Fishing Big Bass Large mouth on lake with blue sky at dawn, sunrise

Pittsburgh’s Best Bass Fishing for Beginners

Discover the lure of this ubiquitous fish at these 4 top western PA lakes.

There’s a simple reason that bass fishing is fun and easy for beginners: Bass aren’t picky. This warm-water species lives in all kinds of conditions—meaning, practically everywhere—and they are territorial fish that bite on a wide variety of baits. And when they bite, especially smallmouth bass, they put up a good fight.

Bass like shade and cover (think fallen logs, grassy areas and lily pads), and western Pennsylvania’s reservoirs have you covered for these conditions. You can fish year-round, but bass are most active mid-March through the end of November. Once you’re equipped with an easy-to-use setup (think about a versatile, user-friendly spinning rod and reel combo plus a few spinner baits), head to one of the lakes below to try your hand at bass fishing. Your skills won’t outgrow them either; each offers a bass habitat thriving enough to host regular fishing tournaments and even some kayak bass fishing tournaments.

Be sure to pick up your fishing license before heading out and know the state regulations—you can fish for bass year-round, but generally you cannot harvest bass between the second Saturday in April through the second Saturday in June.

North Park Lake 

Best for: bass, trout and bald eagles

A mere 8 miles southeast of Public Lands’ Cranberry Township store is North Park, a mini multi-sport mecca anchored by North Park Lake. Its 75 acres provide great largemouth bass fishing, but its size and city proximity mean that it can get overfished. If you’re ready to move beyond bass fishing, North Park Lake is also stocked with trout. You’ll have more competition for the catch, namely bald eagles known as Ms. Star and Mr. Stripe, who have their own Facebook page. While you’re there, try mountain biking the 9-mile, singletrack North Ridge Loop (Red Trail). Or hike a portion of the iconic Rachel Carson Trail (blazed yellow), which continues all the way to Harrison Hills Park on the other side of the county.

A woman fishes at Pymatuning Photo: PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

Lake Arthur  

Best for: stripers and side-hikes

The 3,225-acre Lake Arthur has 42 miles of shoreline from which to fish. Lake Arthur anchors Moraine State Park and is well known for bass fishing. This includes stripers, aka striped bass (though technically they are not a bass). Beginning in mid-March, fish for stripers so powerful that you might get “spooled,” where the fish pulls your entire spool of line out. Switch to largemouth bass in April for fish that regularly exceed the 15-inch minimum for keeping them. Try casting from the developed fishing area by Old Route 422. While you’re at Moraine, hop on a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, 14.8 miles of which traverse the park. Lake Arthur is just 22 miles north of the Public Lands store.

Lake Wilhelm 

Best for: kayak fishing large bass

Unlike Lake Arthur, Lake Wilhelm is not as heavily fished for bass. Located in Maurice K. Goddard State Park, it’s a much smaller lake, coming in at 1,680 acres, and it’s a place where you can land largemouth bass as big as 24 inches. The section of lake west of Interstate 79 is closed to gas-powered boats, so it’s perfect for kayak fishing. Kayak storage racks are at launches 3 and 4 (east of I-79), which give you a hint of its paddling potential and popularity, playing host to major kayak bass fishing tournaments. Looping around Lake Wilhelm is a 12-mile paved, multi-use path—another prime place to spot bald eagles and ospreys. Lake Wilhelm is a straight shot north of the Public Lands store on I-79 for 55 miles.

Pymatuning Reservoir  

Best for: fishing bass year-round

Pymatuning Reservoir is famous as “the place where ducks walk on fish” (Google it to see the strange scene from the reservoir spillway). But it’s also perhaps the best bass-fishing lake in western PA. Coming in at more than 17,000 acres, there’s plenty of room to spare at Pymatuning to cast for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. And bonus: Bass are open for harvest all year here (though most choose to catch and release). There are developed places to fish from the shore (stay on the PA side if you have only a PA license) and also many developed launches for fishing by boat (your license is good everywhere from a boat), plus great camping. Pymatuning is about 80 miles north/northwest of the Public Lands store along the Ohio border.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.