappies start biting in shallow water not long after ice-out in early April. It’s common to catch mostly smaller fish for the first week or two, with more big fish joining them later in the month.
Anglers catch plenty of crappies over 14 inches every year. Sizes and numbers tend to be cyclical, but consistently strong year classes have kept the crappie fishery going strong in recent years. Black and white crappies are about equally common at Lake Arthur.
The PA Fish & Boat Commission has sunk a ton of fish-attracting structures in this lake, and this map showing their locations is very useful. Stake trees, porcupine cribs, and felled trees along the shoreline all offer prime crappie cover.
Crappies are usually caught in 6 feet of water or less in spring, often right in among the branches of trees and brush. Vertical jigging is often the most effective way to maximize bites and minimize snags.
Some of the best crappie spots are within sight of the two main boat launches.
The Bear Run Boat Ramp within Moraine State Park is a short drive from several productive coves and points, and the 528 Boat Launch farther up the lake is another excellent place to start.
Davis Point and Davis Hollow also offer some great fishing options. The docks at Davis Hollow Marina offer prime cover for crappies, and weed beds throughout the cove can be productive.
The Davis area is a great spring spot, and there’s often a bite here on summer evenings too.
The largest natural lake in Pennsylvania, Conneaut Lake was carved out by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. The lake spans 930 acres, with a maximum depth of about 60 feet.
Conneaut Lake produces some truly gigantic black crappie, and it’s also known for top-notch bass, panfish, and northern pike fishing.
In a 2019 trap net sampling, 98% of the crappies sampled were 9 inches or greater, and at least one measured in at a whopping 19 inches.
This lake offers plenty of shallow bays that provide classic spring crappie cover. Loads of crappies are caught in less than 6 feet of water throughout April and May.
But Conneaut Lake also stands out for its excellent summer and fall crappie fishing. In most lakes, crappies are harder to find this time of year, but Conneaut’s easily identifiable cover provides excellent options from August into September.
Look for crappies along the edges of deep coontail and cabbage beds around 10 to 12 feet during the warmest months.
Packs of crappies corral baitfish along weed edges in late summer and early fall. Places where a weed line intersects with a point or hard-bottomed hump can be the best spots.
Conneaut Lake goes through a turnover phase in October, after which crappies head to deeper water. But there is often a great bite on points and humps at 20-foot-plus depths going into November.
You’ll find a public boat ramp at Fireman’s Beach.
The lakes listed above represent the cream of the crop for Pennsylvania crappies most years, but they’re certainly not your only options. So be sure also to consider these honorable mention lakes.
Another great Western Pennsylvania crappie fishery, Lake Wilhelm is located in Mercer County, less than an hour’s drive from both Pymatuning Reservoir and Shenango River Lake.
While it falls a bit short of those heavy hitters, Wilhelm is still an excellent crappie destination.
This 1,724-acre impoundment has a tremendous population of both white and black crappies. Although it’s generally thought of more as a numbers lake than a trophy fishery, Lake Wilhelm also kicks out some serious slabs.
Two of the biggest crappies recognized by Pennsylvania’s Angler Award Program in 2021 came from Lake Wilhelm, including one that tipped the scales at a whopping 4 pounds and came within a few fractions of an ounce of beating the state record.
Lake Wilhelm is long and narrow. There’s a lot of excellent crappie cover in this lake, including downed trees and brush piles. The area right around Lake Wilhelm Marina offers excellent fishing, as do areas near the I-79 and Lake Wilhelm Road bridges.
Maurice K. Goddard State Park surrounds most of the lake. The park includes multiple boat ramps, bank fishing spots, and marina.
The area above I-79 is managed as a State Game Land and is closed to boats with gas-powered motors.
Lake Wilhelm is an excellent multi-species lake, including offering some of Pennsylvania’s best muskellunge fishing.
Blue Marsh Lake
Most of Pennsylvania’s best crappie lakes are concentrated in the western part of the state, but Blue Marsh Lakes represents one of the better options in Eastern Pennsylvania.
This 1,150-acre impoundment is located just outside of Reading in Bucks County.
