Skip Navigation LinksHome > Learning Center > FAQs > Fishing FAQ

Fishing FAQs

1. What kind of fish and fishing will I find in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania is a diverse state with a wide variety of fishing opportunities. There are over 85,000 miles of streams and rivers, along with 4,000 inland lakes and ponds covering 160,000 acres, plus 470,000 acres of Lake Erie. As you can imagine, this diversification translates into many different types of fishing and different types of fish.

For a comprehensive overview of the most common fishes of Pennsylvania, check out the web version of the Commission publication Pennsylvania Fishes, which contains pictures and information about 90+ fish found in PA.

To find the fishing spot for you, let's narrow things down a bit. Choose from 3 fishing categories:

    1. Streams - home to trout, steelhead, and salmon....see question 3.
    2. Rivers - home to bass, walleye, pike, muskie, catfish, carp, etc....see question 4.
    3. Lakes - home to bass, panfish, pike, trout, etc....see question 5.

2. What do I need to know before I go?

You should have a basic knowledge of Pennsylvania's fishing regulations. The best resource for this is the Pennsylvania Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws, or Summary Book as it is known. As its name implies, the summary book contains an overview of fishing regulations. It also provides many fishing tips and other valuable information....view the Summary Book.

If you need to know more about how to fish, try our Fishing Fundmanetals page, which provides information about fish, how to fish and where to go fishing.....go to Fishing Fundamentals.

And don't forget, a Pennsylvania fishing license is required to fish in PA. We have a separate FAQ specific to fishing licenses. More information about costs and types of licenses, trout/salmon stamps, and fishing regulations and laws is available....go to the fishing license FAQ.

3. Where can I fish for trout?

Pennsylvania has countless creeks and smaller rivers that hold brook, brown and rainbow trout, plus steelhead and salmon in Lake Erie tributaries.

Some places to find trout fishing spots on our web site:

    • Trout Streams - Mapping and additional information for the following categories of trout streams: Keystone Select, Special Regulation, Class A, Stocked, Natural Reproduction.
    • Regional Reports - statewide index of Commission fishing reports and information about PA fishing. Includes links to regional Fishing Hot Spots for trout - a list of where to find stocked and wild trout for each of the Commission's 6 regions.
    • Stocking Lists provide a comprehensive list of streams stocked with trout by the Commission.
    • Biologist Reports - creel surveys conducted on lakes and streams by our Fisheries Managers include fish counts and a summary of their findings.
    • Many streams have Special Regulation Areas that promote programs like catch & release fishing.
    • Class A Trout Streams (PDF) are managed as naturally reproducing, wild populations with no stocked trout.
    • Wilderness Trout Streams are managed to provide a wild trout fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment, and to protect and promote native (brook trout) fisheries. All stream sections included in this program qualify for the Exceptional Value (EV) special protected water use classification, which represents the highest protection status provided by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
    • County Guide - Another excellent resource is our county guides and maps. In addition to county maps, they list Stocked Trout Waters, Class A Wild Trout Streams, Special Regulation Areas, and much more.

Visit our Trout page for more trout information.

Important note to anglers - Many waters in Pennsylvania are privately owned, the listing or mapping of waters by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does not guarantee public access. Respect the privacy and rights of landowners - always obtain permission before entering any privately owned land.

4. Where can I fish for smallmouth bass and other river fish?

You can fish for bass, pike, walleye, muskie, catfish, carp, etc. by boat or by foot on rivers such as the Allegheny, Delaware, Susquehanna, Juniata, and many others.

    • Regional Reports - statewide index of Commission fishing reports and information about PA fishing. Includes links to regional Fishing Hot Spots for muskellunge, walleye, pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish and places for family fishing fun - a list for each of the Commission's 6 regions.
    • Biologist Reports - creel surveys conducted on lakes by our Fisheries Managers include fish counts and a summary of their findings
    • Access to hundreds of river destinations is available by using one of our boat access areas, which are listed within our County Guide.
    • Three of PA's four largest rivers have sections regulated under PA's Big Bass Program.

Visit our Bass page for more bass information.

Important note to anglers - Many waters in Pennsylvania are privately owned, the listing or mapping of waters by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does not guarantee public access. Respect the privacy and rights of landowners - always obtain permission before entering any privately owned land.

5. Where can I fish for largemouth bass and other lake fish?

Fish for bass, pike, walleye, panfish, trout, etc. in lakes such as Erie, Raystown, Wallenpaupack, Pinchot, and countless others.

