Search weedbeds for panfish at Marsh Creek

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    DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. — Marsh Creek Lake is known as one of the finest fisheries in southeast Pennsylvania.

    Each year its large, shallow bays give up scads of 3 to 5-pound bucketmouths, and better.

    In the summer, Marsh Creek gets a lot of attention from tournament anglers, with both day and night contests taking place on the lake.

    The 535-acre impoundment in Chester County is also known for its panfish.

    In spring, when crappie and perch are spawning, anglers gather at familiar hot spots, such as the bridge on Little Conestoga Road, and often pull up bucketfuls of these great tasting panfish.

    If there is one aspect of angling where Marsh Creek does not enjoy a huge reputation, it's with the ice fishing community.

    About 15 years ago, you could travel here on a pleasant winter day and there might be a scattered handful of icemen on the lake.

    But that is changing. Though it had a small and steady following, the lake's reputation among the winter wanderers has been growing.

    Over the last few seasons — when there has been a sustained ice time in southeast Pennsylvania — Marsh Creek has produced some excellent catches.

    And once again the lake's usual suspects have come to the forefront. Perch and crappie have led the way, both in numbers caught and attention paid.

    Bass have been coming on strong simply because more and more southeast anglers have learned how to catch them.

    And if you want good size bluegill, well, Marsh Creek has become the place to go.

    Not many warmwater anglers target the round bluegill on this diverse impoundment, so a few year classes of bluegill have grown to nice proportions.

    Weed the winter key

    As anyone who has ever fished Marsh Creek knows, it can be a tricky place. This seems magnified in the winter season.

    When ice fishing, you truly have to find the spot locations to catch fish.

    On any number of lakes in the southeast corner, when the ice bite is on, you can expect the entire lake to produce.

    Structure is an important key wherever you go, but many of the popular ice spots in the southeast are small impoundments, and when the remaining weedbeds are solid in one area, they are pretty much solid throughout.

    Certainly you can say this about such lakes as Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park and Lake Towhee and Lake Galena in Bucks County.

    But Marsh Creek is a lake of another color.

    The impoundment is broken into four wide bays on the eastern side and a large main lake area.

    Often as the weeds die out across Marsh Creek, they do so unevenly.

    As a consequence, you might have good winter vegetation in the Park Cove, near the state park's main headquarters, while there might be very poor winter weeds around the Bridge Cove at Little Conestoga Road.

    One year I saw that the remaining weeds were very poor at both these locations, while down lake, in the marshy cove east of the dam, the weeds were in excellent shape and held tons of panfish.

    Very few anglers ever bother to take the walk down to this section of the lake, but those who did that season were immensely rewarded, and quiet about their whereabouts.

    As veteran ice anglers know, if there are any weeds remaining on a lake, the vegetation will be the key to success.

    The fact that different areas of Marsh Creek will hold better weeds from one season to another is a situation I can't explain.

    The compass and the sun's direction don't change, but there are just times when one area is better than another.

    And this is why ice anglers concentrated in one section of the lake will go fishless while others are scoring big.

    Find the weeds

    So whither the weeds? With that in mind, I took an early November tour around Marsh Creek.

    I wanted to see where the best weeds would still be found.

    My intention was to mark these locations on my map and go back to these sites when they're covered with a frozen blanket.

    Maybe I shouldn't tell you what I found, but that wouldn't be nice, would it?

    Here's where I located some nice weed growth and where I intend to begin the winter season: That first cove down by the dam on the east side of the lake still had a nice layer of weeds in the upper area.

    When you enter the cove, from the direction of the park office, the middle third stretch from the far shore back to where the cove cuts back deep toward the secondary outlet had a nice wide bed of weeds in the 6 to 8-foot depths.

    Admittedly access to this area is a long walk from the main parking area.

    I suggest you pull your sled to the point at the park headquarters, walk across the mouth of the long Jerry Run cove, then around the second peninsula and into the backwater cove.

    It will take you at least 30 minutes under good walking conditions.

    On the opposite side of the lake I found good weed growth south of the West Launch mooring area.

    There is plentiful parking at this spot, and I suggest you walk as far down the lot as possible, out across the land, and don't go onto the lake until you need to round the peninsula.

    The end of the ground at the peninsula is thicket-rich here, so an ice walk is easier.

    You can set up shop in the 6-foot range off the long front of the peninsula end where I found remaining weeds, or you can continue past the next cove and make your way down the shore to the flats out in front of the bank.

    This area, which I have never fished in the ice season, had excellent remaining weeds.

    I never know if they will leave the sole picnic table down by the end of the path, but if they do, it pretty much marks the end of the weedbed I saw.

    I also found weed growth toward the northside mouth of Park Cove off Park Road and in the middle third of the bay south of the Little Conestoga Road bridge.

    The Jerry Run cove did not look that promising, primarily because the water in the front of this cove is much deeper and the drop-offs much faster.

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