When the cold winter winds start to blow across Pennsylvania, ice-fishing fanatics know their favorite season is on the way.
The length of the ice fishing season varies by latitude and elevation, but most years bring good conditions from late December to early March in the northern part of the state. The season might be slightly shorter farther south, but January and February provide plenty of safe ice.
Pennsylvania offers not just an abundance of ice fishing options but also a great variety. Traditional ice fishing targets like perch, walleye, and crappie are widespread throughout the state, but they’re not your only options.
If you’re in the mood to jig up some rainbow trout through the ice, you have plenty of opportunities to do so. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are common winter catches too, and some anglers set their tip-ups for bigger game like pike, pickerel, and even muskellunge.
Whatever your fish of choice may be, you have a more-than-fair shot at catching it at one of these great Pennsylvania ice-fishing lakes.
Pennsylvania’s Top Ice Fishing Lakes
Presque Isle Bay (Lake Erie)
When it comes to catching big perch through the ice, Presque Isle Bay is impossible to beat. This sheltered, 3,700-acre embayment on Lake Erie produces bigger perch than just about anywhere in the state, and lots of them.
Yellow perch weighing over a pound routinely are caught here. Most anglers catch them using small leadhead jigs or jigging spoons tipped with emerald shiners. Soft plastics like Ratso jigs are also popular, along with the smallest size Jigging Rapalas.
Tremendous numbers of yellow perch enter Presque Isle Bay every fall, and some of the best ice action is early in the season. As soon as safe ice has formed, anglers catch perch in deep channel basin leading into the bay.
Perch gradually spread out onto the bay’s extensive flats as winter progresses, becoming trickier to locate. Schools are often on the move, but there’s a reliable bite from late afternoon into the evening most days.
The last safe ice of the season also offers a great opportunity, as perch are feeding heavily this time of year in preparation for the spawn. Most years, anglers catch the biggest perch during the second half of February.
In addition to perch, Presque Isle Bay offers a wide range of other species, including some big northern pike.
In addition, panfish like bluegill, crappie, and pumpkinseed sunfish are common in backwater areas like Misery Bay, Marina Lake, and the Stink Hole, which are accessible through Presque Isle State Park.
Some big Lake Erie steelhead also cruise the bay in winter and are known to take perch anglers by surprise. Nothing gives you a run for your money quite like a 10-pound steelhead on light ice fishing tackle.
A picturesque reservoir that spans a little over 3,200 acres in Western Pennsylvania, Lake Arthur is a quality fishery for a variety of warm water species, including panfish as well as northern pike, walleye and largemouth bass.
Ice anglers catch all of the above, and while the fish populations here are often noted more for size rather than numbers, there are still plenty of fish to keep you occupied. For example, a 2022 electrofishing survey revealed an abundance of bluegills, with some measuring up to 9 inches.
Black and white crappies are also common, averaging an impressive 11 inches.
Drilling multiple holes and trying more than one presentation is a great way to maximize your catch on Lake Arthur.
Try jigging with tiny spoons and teardrop jigs on an ultralight setup for panfish. Tipping your lures with a grub (for bluegill) or a minnow (for crappie) will help tempt more bites.
Live minnows on tip-ups near the bottom often prove more tempting for larger, toothier fish like walleye and pike, and there’s no rule that says you can’t let a baitfish or two soak while you’re jigging for panfish.
Moraine State Park surrounds Lake Arthur and offers ample access, including numerous boat ramps and fishing sites. The Porters Cove Boat Ramp is a good place to access its namesake finger of the lake, while the Muddy Creek Arm—arguably the most popular area for ice fishing—has multiple ramps and parking areas.
Anglers searching for big fish often find themselves at Allegheny Reservoir, a 12,000-acre lake that straddles the New York/Pennsylvania border. Also known as Kinzua, the reservoir is one of the top spots in PA for walleye and northern pike.
Allegheny Reservoir has produced state records for both species, along with massive muskies and catfish. You never quite know what you’ll pull up through the ice here, but drill a good-sized hole just in case.
Most anglers who fish Allegheny Reservoir regularly don’t bother with rods and reels. Instead, tip-ups are the method of choice here. It’s common for anglers to set as many as five tip-ups (the most you can legally use in Pennsylvania) at various depths.
Allegheny Reservoir has steep terrain, with rocky, cliff-like banks dropping swiftly into deep water. These contours make it easier to set multiple tip-ups at varying depths fairly close together.
