Muskellunge have a mystique that few freshwater fish can match. Massive, mysterious fish armed with mouthfuls of needle-sharp teeth, they’re at the top of the food chain wherever they swim.
Capable of topping 50 pounds and measuring up to 60 inches, muskies inhabit lakes and rivers throughout the Mississippi River watershed, the Great Lakes region and much of Canada.
In Pennsylvania, they’re native to the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds in the northwestern part of the state. They’ve also been stocked in numerous other waters across the state by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
Today, anyone who lives in PA is within a couple hours’ drive of a quality muskie fishing lake.
Of course, that doesn’t mean catching them is easy. Many first-time muskie anglers walk away disappointed, and even seasoned anglers might spend years targeting a trophy-caliber muskellunge before they manage to land one.
If that’s what you aim to do, the lakes and rivers listed here offer your best opportunities to catch a muskie (or musky, if you like). But just how does one go about finding and catching the fish of a lifetime?
How to Catch Muskies
It’s worth noting that, despite their fearsome appearance, muskellunge aren’t as fierce or aggressive as they might initially seem. They’re likely to be scared away by excessive splashing and boat noise, so keep in mind that stealth is your friend.
Another way to put the odds in your favor is to use the appropriate tackle. Heavy-weight 8- to 8.5-foot casting rods and reels spooled with 50-pound test line are the tools of the trade for most muskie anglers.
The best baits may vary depending on which of the lakes or rivers on our list you plan to visit. Various plugs, jerkbaits, soft plastics, jigs and spinners ranging from 6 to 10 inches long can trigger a strike.
Pennsylvania’s longstanding state record muskellunge, weighing 54-pound, 3 ounce and measuring 57 inches, was caught in 1924. If there’s a new record out there, chances are it’s in one of these waters…
4 Favorite Muskie Spots in PA
Meandering across 325 miles of Pennsylvania (and a little bit of New York), the Allegheny River is a headwater stream that feeds the Ohio River.
The Allegheny is one of Pennsylvania’s most heavily fished rivers, but most of the pressure is on walleye, sauger and smallmouth bass.
Despite—or perhaps because of—this lack of pressure, muskellunge are abundant here. Or, at least, they’re about as abundant as a creature known as the “fish of 10,000 casts” ever gets.
Muskies are native to the Allegheny River. Although today’s population has been strongly propped up through stocking by the PA Fish & Boat Commission, natural reproduction does occur.
There aren’t many places in the state that provide a wilder river muskie fishing experience.
For the sake of clarity, the Allegheny River can be divided into three sections. The Upper Allegheny is the part that lies mostly in New York, above Allegheny Reservoir. There are some muskies here, but the fishing is better downriver.
The Middle Allegheny extends from Allegheny Reservoir’s Kinzua Dam down to Allegheny River Lock & Dam 9 near East Brady. This 125-mile stretch is entirely free-flowing, and offers remarkable muskie fishing.
Some of the best fishing and easiest access in this section is immediately below Kinzua Dam (within Allegheny National Forest) but there are deep pools that hold muskies throughout the entire stretch.
Target bridge pilings, fallen logs and other current breaks leading into deep pools.
The best times to fish are midsummer, when the river is low and easy to wade, and late fall, when some of the biggest fish of the year are caught leading up to winter. The dam outflow regulates the water temperature, keeping it fishable year-round.
Jerkbaits like a 7.5-inch Phantom Softail are favored among most local muskie chasers. There are even some who fly-fish for muskellunge here, using 10 weight rods, 40 pound test wire leaders and bulky 12-inch-long streamers.
The Lower Allegheny River, from Lock & Dam 9 downriver to Pittsburgh, also offers some great muskellunge opportunities. Deep pools immediately below each of the river locks are most productive.
Far from here, the upper Allegheny River is among the best trout fishing rivers in Pennsylvania.
Straddling the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio, 17,088-acre Pymatuning Reservoir is a vast but mostly shallow impoundment. It was created in 1934 with the completion of a dam on the Shenango River, flooding a large area of swampland that is now the reservoir.
