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Crooked Creek Lake packed with bass

| Sunday, July 2, 2006

Scott Heasley fishes between 175 and 200 days every year, traveling to compete in bass tournaments, so when he says Crooked Creek Lake is an "awesome" fishery, it pays to listen.

He'll tell you that regardless of whether you're primarily interested in quality or quantity of bass, the Armstrong County lake is a dandy.

"Personally, so far this year, I've had two bass over five pounds, one over six and one over seven in that fishery. And several over four pounds," said Heasley, who lives in Kittanning and is the director of the YMCA there.

"And there's a good supply of smaller fish, too. You can go over there in a five-hour period and catch 25 or 30 keeper fish."

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake near Ford City, Crooked Creek is relatively small at about 350 acres. It is fertile, however, said Allen Woomer, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's area 2 fisheries biologist. Surveys have indicated it holds an excellent population of largemouth bass, with some smallmouths mixed in.

"Over the years, we've seen some pretty good numbers of quality-sized bass in that lake," Woomer said.

Crooked Creek is tough to fish from shore, given that only maybe 10 percent of its banks are accessible to walk-in fishermen, said Bruce Gundlach, the Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officer in Armstrong County.

Boaters love it, though.

"It wasn't too many years ago that there were probably three or four bass tournaments on that lake each month. I think that's a pretty good indication of how good the fishing is," Gundlach said.

The Armstrong Bass Association holds tournaments every Tuesday night throughout the summer. Competitors fish a variety of waters, such as the various pools on the Allegheny River.

"But I can tell you that when we have our Tuesday night tournament on Crooked Creek, it's always our best turnout," said Chris Trumbull of Kittanning, who organizes the events. "Lots of people like to fish Crooked Creek."

In a three-hour tournament, with a five-fish limit, it might take eight to 10 pounds to win, Trumbull said. Anglers have to be versatile to achieve that kind of success on Crooked Creek, though, Trumbull said.

The lake does have some weeds, and anglers do catch fish there throwing things like buzzbaits. You have to be able to toss soft plastic lures and jigs around downed timber and crankbaits around some of the lake's points, too, though.

It helps to realize that certain parts of the lake are better than others at certain times, too. There's no horsepower limit on Crooked Creek, but the area close to the swimming beach does have a large slow, no wake zone, so you can escape the water skiers there and catch fish on busy weekends, Heasley said. Anglers with jet boats or other shallow-draft craft can do well by running up into Crooked Creek itself, he said.

But then, no matter which part of the lake you fish, Heasley said it's hard to go wrong.

"I think it's very good and worth a trip to go fish it. There's quality fish in there," Heasley said.

Before you go

• Anglers who plan to fish Crooked Creek would be wise to call ahead before going. It is a flood control dam, and there are times when its one boat launch is closed because of high water. You can check the status of pool elevations, outflows, and the accessibility of the boat ramp by calling an automated Army Corps lake conditions report at 724-763-2764. It is generally updated weekly.

• Night fishing is permitted at Crooked Creek. That might appeal especially to anglers interested in targeting the lake's ever-improving population of channel cats. Bruce Gundlach, the Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officer in Armstrong County, said he's seen specimens as large as 38 inches caught there. The lake also holds a good population of white crappies and more than a few tiger muskies.

• Anyone interested in fishing the Armstrong Bass Association's Tuesday night tournaments can call Chris Trumbull at 724-543-4858. There is no club to join, just the tournament fee.

• The association also holds tournaments on the Allegheny River but getting on the water there may be difficult. The Fish and Boat Commission has closed all of its public boat access areas on rivers and streams in the 46-county area of Pennsylvania currently under a state of emergency. That includes Armstrong, Indiana and Jefferson counties.

• Commission officials estimate it will take as long as three weeks to inspect and clean all of the flooded launch sites. Those that have suffered heavy damage will be off limits even longer.

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