    • Regional Reports - statewide index of Commission fishing reports and information about PA fishing. Includes links to regional Fishing Hot Spots for muskellunge, walleye, pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish and places for family fishing fun - a list for each of the Commission's 6 regions.
    • Biologist Reports - creel surveys conducted on lakes by our Fisheries Managers include fish counts and a summary of their findings.
    • Access to hundreds of lakes is available by using one of our boat access areas, which are listed within our County Guide.
    • Many lakes are included in PA's Big Bass Program.
    • Find big panfish by trying lakes with special regulations for Panfish Enhancement.
    • Pennsylvania has many lakes that are privately owned and are operated commercially as fee fishing lakes. These lakes may or may not be within campgrounds. The Commission calls these waters Class A Regulated Fishing Lakes. Class A regulated fishing lakes are further defined in question 14 on this page.

Visit our Bass page for more bass information.

Important note to anglers - Many waters in Pennsylvania are privately owned, the listing or mapping of waters by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does not guarantee public access. Respect the privacy and rights of landowners - always obtain permission before entering any privately owned land.

6. Where can I get a map?

Start with our County Guide, which includes interactive maps. In addition to county maps, they list Stocked Trout Waters, Class A Wild Trout Streams, Special Regulation Areas, and much more.

We have a number of other pages that have Interactive Maps to locate topic-specific information, such as Pennsylvania Lakes, Biologist Reports and Fishing Hot Spots.

We also list more Commission maps and guides and other Map Resources that may be helpful in locating places to fish and boat.

7. Where can I find information on specific waters and their conditions?

A great place to start is our Region Report pages, which have fishing reports and information for all of PA.

Our best resource for local stream information and regulations specific to those streams is our six Region Offices.

8. Are stocking lists available online?

Yes. Trout stocking schedules are available online.

The Commission also stocks warm/coolwater species (muskellunge, pike, etc.).

9. Where can I find bait and other fishing gear?

A good place to start is our list of Fishing License Issuing Agents. Most are commercial businesses that sell some type of fishing gear, many also sell bait.

10. Where can I find information on where to stay in Pennsylvania?

A great resource is Pennsylvania’s official travel & tourism site, visitPA.com. The “Places to Stay” section offers up travel deals and a variety of places to sleep in every region of the state. You can even make an online reservation directly from the site. In addition, you can plan your route, find out about upcoming events, and discover interesting things to do in Pennsylvania. Check out visitPA.com today or make a call to 1-800-VISIT-PA to reserve a room and start planning your trip.

11. Where can I find a campground?

Pennsylvania has 112 state parks boasting 7,000 campsites and 286 rustic and modern cabins available for rental. To reserve a campsite or cabin, call 1-888-PA-PARKS or visit the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources State Parks page for more information and list of campgrounds.

There are hundreds of commercial campgrounds and RV parks throughout the state as well. The Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association offers an on-line campsite directory and an order form for a printed copy of a 52-page guidebook.

12. Where can I launch my boat?

Boat Access Areas are listed within our County Guide.

More boating information can be found in our Boating FAQ.

13. Where can I locate a fishing guide or charter boat?

The Commission maintains a list of commercial Charter Boats and Fishing Guides. Since registering with the Commission is voluntary, the list may not include all guides, however, we believe it is a good place to start.

14. What are "Class A" and "Class B" regulated fishing lakes?

Class A Regulated Fishing Lakes

fall into 3 categories:

    1. Lakes wholly opened to the general public for fishing and operated solely as commercial ventures. This would be the typical fee-fishing lake where the owner usually purchases and stocks fish such as trout or carp and patrons pay to fish on a daily basis. 
    2. Lakes situated wholly within the grounds of a privately owned campground provided that the campground is open to the general public and operated as a commercial venture regardless of whether the campground operator sells admissions to fish at the lake to members of the public who are not camping at the campground. 
    3. Lakes with a total water area of less than 20 acres situated wholly within the grounds of a private fishing and boating, rod and gun or sportsmen's club or organization when fishing in the lake is limited to members of the club or organization and the sponsoring club or organization operates a cooperative nursery recognized by the Commission, provided that fish raised by the cooperative nursery shall be stocked in waters of Pennsylvania open for free public fishing and not in the regulated fishing lake.

Person patronizing a Class A regulated fishing lake may catch, kill and possess fish without regard to any size, season or possession limit and need not possess a Pennsylvania fishing license.

