Pennsylvania summers and bass fishing go hand in hand.
Three angling experts spoke about their passion for the sport and the hobby, and hopefully their thoughts will inspire you to get a few more casts with your fishing gear this summer. The season officially opens on June 11, but many waterways are now open and re-opened.
Lefebre loves Lake Erie
Dave Lefebre, 51, of Erie, travels about 40,000 miles a year bass tournament fishing. He became a professional fisherman in 2003 and has competed in over 160 tournaments across the United States.
After discovering what the country has to offer, he still chooses to live in northwestern Pennsylvania because of its quality fisheries.
“In Pennsylvania, especially in my area of Erie County, the diversity of the waters gave me the opportunity to learn how to fish different kinds of places, catch different kinds of fish, and use different techniques. That’s the beauty of Pennsylvania. There’s so much. We have a bit of everything.”
He said bass fishing is like a puzzle trying to figure out how to catch them. “I still love being out there and not being able to see your opponent (the bass) and the mystery of it all,” he said of the rivers, small creeks, marshy lakes, reservoirs and of the Great Lakes. “You name it. We have it all figured out.
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When it comes to finding a place to fish in the state, he feels lucky to live in northwestern Pennsylvania.
“My front yard is Lake Erie,” Lefebre said. “I have a soft spot for this area. It’s the best fishing in the world. He said his fellow professional anglers agree with him about the quality of the fish found in the Erie region. “It’s as good as it gets.”
But he’s always enjoyed honing his skills in new places he doesn’t know to fish, like Keystone Lake, Raystown and Wallenpaupac Lake, and the Susquehanna River.
“Pennsylvania is very diverse,” he said of plains, hills and lowland reservoirs.
When it comes to filling your tackle box, he said summer bass anglers should have a variety of lures. “Everything works on a given day, waterway,” Lefebre said.
Yamamoto Senko soft plastics work on most waterways. “It saved me a lot of tournaments,” he said of Senkos’ ability to fish in different rig setups and recovery speeds. “It’s just something that works,” he said of coming in many colors and sizes. Some look like leeches and some look like crayfish.
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For those new to bass fishing, Lefebre said, don’t make it too complicated. Get a few colors, a few hooks and rig options, and some split shots and you’ll be ready for the water. “I think the mistake I feel people make is getting overwhelmed,” he said of all the options and models available and marketed on YouTube.
What works in one place should also work in other waters. He explained that the things he learned from Lake Edinboro are also effective techniques for where he fishes in Louisiana. A lake in Texas reminds him of his youthful days fishing at Lake Conneaut in Crawford County.
When he’s not bass fishing, his winter hobby is ice fishing with crappie and perch. “I can’t get enough ice fishing,” he said of the long trips home between tournaments to spend time on the ice.
His spirituality led him to “fish for men too”. He is involved in a Christian ministry called 814 Worship which includes a group. He connects his faith to the people he meets while fishing and at conferences.
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“I thank God every day for having the opportunity to do what I do for a living,” Lefebre said of being a professional fisherman. He said it was not easy getting into the business which involves a lot of start-up expenses, but his faith carried him through.
Tawney likes to compete
Ben Tawney, 30, from Jenner Township, Somerset County, has been fishing for as long as he can remember. He started to be competitive around the age of 9. He grew up in North Carolina near a lake and participated in Casting Kids tournaments. He has won numerous tournaments including regional and national events in 2010.
“When I felt like winning something big, I wanted to fish for bass all the time,” he said.
The award included a $5,000 scholarship he applied for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in commerce through Slippery Rock University.
In college, he was president of the bass team and traveled to many states, including Alabama and Arkansas.
Today, he doesn’t participate in as many tournaments as he would like, but he does go when his schedule allows.
“I fish pretty much every bass once the water thaws,” he said of ice fishing for crappie.
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Once it’s with you and in your blood, you can’t get rid of it,” he said of tournament fishing. “In competitions, you can compete against people doing something you love. It’s hard to lose that feeling,” Tawney said.
Every time he goes out, he looks for ways to do things better and improve.
When it comes to bass fishing destinations, Tawney said it’s hard to beat Almost Isle Bay in Erie.
“They have a very big little mouth and lots of them. …but don’t count the big mouth; there is also a big big mouth.
“There are a lot of places that come in second,” he said, naming Lake Wilhelm and Pymatuning in northwestern Pennsylvania. “Personally, if I go fishing in Pennsylvania, since I’m from here, I like to go to Youghiogheny Lake.
“I like to fish the Yough, but then you get across the state, you have guys who like to fish the Susquehanna River.”
Also, the Allegheny River has good low water. He said the fish are not as big as some places, but there are plenty of fish.
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In general, he says, “Pennsylvania has plenty of bass fishing options.”
Some of the hidden gems are low-power lakes or electric motor boating lakes only, such as Highpoint Lake in Somerset County and Yellow Creek in Indiana County.
As for what to cast, he said you need to be well rounded, but everyone has their own preferences with spinning and baitcasting rods. His bait of choice is soft plastic baits like Shakey Heads where he can fish in deeper water and find structures to fish around.
If the water is clearer he uses more natural colored baits and when it gets cloudy or dirty he uses brighter colors like chartreuse. White is versatile for many water conditions. “I like to keep it as simple as possible.”
Overall, of bass fishing, he said, “Any chance I can just get out here and enjoy God’s creation, whatever body of water it is, is awesome.”
Chuck Furimsky, 79, formerly of Rockwood, Somerset County and a resident of Ocean City, New Jersey, enjoys fly fishing bass all over Pennsylvania.
Furimsky craves fly fishing
Spinning and baitcasting rods are stiffer and help anglers get their fish out of weeds and structures.
Furimsky, who has been fishing since he was a kid, also likes how a fly rod is faster to catch your lure or get back on the water above the fish. With a spinning rod, you may need to reel in 60 feet of line before casting again.
Smallmouth has returned to rivers like the Susquehanna and Juniata. For bigmouth, he said they’re common in everything from small farm ponds to large lakes like Raystown, Pyamatuning, Erie and the Quemahoning Reservoir.
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“Bass fishing is in June, July and August,” he said. As a young man, he remembers catching fish at Keystone State Park in Westmoreland and Almost Isle State Park in Erie.
Something unique to his fly designs is that he uses New Zealand lambskin leather tails. The material is subtle, but strong enough not to be torn as easily by aggressive fish.
The key to being a good bass fisherman is to be an accurate caster. You should be able to fit your fly near branches or under a dock. You must be able to return your line in tight places.
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One advancement for the fly fisherman is to have a flowing line to allow anglers to reach fish in deeper water.
He thinks the Clouser Deep Minnow fly is the best option for bass fly fishing because it is weighted and can bounce off the lake or river bottom. “It’s the No. 1 fly in the world,” he said for bass and saltwater. “You can fish in 10 feet of water for bass.”
Furimsky loves the lure of bass fishing and feeling the fish take the bait. “Bass fishing, you have to have good feelings with your rod and everything. The bass sucks it in real slow. They do not come from far and do not crush it like a pike or a muskellunge.
The options for bass fishing in Pennsylvania are endless. It’s time to check your tackle box and start targeting farm ponds, lakes and rivers. The bass awaits.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter via email on your website homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.