Northern pike might just be the most underappreciated of Pennsylvania’s game fish. Often as not, pike are caught by mistake by bass anglers, or even seen as a nuisance by those fishing for muskellunge.
That’s a shame, because northern pike are beautiful fish, ferocious fighters, and capable of reaching sizes in excess of 30 pounds.
Fish of that stature are rare in Pennsylvania—rare anywhere, really—but anglers in the Keystone State have an honest shot at northerns topping 15 pounds. A pike that size will give anyone a run for their money.
Northern pike inhabit lakes, ponds, marshes and slow-moving streams all over Pennsylvania. The greatest concentration of quality pike lakes is in the western part of the state, but these fish are fairly widely distributed.
Fishing for pike is permitted year-round in Pennsylvania, with a daily limit of two fish and a minimum length limit of 24 inches.
Pike are highly efficient predators, and they eat a wide range of smaller fish species.
They’re attracted to flash and vibrant colors, which is why the most effective baits for catching them tend to be aggressive lures like spinners, spoons and brightly-colored crankbaits.
Medium tackle and 10- to 15-pound test line are appropriate for pike fishing (their toothy jaws make short work of lighter lines).
Some anglers favor steel leaders while fishing for pike, while others feel that these leaders detract from the action of their lures.
Look for pike in and around aquatic vegetation. Smaller pike prefer water temperatures ranging from around 65 to 72 degrees, but you’ll usually find bigger fish in cooler water. Research suggests that the bigger pike get, the less tolerant they are of hot conditions.
Pennsylvania marks roughly the southern limit of the northern pike’s natural range in the United States. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, they become increasingly rare, but the PA lakes listed here offer outstanding pike fishing opportunities.
Also known as Kinzua, the Allegheny Reservoir is a massive impoundment on the Allegheny River that straddles the line between New York and Pennsylvania.
It’s given up some truly gargantuan pike over the years, including PA’s 35-pound state record in 2003.
There’s no place in the state that produces bigger pike, and although record-caliber giants are exceedingly rare, this is almost certainly the PA lake where you’re most likely to set your hooks into a 20-pounder.
Most fish run smaller, of course. Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission gill netting surveys have found pike in the 22- to 28-inch range to be particularly abundant here. But you never know when a true giant might take the bait.
Rocky points and steep shoreline drop-offs dominate Allegheny Reservoir, and the best pike fishing tends to be in the bays and backwaters. Aside from the spawning season, when pike will be in shallow water, trolling is usually the best bet.
Big pike are often caught during August and September on the reservoir. Local anglers troll between 5 and 25 feet of water using multiple lines. Steep drop-offs make it possible to troll vastly different depths within a small area.
Use your electronics to identify schooling baitfish, and troll with live minnows or minnow imitations just outside the school.
Casting with stickbaits and spinners is also effective, and some huge pike are hauled through the ice every winter using live suckers and chubs beneath tip-ups.
There are also a lot of pike in the stretch of the Allegheny River downstream from the Kinzua Dam outflow. Look for river pike in slackwater areas away from strong current, especially around grass beds and tributary mouths.
Allegheny Reservoir and portions of the river below the dam are located within Allegheny National Forest, which provides numerous points of access.
Though a fairly modest-sized lake at 925 acres, Conneaut Lake has the distinction of being the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania. It’s also a prolific pike lake, albeit one that’s better known for numbers than size.
Typical pike in this lake range from 20 to 30 inches, but there are bigger fish here too, including the possibility of a 15-pounder.
Conneaut Lake is nestled in the northwesternmost corner of Pennsylvania. Although its shoreline is highly developed, making bank fishing access scarce, the absence of horsepower restrictions make it a great place to fish from a boat.
Milfoil, coontail and various pondweeds grow prolifically throughout the summer in Conneaut Lake, forming vast submerged jungles that provide perfect ambush points for pike. Fishing along the edges of weed beds is highly effective in all seasons.
Try a skirted bass jig tipped with a soft plastic trailer along weed lines around 10 feet deep, or run a lipless crank over the tops of the weeds in areas where they stop 2 or 3 feet below the surface.
Some big fish are caught in summer, but the best season to target pike on Conneaut Lake is almost certainly fall.
Northern pike—especially big ones—aren’t comfortable at temperatures above the mid-60s. As the lake cools back down in September, big pike feed more heavily and return to shallower areas.
Conneaut Lake stratifies in summer and experiences a turnover event in October. The mixing of cold and warm waters throws the lake into disarray for a couple of weeks, but once it passes, there’s great pike fishing well into November.
Lake access is available at Fireman’s Beach. A fee is required to use the boat launch facilities, but kayaks and other small craft can be hand-launched free of charge.
Presque Isle Bay (Lake Erie)
Spanning 5.8 square miles, Presque Isle Bay is a large, shallow embayment connected to Lake Erie. It’s one of the best fishing spots in Pennsylvania for a wide range of species, including northern pike.
Presque Isle Bay is an outstanding early-season pike fishery.
With its shallow waters and dark, muddy bottom, the bay warms up much, much faster than the main body of Lake Erie in springtime. It’s one of the first places where fish wake up out of their winter doldrums.
There’s great fishing through the ice in winter too, but many local anglers await the period in late March or early April right after ice-out. It’s often chilly enough that you’ll have to clear ice out of your rod’s guides, but pike will almost certainly be active in the bay.
Look for them in any place where green vegetation has persisted through the winter.
The shallow, weedy marshes and ponds toward the northwestern end of the Presque Isle Bay offer some of the finest spring pike action, including the chance to tangle with trophy fish.