"Class B" regulated fishing lakes:

    • Lakes that meet all other requirements of a Class A lake, but are not open to the general public or operated as a commercial venture, may be issued a Class B regulated fishing lake license. Persons patronizing a Class B lake may catch, kill and possess fish taken there-from without regard to size, season or possession limitation. A Pennsylvania fishing license is required to fish in a Class B lake.

The same application is used for both Class A and Class B lakes.

15. How big are the state record fish?

State records of PA's most popular sport fish are listed online.

16. I want to join an organized sportsmen's group, can you help?

While it is not a comprehensive list and is not maintained to provide this information, our list of Cooperative Nurseries will give you a good place to start. These nurseries partner with the Commission to stock fish in PA's streams and lakes. Most of them are sportsmen's organizations.

Another good place to look is our Partners and Links Page, which provides links related to fishing and boating. Among them are some of the more well known sportsmen's clubs along with many smaller, local organizations.

17. Is there such a thing as a natural fish kill? 

Yes. Although people frequently associate fish kills with a pollution event, natural fish kills are not uncommon. These can result from a variety of causes including:

    1. Depletion of oxygen. In the summer, oxygen depletion can occur during periods of prolonged calm, cloudy, hot weather, especially when water levels are low. In the winter, oxygen depletions can occur when ice and snow reduce light penetration into the water. These depletions are usually associated with high concentrations of organic matter, abundant growths of rooted vegetation, or heavy algal blooms. Oxygen depletion occurs when photosynthesis by the algae and vegetation is unable to produce and maintain sufficient levels of available oxygen to meet the needs of the fish. Turnover of the thermal stratification in lakes can cause oxygen depletion when the anoxic (low oxygen) bottom water and decaying organic matter mix with the oxygen rich upper water. In shallow lakes, this can be caused by high winds, heavy cold rain, or severe hailstorms during a period of prolonged hot weather. When oxygen depletion occurs, large fish and those fish species with the highest oxygen requirements die first.
    2. Hydrogen sulfide poisoning. Turnover of the thermal stratification of a lake as described above, can release large quantities of dissolved hydrogen sulfide. Even in the presence of adequate amounts of dissolved oxygen, hydrogen sulfide can interfere with the ability of fish blood to carry oxygen, resulting in death of the affected fish. Larger fish are the most affected by this condition. Signs of hydrogen sulfide poisoning include disoriented and dying fish; dark, decaying organic material; and the odor of hydrogen sulfide.
    3. Toxic algal blooms. Under certain conditions, blooms of blue-green algae and dinoflagellates can produce toxins that are toxic to zooplankton, insects, and fish. Fish kills due to toxic algal blooms begin early in the morning and continue through early afternoon. Daily mortality continues until the toxic algae bloom ends.
    4. Spawning related mortality. Spawning and post-spawning fish have reduced resistance to pathogens. Fish that have heavy infections by parasites, bacteria or viruses, and that are exposed to environmental stressors, such as abnormal and/or fluctuating water temperatures or depressed oxygen levels, can suffer significant spring mortality. These fish kills are usually restricted to the adult fish of the spawning species; however, multiple species may be involved if their spawning periods overlap. Avian botulism. Botulism is a paralytic disease caused by toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Seven strains (A-G) of botulinum toxin have been identified. Type E toxin most commonly affects fish and fish eating birds. Fish and waterfowl die offs associated with botulism have occurred in the Great Lakes. Affected fish exhibit erratic swimming behavior and may have darkening of the skin. Although the incidence of Type E botulism in humans is very low, the toxin has the potential to cause death; therefore, fish from affected waters should not be eaten raw. You should never consume fish or waterfowl that appear to be sick or dying. Botulism toxin is destroyed by heating at 180 F for 10 minutes. When canning fish, a pressure cooker heated to 240 F is recommended.

18. I need a good biologist answer to the morality of releasing a fish that will - or might - die. Does "fizzing" work? Can I safely assume that no one can be sure? Is it best to release the fish? From what I understand, the lake trout is the only fish that can "burp" gas from its gas bladder.

Most fisheries management agencies do not recommend deflating the air bladder.

"Fizzing” or releasing the pressure from the gas bladder is sometimes used to facilitate release of undersized fish. "Fizzing," when done correctly, is a process where gas is released from the gas bladder of a fish by inserting a needle in the side of the fish and puncturing the gas bladder. Many anglers who practice fizzing are actually puncturing the stomach. In actuality, it is the pressure in the gas bladder that must be released. 