Pymatuning is one of the most reliable producers of trophy muskellunge in both states it touches. In 2021, two of the five biggest muskies recognized by Pennsylvania’s Angler Award Program were caught here.
A 50-inch muskellunge is the fish of a lifetime on any water, and Pymatuning Reservoir has yielded several.
Pymatuning’s shallow, murky, extremely fertile waters have a lot to do with its relative abundance of muskellunge. The reservoir’s nutrient-loaded waters support prolific gizzard shad, alewives, spottail shiners and suckers, all of which make a perfect meal for a hungry muskie.
And the shallowness of the reservoir—35 feet at its deepest point but just 15 feet on average—means it’s easier here to get your lure in front of a muskie’s face than it is in most lakes.
The reservoir is divided into two basins by the Espyville-Andover Causeway. The upper basin is generally shallow and muddy, while the lower basin contains the lake’s deepest water. As a general rule, the upper basin fishes best in spring, and the lower basin in summer.
You’ll find muskies in the shallow waters of the upper basin shortly after ice-out in late March and early April. The shoreline between Padanaram, OH and Linesville, PA is notched with multiple shallow bays, many of them protected from the main lake by islands.
There’s some great shallow habitat in the lower basin too, especially in the area just north of Stacker Island. This portion of the lake also offers several underwater humps that are great in summer.
Numerous access points are available on both the Ohio and Pennsylvania portions of Pymatuning Reservoir. One of the most popular in PA is Pymatuning State Park.
Lake Wilhelm is located in Western Pennsylvania’s Mercer County, less than 20 miles from Pymatuning Reservoir. This 1,724-acre lake offers a smaller, quieter alternative to its massive neighboring impoundment.
But as we all know, there isn’t always a correlation between big water and big fish. Lake Wilhelm produced the biggest officially-recognized muskie in Pennsylvania for 2021, a 50-inch beast weighing 40 pounds.
Mostly shallow with a maximum depth of just 23 feet, Lake Wilhelm is long and narrow, with the deepest water at its easternmost end. Abundant white suckers and panfish make up the core of muskies’ forage base.
Lake Wilhelm is surrounded by Maurice K. Goddard State Park, which provides multiple boat launch facilities and a lot of excellent bank access.
Muskellunge are most likely to be in shallow water in early spring, and this is one of the best lakes for shore-bound anglers to catch one.
Casting toward near-shore rock piles and laydowns can sometimes bring about a strike first thing in the morning. You’ll also find an extensive stump field toward the shallow westerly end of Lake Wilhelm.
There’s great fishing in summer too, especially around drop-offs and deeper structure. Target the deeper edges of the lake’s prolific milfoil beds, or troll open water.
Most of Lake Wilhelm has a 20 hp limit on outboard motors. But a portion of the lake lies within State Game Lands, and this area is only open to non-motorized craft, making it the most under-fished area of the lake.
Lake Wilhelm is managed as a brood stock lake for muskellunge by the PA Fish & Boat Commission, and all muskies caught in the lake between April 1 and May 31 must be released.
The Susquehanna River is second only to the Allegheny for Pennsylvania anglers in search of river monsters. Though muskellunge were stocked here until 2017, the current fishery is supported entirely by natural reproduction.
The Susquehanna flows north-to-south through the entirety of East-Central Pennsylvania. It starts in New York, eventually traversing 444 miles by the time it reaches the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
Muskellunge inhabit areas throughout almost the entire river. However, the most productive waters are in the North Branch of the Susquehanna, from the New York state line to the point where it merges with the West Branch to form the Susquehanna’s main stem in Northumberland, PA.
The North Branch offers every type of habitat muskies need, including shallow, weedy areas that serve as nurseries for juvenile muskies.
Bigger fish are more often caught in deep pools. Muskies thrive in rivers, but they avoid strong current and gravitate instead toward deep areas where the current is weaker.
Besides pools, muskies also can be found in side channels, backwaters, and current breaks downstream from river islands.
You have a reasonable shot at a 40-plus inch muskie in the North Branch of the Susquehanna. Massive jigs dressed with oversized soft plastics (think 7- to 9-inch jerkbaits) are the lures of choice.
