Old Conewago Lake, affectionately known as Pinchot (pronounced Pin-cho') is not a large lake. The lake’s rather small size makes for great fishing and challenges any level of angler. The lake’s 340 acres are surrounded by camping, day parks, trails, and plenty of wildlife. It is a short drive from anywhere in the Harrisburg/York area, but is visited from anglers in the Baltimore Maryland area to Philadelphia in southeast Pennsylvania. And, they visit for good reasons, or should I say, BIG BASS.
Located in south central Pennsylvania, Pinchot is located in the northern portion of York county between route 177 (Rosstown Road) and Alpine Road. It is accessible from the Harrisburg area via the Lewisberry Exit (#35) of Interstate-83, and then PA 177 south. There are three boat launches, one at 2200 Rosstown Rd. (Route 177), another at the western end of the lake where Route 177 crosses the lake, and on Alpine road. Each ramp is paved and has plenty of parking for the biggest bass rigs. Visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us for more information on this and all Pennsylvania State Parks.
First off, since the lake is small and shallow, state law prohibits the use of gasoline powered motors. So make sure your trolling motor batteries are charged. It is not uncommon to see aluminum boats with three to four trolling motors on them during a tournament. If you plan on fishing Pinchot and have never been there, plan your day accordingly. If you want to fish the "upper end", or the western end, use the ramp at the rt. 177 bridge. If fishing the middle or dam end of the lake, use the two mid-lake ramps. A 20-foot fiberglass bass boat with a 109lb. trolling motor will take about 45 minutes on high speed to go from the mid-lake ramps to the rt. 177 bridge area.
Pinchot is shallow, with the average depth around 10'. The dam end is the deepest with depths to 25 feet deep in spots, and has more rock bottom contours. From the middle section of the lake to the most western end is the shallowest and is mostly a silt/dirt bottom. Most of the local anglers fish the mid-lake area to the western end. With dirt bottom means one thing, grass. And there is a lot of it. There are no docks on the lake, and no laydowns either, but if you love grass, you are in heaven.
With all this grass, where does one start? Since very few maps of the lake are available, fish the grass like you would on your home body of water. Start with the outside weed lines, find isolated grass clumps, or look at the shoreline and let it "point" the way. With a small lake means smaller features compared to a large lake. But each small point, grass line change or shoreline ground composition change (i.e. dirt to rock) means a change in the lake bottom as well. Keep an eye on your depth finder also, as an old stream bed meanders through the lake.
The lake typically has little visibility and won't exceed 2 feet in most cases. You can fish with finesse presentations, but most don't. Jigs, lipless crankbaits, diving crankbaits, buzzbaits, and Texas-rigged baits take most of the bass. For those who prefer live bait, night crawlers, or shiners will catch bass, but also catch crappie, catfish, striped bass, muskellunge, and perch that swim the lake as well.
From early spring when water temperatures reach into the 50's until late fall when they fall back into the low 50's more fish fall to traps, jigs, and t-rigs than any other method. Early spring, coupled with emerging grass and stable weather is trap time. Some of us will have multiple rods rigged with different size and color traps and work them until we find the hot combination for the day. Others prefer slowly working dark colored jigs over hard bottom areas for big prespawn bass. Once the spawn is over, the lake changes. More and more grass is evident. The bass slow in their pursuit for food, but they can still be caught. Going into the summertime pattern means noisy buzzbaits in the early morning or late evening hours. Work them parallel to the newly formed grass lines or over holes in the matting grass. The new frogs on the market take a fair share of bass as well. During the day, work the outside weed lines with jigs or Texas-rigged baits. If the bite slows, don't always go smaller to finesse them. Sometimes, a 10-inch worm will catch them on the slowest days. Once the water starts to cool back into the 60's the bite turns on again. Traps, deep diving crankbaits, jerkbaits, and jigs are the order of the day. Rip the bait free of the grass and hold on. If that doesn't work, throw a dark worm into a grass clump and shake the worm, then let it pull it through the clump of grass and let it fall. I bet it won't fall far before Mr. Bass makes lunch of your offering.
The lake is designated as "Big Bass Waters" per the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. From January 1st through April 13th, and again from June 16th through December 31st, 2007, a 15-inch minimum, four bass limit is in effect on the lake. From April 14th through June 15th, the state has implemented a NO HARVEST – catch and immediate release-only rule on this and all other Pennsylvania bodies of water. Through this and other conservation methods, the state has aided in protecting bass in Pinchot. This policy has helped to produce some very big fish for anglers. I personally know of one angler that caught and released a hefty 10-pound largemouth back to the lake to be caught another day. In one spring tournament a few years back, a 6-fish limit broke 30 pounds. Five-pound bass are caught with regularity. With the state record of 11 pounds and 3 ounces, Pinchot may just have the state record waiting for you.
Ralph Russell is a forum staff moderator on UltimateBass.com, and can be contacted by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.