A fish that is unable to remain upright in the water because it is severely stressed and/or has an over-inflated gas bladder, stands a poor chance of surviving if released. While helping a fish regain its ability to return to the bottom of the lake, many fish that are "fizzed" end up dying within a few days of release, from the stress of being caught and handled. There is also the likelihood that when you insert the needle into the side of a fish you will damage internal organs such as the kidney or intestines.

When a perch is quickly brought up from depth, the stomach is forced out through the mouth as the gas bladder expands from a decrease in pressure as the fish is brought to the surface.

There are two major different types of gas bladders in fishes: physostomous, in "primitive" fishes and physoclistous, in "derived" fishes. Your understanding of lake trout physiology as related to the air bladder is correct. Lake trout are among the generalized fishes known as Physostomi, which have a direct connection (pneumatic duct) between the air bladder and digestive tract. This duct facilitates the direct passage of air in either direction. Typically, this group of fishes fill the air bladder by gulping air form the surface and release air from the bladder by “burping.”

Physoclistous gas bladders, however, do not open to the mouth, so the fish has to let gas in and out of the bladder using a very complex little patch of blood vessels that absorb or let go of gases from the blood. Fishes with these bladders include bass, perch, and sunfish.

19. How do flood conditions affect trout fishing in Pennsylvania streams? Does flooding contribute to fish mortality?

Overall, it is important to remember that floods are natural events that will occur from time to time. Typically flood events cause some shift in the habitat on streams that were subject to flooding, so anglers should expect to see some changes in the streams they fish.

For example, some pools and runs will become shallower and fill in with gravel. Also, some trees that have been in and along the stream bank providing cover for many years may be dislodged. Conversely, flooding also tends to carve some new pools and runs where shallower areas existed prior to the flood and trees that have fallen along the shoreline may also create some new cover for trout.

The scouring of the gravel that occurs during floods may have a negative impact on the survival of young fish and macro invertebrate populations. However, this scouring action can also provide clean gravel for trout spawning and for future generations of macro invertebrates to re-colonize.

The extent that flooding contributes to fish mortality often depends upon the severity of the event, the timing of the flood, as well as the life stage of the trout at the time of the flood. Typically, adult trout would be expected to handle flooding better than younger trout, as during a flood most trout will seek refuge from the strong currents in places like backwaters, eddies and along the stream bank until the flood waters begin to recede.

During recent floods we may have lost some fish that became stranded in backwater pools as the floodwaters receded. However, on most waters we would not expect a high rate of fish loss from this flood. Conversely, flood events in February of 1984 and January of 1996 occurred at a time when most of our young wild trout were still in the sac-fry stage before they emerged from the gravel of the streambed. Subsequently, during both of these years we noticed a numerically weak year class of young-of-the-year trout in many of our streams that support wild trout.

Fortunately, wild trout populations tend to be quite resilient and numerically stronger year classes in the years that followed allowed many of these populations to rebound from these events. Generally wild trout fare better in floods that occur in the fall as most have already spawned. By no means is this to suggest that floods are a welcomed event, but in nature things often seem to have a way of balancing out.

20. I've heard that some states use slot limits, where you can legally take fish in a certain size range, but anything smaller or bigger has to be released. Has anything like this been considered for trout in Pennsylvania? Would it give more protection to those trout that are the prime breeders?

Slot limits were originally implemented for the management of largemouth bass fisheries. The basic idea with these regulations was to provide protection for some quality size fish and also protect a segment of the population for recruitment purposes.

The variation of the slot limit regulations that you asked about is very similar to a regulation that was used on an experimental basis to manage a wild brown trout fishery in Wisconsin during the mid 1980's. The study was conducted on a fertile limestone stream, similar in productivity to our limestone streams in Pennsylvania. Under this variation of the slot limit, anglers were permitted to harvest one trout per day between 14 and 17 inches in length.

The results of this study concluded that the slot limit regulations did not improve numbers of larger trout (20-inch range), and essentially the same results could have been accomplished with the use of a 14-inch minimum length limit. Therefore, at the completion of the study, it was recommended that the slot limit regulations should be replaced with a simpler 14-inch minimum length limit. Other studies using slot limit regulations for wild trout fisheries have provided mixed reviews, at best. In most cases, the best management practice for these special regulations fisheries would be to manage them with the use of an elevated minimum length limit such as 14 inches.

In Pennsylvania, we utilize a variety of management programs for wild trout. For example, Trophy Trout regulations are one form of special regulations designed to stockpile adult trout and provide a high catch and release rate fishery for trout that are somewhat larger than the average 10-inch catchable size trout. In addition, Trophy Trout regulations also provide anglers with an opportunity to catch some larger trout (greater than 14 inches in length) on the waters managed under these regulations. Typically, anglers do not place a great deal of emphasis on harvesting trout when they visit the waters that we manage under special regulations. Based on the results from some of our recent surveys, we know that many of the legal size trout caught by anglers in these areas are being released.