Of course, if bearing the bitter cold of early spring on the Lake Erie shoreline isn’t for you, there’s still a chance to catch pike in Presque Isle Bay once things warm up a bit. Some pike stay here year-round.
The deepest part of Presque Isle Bay is the channel that connects it to the main lake. If you’re here in summer, this is a good area to try. The best summer pike bite is right at the crack of dawn.
Live baitfish like creek chubs and suckers are the most successful bait, especially in winter and early spring, though a lipless crankbaits is often an effective alternative if choosing an artificial lure.
You’ll find boat launch facilities and ample bank access at Presque Isle State Park.
The fishing here also is great for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass fishing, and mixed catches of any of these aggressive predatory fish is possible.
High Point Lake
Contrary to a common misconception, High Point Lake is not the highest-elevation lake in Pennsylvania. It is, however, located a stone’s throw from Mount Baker, the highest point in the state, and spitting distance from the Maryland State Line.
High Point Lake is also a prolific pike lake. A man-made impoundment of 338 acres, High Point Lake is mostly known for its largemouth bass fishing. Anglers who tarket pike are likely to catch some of each.
There’s trophy pike potential here, and northerns approaching the 40-inch mark are occasionally brought to the boat. That said, you can expect many fish to be right around the 24-inch ‘keeper’ size.
Along with shallow stump fields and numerous shoreline laydowns, High Point Lake has an abundance of aquatic vegetation. Most pike are caught between 6 and 12 feet of water along weed edges.
There’s solid pike action here in every season, though summer is probably the hardest time to find quality fish.
It’s a small lake, and it warms significantly. That sends the biggest pike (and make no mistake, there are some big ones here) into shut-down mode during the dog days of summer.
There’s a great fall bite though. Lures with some flash, including spinnerbaits and in-line spinners, do well in High Point Lake’s stained waters.
This is also known as one of Southern Pennsylvania’s best ice fishing lakes. Live minnows account for many big pike brought up through the ice in February.
High Point Lake is state-owned, and is managed entirely as a public fishing lake.
There’s a state boat launch on the southern shore. Boats are limited to electric trolling motors and non-powered craft, making this a quiet lake where you can really get away from crowds.
An often-overlooked lake in Northwestern Pennsylvania, 90-acre Sugar Lake is a diverse warm water fishery that supports, among other things, a healthy and self-sustaining northern pike population.
Electrofishing and trap net surveys by the PA Fish & Boat Commission turned up several hefty pike despite not taking place during the ideal season, and bass anglers routinely find toothy northerns latched onto their spinnerbaits.
Sugar Lake is a natural lake with no dam. The waters tend to be slightly to moderately stained, and there’s plenty of healthy weed growth. Brightly-colored spinners, spoons and jerkbaits commonly tempt pike along the edges of weed lines.
This lake offers a solid shot at catching a pike in the 10- to 15-pound range. These fish spawn every April in marshy areas near Sugar Lake’s inlet stream, and some of the biggest individuals are caught immediately following the spawn.
In addition to northern pike, Sugar Lake is also a broodstock lake for muskellunge, and fishing for both species is strictly catch and release from April 1 through May 31.
Chain pickerel have also been introduced illegally into Sugar Lake, and often strike the same lures pike do.
The state boat ramp on the southwestern shore of Sugar Lake just off Lakeview Lane offers the only public bank fishing access on the lake. This is a great place to fish from a kayak or other small craft, and motorized craft are limited to 10 hp or less.
Most of Pennsylvania’s most productive pike lakes are in the western part of the state, but Lake Marburg offers some of the best pike fishing options in eastern PA. This 1,275-acre reservoir is completely encircled by Codorus State Park.
Pike in Lake Marburg are abundant and under-fished.
The lake also supports a great muskie population, which gets more attention. Anglers who would gladly battle a 36-inch muskie are just as likely to look upon a 36-inch pike with disappointment before returning it to the lake.
That being said, there are plenty of pike in this lake that measure over 30 inches and top 10 pounds. They often ambush their prey from near-shore brush piles and fallen trees, of which Lake Marburg has many.
Lake Marburg supports a tremendous population of white perch, which make up a significant part of pike and other large gamefish’s diet. Try tempting pike with silver/white spinnerbaits, soft jerkbaits and swimbaits.
Arguably the best pike fishing takes place when Lake Marburg is still covered in ice. Try live minnows or cut bait in Lake Marburg’s bays and coves during February.
The state park provides numerous access points on Lake Marburg, including several boat ramps. The main ramp, located just east of the productive Cattail Cove and Marburg Flats, is a great place to start.
Black Moshannon Lake
Located just a few miles from State College in Central Pennsylvania, Black Moshannon Lake is a small, wishbone-shaped lake that spans about 250 acres. It’s shallow, highly fertile, and supports a healthy pike population.
It’s a numbers game here. You have an outside shot at catching a 36-inch pike in Black Moshannon Lake, but fish that size aren’t common. But smaller pike (think 20 to 28 inches) are quite abundant.
Black Moshannon Lake is a unique bog-fed lake, and the dark, tea-colored waters that give it its name are stained by the tannins that leech out of the bog’s bountiful sphagnum moss. The lake is accessible through Black Moshannon State Park.
Try a spinnerbait or in-line spinner with gold blades. Gold shiners are a major component of pike’s diet in Black Moshannon Lake, and the gold-colored flash of the blades seems to look more natural in the deeply tannin-stained waters.
Canoes and kayaks are the most popular ways to explore this quiet, secluded lake, and there’s also plenty of shore access in the park. Ice fishing is productive in winter.
You’ll also find healthy populations of chain pickerel, black crappie and largemouth bass here.