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Mercer's Lake Wilhelm hides plenty of fish

Lake Wilhelm is a place of mystery.

Biologists will tell you that it's home to predatory fish. Big ones, and in numbers dense enough to make it a real hot spot, too.

But who catches them• When• And how?

Good luck figuring that out.

"With the shad that are in here now, the muskies, walleyes and bass are all getting pretty big," said Bob Mohra of Fergie's Bait and Tackle in Sandy Lake. "But most of the guys who actually fish for muskies will never tell you when they catch one. And the walleye guys, they're quiet, if they're smart."

Allen Woomer can give you some clues to what's swimming around in the lake, though.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Area 2 fisheries manager, he and his crews surveyed Wilhelm — the 1,860-acre centerpiece of Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Mercer County — on two occasions last year. The results of that work have just been made available.

One thing that jumped out was just how many muskies the lake holds.

The commission has long stocked the lake with musky fingerlings, Woomer said. So finding fish was not unusual. But the number of big fish — up to 49 inches — was impressive, he said.

"When it comes to muskies in this area, Pymatuning, Lake Arthur, Tamarack, they're all kind of the stars of the show. But Wilhelm is starting to get into that realm," Woomer said. "I was really pleased by that."

The walleye population is looking equally good, he said. That's a change from the recent past.

Wilhelm supported a "great" walleye fishery in the 1980s, Woomer said, but then — for reasons unknown — the stocking of walleye fry quit producing fish in the 1990s. The commission switched to stocking larger walleye fingerlings in an attempt to jump-start the fishery. That appears to have worked.

Crews found more walleyes last year than they did in 2004, the last time the lake was sampled. They ranged from 18 to 30 inches, "with a large number in the 20- to 24-inch range," reads a report by fisheries biologist Brian Ensign.

"I think right now they are doing really well. And there are a lot of especially nice walleyes out there," Woomer said. "They looked fantastic."

The lake is built to be good for a long while, too, he added. It's large, relatively shallow, has good water quality, is productive in terms of providing zooplankton and larger forage and has just the right amount of vegetation.

"When you get a big lake like that that can produce a lot of fish, it's kind of like a fish machine if you can get it working right," Woomer said. "It's just a fantastic area, as far as I'm concerned, for fishing."

Mohra might be biased, but he agrees — even if no one else will admit it.

"Guys get a ton of fish, but you only hear about some of them," he said.

Additional Information:

Wilhelm at a glance

On the water: The lake has eight boat launches and a boat rental for those who want to fish on the water.

Boating: Motors up to 20 horsepower are legal for use on most of the lake. The exception is the portion that lies within state game lands, where only non-powered boats are allowed.

On land: Maurice K. Goddard State Park has handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the marina and generally good shoreline access. A 12-mile bike trail circling the lake offers opportunities to get close to the water in lots of places.

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