Try to get a good spread ranging from 5 to 30 feet deep, focusing on prominent structures like boulders and ledges as much as possible.
Set your bait about 18 inches off the bottom as a general rule, but consider setting one just a few feet below the surface for suspending pike.
Emerald shiners measuring 4 to 6 inches are the preferred bait and are widely available at area bait shops. If you start to see a pattern in which you keep getting bites at a particular depth, shift your focus to multiple lines within a similar depth range.
Webbs Ferry is a popular access point on the east side of the lake, along with Willow Bay on the west side. Allegheny National Forest provides multiple places to get on the ice. However, expect to do some walking as forest roads are less maintained in the winter.
High Point Lake
Often considered to be one of the best pike fishing lakes in Pennsylvania, High Point Lake is located about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh. It gets its name from the nearby peak of 3,213-foot Mount Davis, the highest point in the Commonwealth.
High Point Lake spans 338 acres, and its relatively small size makes it a fairly easy lake to pattern.
There are a couple of deep (15- to 18-foot) holes within easy walking distance of the South Access Boat Launch, which is the most popular spot to get on the water.
While anglers may catch big pike in deep water through the ice, they’re often surprisingly shallow, especially early in the season. But setting tip-ups at multiple levels is a great tactic to pinpoint the right depth.
Pike are much more likely than other species to suspend, so try setting your minnows about 4 feet below the ice, even in deep water. Shiners, suckers, chubs, and other baitfish ranging from 4 to 6 inches are perfect.
Pike typically weigh up to 10 pounds, but some are even bigger.
High Point Lake is also an excellent largemouth bass lake and often produces some of Pennsylvania’s biggest bass. It’s common to catch largemouths up to 5 pounds through the ice.
Perch, crappie and bluegill are also available, so it doesn’t hurt to bring a jigging rod while your tip-ups await a strike.
The Fish & Boat Commission has sunk a variety of fish habitat structures throughout High Point Lake, and a map of their locations is available here.
A tiny, 67-acre lake in Tioga County, Beechwood Lake is known for being one of the best ice-fishing lakes in the north-central part of the state. The main attraction here is catching rainbow trout through the ice.
The Fish & Boat Commission stocks rainbow trout here multiple times each year, including December and February stockings that provide plenty of fish to keep hard-water anglers happy.
The lake is far enough north that there’s a solid ice fishing season here, even during warm winters.
The best trout fishing often is in the lake’s deeper northeastern end. The lake’s shoreline is mostly undeveloped, and the public access site at the east end of the lake on Beechwood Road is where most anglers start.
Trout tend to cruise along the transition from deep to shallow water, looking for food. Drilling your first hole over shallow water and then working your way deeper until you start getting bites is a good tactic.
Small jigging spoons are effective for targeting rainbows through the ice. Tipping the lure with maggots, mealworms, corn, Trout Nibbles, or small baitfish can make it even more effective. Vary the intensity of your jigging motion until you figure out what works on any given day.
In addition to stocked trout, Beechwood Lake also supports healthy populations of warm-water fish including bluegill, black crappie, chain pickerel, and walleye, which are more commonly caught toward the opposite end of the lake.
One of Pennsylvania’s largest lakes, 5,700-acre Lake Wallenpaupack is a fishing powerhouse in the Pocono Mountains east of Scranton. It’s a tremendous multi-species lake where you can reasonably expect just about anything to be at the end of your line.
Come here willing to catch whatever bites, and you’ll likely leave happy. Panfish are popular, and lots of 12-inch perch are pulled up through the ice every winter, along with some chunky bluegill and crappie.
It takes a long time for safe ice to form on the main lake. Therefore, for most of the season, anglers focus their ice fishing on the coves, where panfish are abundant, and shelter from the wind allows the water to freeze more quickly.
Lake Wallenpaupack also produces some big walleye and has a healthy population of pickerel. These predators are known for snatching minnows under tip-ups, especially in areas where green vegetation persists through the winter.
One of the unique opportunities here is catching striped bass through the ice. The Fish & Boat Commission has been stocking stripers here for many years, and some anglers catch them on main lake points once safe ice allows them to do so.
Chicken livers and cut bait often tempt stripers near the bottom. Some anglers also jig for stripers using spoons and Jigging Raps, though bites can be slow.