Spring is most likely time to get a muskie on the hook, but the biggest fish are usually caught from November into January. Muskies are stocking up for winter this time of year, and a big one will often strike anything that looks edible.
The North Branch Susquehanna is usually very wadeable from late spring into fall, and is also navigable by canoe or kayak.
In fact, this whole stretch is part of the Susquehanna Water Trail, which includes dozens of access sites for small craft as well as shore fishing and wading.
The Susquehanna River also is legendary for excellent smallmouth bass fishing, so take along a lighter rod and smaller lures for some nearly sure-thing action if those muskies aren’t cooperating.
Pennsylvania offers quite a few additional muskie lakes and rivers that narrowly miss out on attaining “best of the best” status of those listed above.
But we suggest you don’t ignore these honorable mention lakes! A 50-inch muskie could very well be lurking in almost any of them.
Nestled amid the rolling countryside of Butler County, 3,225-acre Lake Arthur offers 42 miles of shoreline and excellent trophy muskie potential. Access is available through Moraine State Park.
Fish & Boat Commission surveys have repeatedly found trophy-caliber muskellunge in the 45- to 50-inch range in Lake Arthur, as well as healthy populations of smaller fish.
Moreover, lots of fish measuring in the 30s have been captured, suggesting the long-term health of the fishery is good.
An exploding population of invasive gizzard shad are no doubt keeping the smaller muskies fed, and it helps that Lake Arthur is stocked with fingerling muskies every year.
This is a man-made reservoir with numerous bays, creek arms and coves. Trolling for muskellunge is usually the best option here, especially along main lake points in summer. In spring and fall, focus on shallow water in the bays.
Lake Arthur is also known for being an excellent ice fishing lake. Walleye and northern pike are more common than muskellunge, but a few monstrous muskies have been caught through the ice using live suckers on tip-ups during February.
Lake Arthur also is among the best largemouth bass fishing lakes and the best striped bass fishing lakes in Pennsylvania, and bass anglers may occasionally find themselves with more fish than they bargained for if a muskie engulfs their lure.
Muskellunge fishing is never a numbers game. And at Allegheny Reservoir, it’s really not a numbers game. At this large Allegheny River Impoundment that spills over the New York state line, any day a muskie takes the bait is a good day.
That might not sound all that promising, but Allegheny Reservoir is also known for producing truly gigantic muskellunge. If Pennsylvania’s century-old state record is ever broken, there’s a good chance it will happen here.
Allegheny Reservoir is deep, and its waters are typically moderately stained. The reservoir is dominated by steep, cliff-like banks that plummet into deep water.
The reservoir has two main arms in Pennsylvania: the main Allegheny River arm and the Kinzua Creek arm.
Both arms offer great muskie options, and trolling is the most reliable way to find fish. Look for schools of baitfish, and troll large muskie plugs around the outskirts of the school.
Northern pike are quite common in Allegheny Reservoir, which may account, at least in part, for lower muskie numbers. Use oversized lures if you’re after trophy muskellunge and don’t want to mess with pike, or downsize to take advantage of the multi-species fishery.
In 2020, a muskellunge measuring 53.5 inches and weighing 40 pounds, 14 ounces was caught from Tionesta Lake. It was one of the largest muskellunge (and longest fish of any kind) caught in Pennsylvania in recent memory.
Tionesta Lake is a 500-acre reservoir set among the rugged hills and valleys of Northwest Pennsylvania. Given its relatively small size, Tionesta Lake punches well above its weight class when it comes to kicking out big muskies.
Many of Tionesta’s banks are rocky and quite steep, and although the lake is not especially deep, its bottom drops off quickly. Aquatic vegetation is sparse, and most anglers connect with muskies by trolling at various depths along the drop-offs.
Use lures that mimic the local forage, namely yellow perch and redhorse suckers. Plugs work well for trolling, but don’t hesitate to try casting with an oversized soft jerkbait or bucktail spinner.
Shore access on Tionesta Lake is limited by its steep banks, but a Corps of Engineers Recreation Area on the shoreline provides camping and boat access.