Fisheries Managers are sometimes criticized for implementing regulations that are confusing to the average angler. Slot limits are certainly more complicated than a simple minimum length limit. Considering the fact that slot limits have not been more effective (and in some cases less effective) than a simple minimum length limit, we have not implemented them as part of the special regulations package to manage Pennsylvania wild trout fisheries.

21. I have read about the mayfly hatches on the Susquehanna River during July and August. I would very much like to travel to your state and do some fishing on this river, can you give me more information about the hatch and how to fish it?

The famed white fly (Ephoron lukeon) hatch typically starts on the lower end of the Susquehanna River, near Columbia (Lancaster County) and Wrightsville (York County), sometime during the last two weeks in July. The hatch progresses upriver over several days, or it can happen everywhere at once. The hatch can be spread out over a 4 week period.

Safety is a big concern when fishing this hatch. If you are wading, as many anglers do, to be safe you should wear an inflatable life jacket, have felt studded soles, carry a whistle and flashlight, and don't fish alone. When fishing by boat, the obvious safety concerns come into play, but fishing is best when water levels are low, so if you are unfamiliar with the water, extra caution must be shown.

This hatch also occurs on nearby streams, including Yellow Breeches Creek (Cumberland County).

While most often associated with fly-fishing, spin fishers can also fish the white fly hatch. Techniques and other information for both is provided below.

Fly-fishing

The best fly-fishing is concentrated in the evening and early night-time hours, from about 8 till 10 PM, sometimes it will go later.

Anglers typically use a 6 or 7 weight fly rod.

There are a multitude of fly patterns that anglers say do the trick. Typically when bugs are abundant, it really doesn't matter. Cork or foam poppers, small Dhalberg divers and hair bugs all take fish on top. As do small spinning poppers and stickbaits. Smoke and/or white colored soft plastic baits take fish when the bugs are hatching. These lures will also take large channel catfish that line up to eat spent spinners.

Usually there is a flurry of activity when the bugs swim to the surface and hatch, but the best fishing is when the spinners fall. Fishing divers and white wulffs work well when they are taking spinners, try cutting the wings/hackle down if you get refusals. Often the fishing can be fast and furious, so you may not want to waste time cutting off and tying another fly.

Spin Fishing

The white fly hatch on the Susquehanna and some tributaries is not just a great opportunity to catch smallmouth bass and monster catfish on the fly rod. Spin anglers can throw lures that also imitate this mayfly during its emergence in late July to early August.

Nymphs - The white fly nymph spends most of its life cycle burrowed in the sandy bottom stretches of the Susquehanna and some tributaries (Yellow Breeches, Swatara Creek). The nymph will leave its burrow and swim to the surface, the winged adult emerging as the bug reaches the surface. This usually occurs in the last few hours of daylight. Fish will key in this stage, holding along current breaks and pouncing on the bug as it swims and drifts toward the surface.

Spin anglers can effectively imitate this stage using several different lures. The ticket is to match the size and color of the natural. Soft plastics in smoke color and hair jigs in white and gray are all effective, as long as they no more than 3" in length. The other key to matching this stage is to fish the lure dead drift, with the current. Black and silver spinner baits will also catch fish, as long as they are in smaller sizes.

Position yourself along a current seam, quartering your cast upstream into the current. The jig should be just heavy enough to drift naturally, bouncing occasionally on the bottom. Keep a tight line and follow the lure on its drift downstream. Rods in the 6' or longer range help keep line off the water. As the lure reaches its downstream swing, along the current seam, begin a slow retrieve. Often, when things are hot and heavy, this step isn't necessary, as some fish grabbed it on the drift!

Another strategy is to cast the lure upstream of a rising fish and swim the lure past where the fish is holding.

When fish are pouncing on the adults riding the surface at nightfall, small subtle top water baits are the key. While splashy and flashy baits will catch fish, be prepared to alter your typical after dark topwater tactics.

Dead drifted stickbaits and other small (again, no larger than 3") topwater or floating baits can be very effective. Again, quarter upstream and drift down. Put some action on the lure as you retrieve. Casting just upstream of a rising fish, and dead drifting over it--with a tight line--can be a very effective tactic.

Just because the bass are focusing on a fly, doesn't mean you have to hang up your spinning or casting gear.