State parks offer opportunities to camp where bass are plentiful
What's better than a day spent fishing?
Why, two days spent fishing, of course. Any angler who's ever muttered the phrase, “OK, one more cast,” when told it was time to leave the water knows that.
The good news is that with bass season set to open statewide Saturday — anglers will be allowed to harvest six largemouths, smallmouths or spotteds, combined — there's a way to extend your fishing on waters with good numbers of fish.
A number of the region's most productive bass waters are located within or adjacent to state parks where you can spend the night. Moraine, Yellow Creek, Pymatuning, Raccoon Creek, Keystone and Laurel Hill state parks all offer camping around lakes known to hold good populations of bass. Cook Forest and Clear Creek state parks offer access to smallmouth bass on the Clarion River, while Ohiopyle puts you near smallmouth on the Yough and Casselman.
All get their share of campers.
About 160,000 people spent more than 400,000 nights camping in state parks last year, said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokesman Terry Brady. In region 2, which takes in the western quarter of Pennsylvania, more than 40,000 people spent about 104,000 nights under the stars.
“Once school's out, most of our campsites, cottages, yurts and cabins are at or near capacity on weekends,” said Kris Baker, manager of Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County.
Which park is best for you depends on what experience you're looking for and just how far you're willing to go to “rough it.”
Some parks accommodate only tents and recreational vehicles. Some have only cabins, cottages and/or yurts. Some have everything.
The Crawford County-based Pymatuning — which accounted for about 25 percent of all camp nights in Western Pennsylvania parks last year — is one of those with traditional camp sites for tents and RVs. Some are on the lake shore, some are in grassy areas and some are in the woods. Cost per night ranges from $19 to $32 per site, based on a variety of factors.
Often, campers choose their site based not so much on cost as the chance to take along everyone in the “family.”
“The electric, pet-friendly sites are the first to go,” said Jason Baker, assistant park manager at Pymatuning. “They're the most expensive, but they're the first to go.”
Sixteen other parks, including Keystone, get tent campers participating in the system's “first-time camper” program. Under its guidelines, people new to sleeping out can rent a site that comes with a tent, sleeping pads, camp chairs, flashlights, lantern, camp stove, and hot dog and marshmallow cookers, among other things, for $20 per night.
Park rangers sometimes help first-timers erect their tents and get started. But as a general rule, most prefer to go it alone, Baker said.
“A lot of people seem to want to experience things on their own. That seems to be part of the appeal of it all,” he said.
The park system's modern cabins, yurts and cottages all offer something different. The cabins are the most home-like, offering indoor bathrooms and showers, appliances, including microwaves, and other comforts. Campers need to bring only their own bedding and cookware.
Yurts and cottages are a step down but hardly primitive.
“They provide sort of a continuum for people not interested in tent camping but who want something a little more rustic than a modern cabin,” said Ken Bisbee, manager of Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County.
Yurts are round, Mongolian-style canvas tents stretched around wooden frames. There's no indoor plumbing, but they do have stoves, refrigerators and more.
“People love them,” Bisbee said. “You think you're walking into a tent, but they have hardwood floors, doors, countertops, a stove top. They're kind of a neat thing.”
Cottages are like large, fancy one-room sheds. They have heat, bunkbeds, sometimes a table and chairs, and have covered porches, but you have to cook outside.
How long you can or must stay varies by camping option. Modern cabins have to be rented for a week at a time in summer; cottages and yurts usually have a two-night minimum. Tent and RV sites can be rented for as little as one night.
The maximum stay is one week in some cases, two in others.
So even when it comes to combining camping and fishing, you'll have to go home sometime.
But there are sure worse ways to spend time — such as Father's Day weekend — than camping out and fishing for bass.
“I can't think of a better way for grandfathers and fathers to spend their weekend than outside fishing with their sons, daughters and grandkids,” said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.