There also is good bank access on the Tionesta outflow below the dam, and some big muskies have been caught here too.
The Monongahela River suffers from a public image issue. Decades ago, it was known as one of Pennsylvania’s most polluted waterways, contaminated with everything from pesticides to coal mine runoff. It was a mess.
But the river has been cleaned up significantly, and most fish species, muskies included, have bounced back in a big way.
Some of the best muskie water in “the Mon” is right around the area where it crosses into Pennsylvania from West Virginia.
But there are great opportunities farther downriver too, right down to the point where the Monongahela meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in Pittsburgh.
Throughout its course in Pennsylvania, the Monongahela River is tightly controlled by a series of locks and dams. The pools created by each lock and dam essentially resemble small lakes, and many have productive weed beds, gravel bars and tributary mouths that hold muskies.
The Maxwell Pool, which extends from the Grays Landing Lock and Dam downriver to the Maxwell Lock and Dam, is an especially productive stretch. The industrial landscape surrounding the river takes getting used to, but there are 40-inch-plus muskies to be caught.
Monongahela River’s other fisheries are rebounding as well, and it makes our list as one of the best places to catch catfish in Pennsylvania.
Most of Pennsylvania’s best muskie lakes are concentrated in the northwest corner of the state. But Lake Marburg is a real standout in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and has yielded multiple muskies in the 50-inch class.
Lake Marburg is a 1,275-acre reservoir best known as a trophy bass lake (it also offers pretty good pike action, for what it’s worth). But the Fish & Boat Commission has been stocking muskellunge almost every year for many years.
At this point, pure strain muskellunge and tiger muskies (sterile hybrids of muskellunge and northern pike) are both fairly common, You have a decent shot at battling a muskie measuring 40-plus inches, and tigers in the 30s.
White perch and gizzard shad are the main forage, and a lure in some variation of white or silver does a pretty good job mimicking either.
An oversized deep-diving Rapala Shad Rap is a good choice for summer trolling. For casting, try the biggest Rat-L-Trap you can get your hands on.
Access to Lake Marburg is available through Codorus Lake State Park, which completely surrounds the lake and provides multiple boat launches and bank fishing access sites.
In a list dominated by man-made reservoirs (and a few major rivers) Lake LeBoeuf stands out by being the only natural lake to rank among Pennsylvania’s best muskie hotspots.
It also stands out by being tiny. This 70-acre speck in Northwest Pennsylvania’s Erie County has found its place in the legend and lore of early Pennsylvania muskellunge fishing, and tall tales of big fish from a century ago still persist.
The muskies themselves still persist too. The Fish & Boat Commission stocks a few hundred fingerlings in Lake Leboeuf every year, some of which grow up to become giants measuring well past the 40-inch mark.
Lake Leboeuf is an open system lake, with an inlet and outlet stream that flows freely without any dams or other impediments. Muskies gather in shallow areas near the inlet every spring as water temperatures inch toward the 50-degree mark.
Several species of suckers, including silver redhorse and quillback carpsucker, provide forage for muskies. Live suckers are popular as bait, and large, silvery lures with a splash or red or orange seem to do well.
A small reservoir that spans just 253 acres, Lake Somerset is located well off the beaten path in Southwest Pennsylvania’s Somerset County. It’s a great spot for muskellunge as well as tiger muskies.
Lake Somerset’s small size makes it a very approachable lake for anglers in small boats. Only electric trolling motors are permitted.
It also has excellent shore access, making it one of PA’s better muskie options for bank fishing.
Gizzard shad, gold shiners and various panfish are available as forage, so anglers can find success fishing with a variety of colors and patterns. April and early May are great times to find muskellunge in shallow water.
Lake Somerset is owned and managed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, which maintains several boat launch and bank access sites along the shore. Pure strain and tiger muskies have historically been stocked during alternating years.
Lake Somerset was drawn down significantly in 2019 to allow repairs to the dam’s spillway. The lake was re-filled and re-stocked between 2021 and 2022.
Although it may take a few years to fully return to peak condition, increased vegetation is likely to make muskie fishing better than ever.