Black crappie are abundant in Blue Marsh Lake, though numbers and sizes are highly cyclical. Fish in the 8- to 12-inch range are typical, but a particularly strong year class often leads to an abundance of bigger crappies a few years later.
As is often the case, spring is the best time to target crappies in Blue Marsh Lake. The lake’s shoreline is primarily wooded and almost entirely undeveloped. The Fish & Boat Commission has deliberately felled trees along the banks to provide cover for crappies and other fish.
Ice fishing is also popular in January and February. The best ice fishing for crappie is usually in the upper end of the reservoir, around the Old Church Road bridge and the confluence of Spring Creek.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Blue Marsh Lake. The agency also maintains recreational facilities around the lake. Anglers also find parking just off Old Church Road, and three boat launch sites are available.
If the crappies aren’t cooperating, gear up a bit with some bait on the bottom and enjoy some of the better catfish fishing in Pennsylvania.
Joseph Foster Sayers Lake
Joseph Foster Sayers Lake (often called Sayers Lake for short) is a 1,730-acre flood control impoundment in Central Pennsylvania. It’s an outstanding bass and panfish lake known for its abundant crappie populations.
April through June offer excellent crappie fishing in shallow cover, and there’s a great fall bite here too. However, summer fishing can be challenging largely because of heavy boat traffic between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Anglers do well to locate a ton of artificial fish habitat structures in Joseph Foster Sayers Lake, including post clusters, porcupine cribs, and spider humps. The PA Fish & Boat Commission has published a map of their locations, which is a great tool for anglers.
You can expect to catch predominantly black crappies, perhaps with a few white crappies in the mix. Trophy-sized fish are rare, but Sayers Lake produces great numbers of keepers in the 10- to 13-inch range.
A lot of the best spring crappie fishing is in the upper end of the reservoir, and kayak fishing can be a great way to explore this area early in the year before the boat traffic gets out of control.
Bald Eagle State Park provides access to the lake.
Presque Isle Bay (Lake Erie)
Presque Isle Bay is an incredible breeding ground for just about every species of game fish that calls Lake Erie home, and crappies are no exception.
The bay covers about 3,700 acres and is mostly encircled by a long, hook-shaped peninsula.
The winter months are a favorite time to target crappies on Presque Isle Bay. Safe ice usually forms by early to mid-January.
Once the bay thaws in spring, there’s excellent crappie fishing in the backwater areas along the north shore of Presque Isle Bay. Crappies seek warmer conditions in Misery Bay, Horseshoe Pond, and Marina Lake in April. They also spawn here in May.
Targeting docks, brush, weed edges, and woody cover like old pilings is productive throughout spring.
By summer, crappies roam deeper parts of the bay and are harder to find, but there’s often a good bite right around sundown along deeper weed edges.
Presque Isle State Park is located on the peninsula between Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie and offers a wealth of access for anglers, including boat launch facilities, fishing piers, and bank access.
Cross Creek Lake
About an hour from Pittsburgh in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Cross Creek Lake is a small 244-acre impoundment that offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass and panfish.
It’s not a trophy lake, but there are significant numbers of black and white crappies here. Expect to catch mostly keepers measuring up to 12 inches.
Many small coves notch the shoreline of Cross Creek Lake, all of which have potential in springtime.
Other than parks and boat launches, there’s no development along the shore of Cross Creek Lake. Most of the lake’s coves have trees and bushes growing right down to the water, and shoreline cover is outstanding from mid-April through May.
Anglers catch crappies in coves by casting close to the banks with small jigs, soft plastic jerkbaits, and swimbaits throughout the spring. And, of course, an old-fashioned minnow under a float works too.
These coves are still productive by June, but the fish transition to deeper weed edges.
Plan to launch at Cross Creek County Park. A Washington County launch permit is required.
The relatively small size of Cross Creek Lake, along with its abundance of nearshore cover, makes it a great kayak fishing lake.
Catch More Crappie
Still learning how to catch crappies? Check out our simple how-to guide with all the best crappie fishing techniques and tips.