Lake Wallenpaupack has a wealth of public access, so anglers have no trouble finding places to get on the water. Wilsonville Campground, Ironwood Point, and Caffrey Recreation Area are all great options.
Canoe Creek Lake
Canoe Creek Lake is a 155-acre impoundment in Central Pennsylvania’s Blair County. It’s a healthy two-story fishery that supports warm-water species like bass and panfish along with trout.
Though the lake is just 22 feet at its deepest point, it is fed by two cold water streams, allowing it to support trout year-round. The Fish & Boat Commission has stocked rainbow and brown trout here, and many of them overwinter to reach impressive sizes.
Trout anglers often set up multiple tip-ups with small minnows at various depths. The deeper west end of the lake generally has better trout fishing, but these fish move around a lot, including into just a few feet of water.
Jigging can be effective too, but it pays to stay mobile. More so than other species, trout are likely to use the entire water column during winter, so be sure to work your jig from top to bottom before giving up on a spot.
Largemouth bass and panfish are also common, and there’s a lot of great cover for them in shallow water. The PA Fish & Boat Commission offers this map of fish habitat structures placed in Canoe Creek Lake, which can be a big help when looking for productive spots.
Canoe Creek Lake’s biggest residents are muskellunge, stocked here for decades. Few ice anglers target them, but anglers have landed fish over 40 inches. Large minnows and suckers are the best bet if you’re after muskies.
The lake is located within Canoe Creek State Park, providing excellent ice anglers access. Boat launches at the east and west ends of the lake are ideal spots to park and walk out onto the ice.
Shohola Marsh Reservoir
There’s something to be said for getting well off the beaten path, and that’s precisely what Northeast Pennsylvania’s Shohola Marsh Reservoir offers. Despite excellent fishing, this 1,100-acre lake in the Poconos is often overshadowed by nearby Lake Wallenpaupack.
Shohola Marsh Reservoir also remains under the radar due to a lack of bank fishing access. Save for a pair of minimalist boat ramps on the north and east shores of the lake, the mostly-undeveloped shoreline is made up of marshes managed as State Game Lands for waterfowl.
Winter can be the easiest time to get out on the water, and Shohola Marsh Reservoir freezes up tight every year. Largemouth bass are abundant, and anglers will find some of the best pickerel fishing in the state here.
Anglers commonly catch pickerel measuring 24 inches through the ice. Live minnows are the bait of choice. Minnows and jigging spoons also account for a lot of largemouths between 15 and 18 inches.
Most of Shohola Marsh Reservoir is very shallow. Only a small portion of the lake, along the original creek channel near the north shore, is more than 4 feet deep. Areas right around the channel provide the most consistent bite.
The reservoir supports prolific weed growth, which provides fish habitat all winter long. Panfish, including bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and crappie, are also abundant, though they tend to run small.
Hopewell & Scotts Run Lakes
One of the best bets for safe ice and consistently good ice fishing in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Hopewell Lake is a 68-acre impoundment within the picturesque French Creek State Park.
Many species are available to anglers here, but panfish are the primary targets. Hopewell Lake produces a lot of thick, healthy bluegills, as well as both black and white crappies. Bass, pickerel, walleye, and muskies are out there too.
The lake offers excellent ice fishing just a short drive from Philadelphia and gets quite a bit of attention on winter weekends. There’s easy access toward the shallower west end of the lake through the state park.
Walking out toward the east end of the lake is a great way to beat the crowds and get to some deeper water (about 18 feet max), but fishing in the shallower west end of the lake tends to be more consistent.
Big bluegills almost always bite in the shallows, and it’s much easier to fish tiny ice jigs tipped with wax worms in less than 8 feet of water. There’s plenty of vegetation in this part of the lake, so try to position your hole right above a gap in the weeds.
Try a larger jig or live minnow if you’re out after bass or pickerel.
Hopewell Lake usually freezes fairly consistently, but before the ice is ready early in the season, try neighboring Scotts Run Lake.
Also within French Creek State Park, Scotts Run Lake spans just 28 acres, and it freezes before Hopewell most years. This smaller lake is managed as a cold-water fishery and stocked with brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
Catch More Fish
Now you know WHERE to go ice fishing in Pennsylvania. If you’re relatively new to this sport, you also want a few more pointers about HOW. We have a simple guide to the best ice fishing techniques as well as safety tips to make your outing as enjoyable as possible.