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Fishing in State Parks and Forests

Pennsylvania’s wealth of freshwater produces outstanding fishing opportunities for every level of interest.

There are 85,000 miles of rivers and streams, and thousands of lakes and ponds in Pennsylvania. Much of this abundant freshwater wealth is found within our state parks and state forests -- 101 state parks and 20 state forests are open to fishing.

 A wide variety of popular fish species inhabit the waters of our parks and forests. Pristine streams and cold creeks are home to native brook trout and stocked rainbow and brown trout.

Meandering rivers team with smallmouth bass, catfish, and pike. Largemouth bass, bluegills, and yellow perch populate the calmer waters of lakes and ponds.

Fishing in Pennsylvania State Parks

Pennsylvania state parks provide almost unlimited opportunities for fishing and boating fun.

Pennsylvania has giant lakes like Pymatuning  -- at 17,000 acres -- down to small ponds set aside for children and ADA accessible fishing only.

You also can fish in the Susquehanna or the Delaware rivers, and other major and minor rivers, as well as those small bodies of water called anything from streams, creeks, licks, and runs.

Many state parks open to fishing also have lodging available including yurts, lodges, houses, modern cabins, and rustic cabins. Year-round or seasonal camping is also available at 60 parks.

Reservations for state park lodging can be made online or by calling 1-888-PA-PARKS (1-888-727-2757).

Fishing Tackle Loaner Program in State Parks

Through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the American Sportfishing Association, and DCNR, the public can borrow fishing rods, reels, and an equipped tackle box to try fishing while at certain parks.

How can you be prepared?

  • A valid ID must be provided by at least one adult in the group.
  • Equipment is loaned on a first-come-first-served basis and can only be used within the park.
  • Park staff may be available to give brief instructions upon request.
  • All equipment must be returned at the agreed-upon place and by the agreed-upon time.
  • Gear will be supplied, but bring your own bait with you.
  • Those 16 years or older need to have a valid Pennsylvania Fishing License
  • Know what you can and can’t keep. All fishing regulations must be followed.

Whether you are giving fishing a try for the first time, or returning to a childhood activity, these state parks provide free tackle for loan:

Contact the participating state park office for information on availability and how to loan equipment.

Ice Fishing in State Parks

Pennsylvania state parks have many lakes for you to find the ice fishing hole for you. Most state parks with fishing also permit ice fishing.

State Parks Winter Report

Find out where to go with the state park’s weekly State Parks Winter Report, online from mid-December until spring thaw.

Ice Fishing Safety Tips:

  • Test ice thickness with an auger before fishing. Four inches of solid ice is the minimum recommended thickness for a single angler. Seven inches of solid ice is the minimum recommended thickness for small groups of anglers.
  • Spread out. Crowds can put too much weight onto one area.
  • Be aware of changes in ice thickness across a body of water. Perimeter ice is weaker due to shifting, expansion and sunlight reflecting off of the bottom.
  • Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants, and docks. These structures absorb heat, weakening the surrounding ice.
  • Avoid areas with multiple or intersecting cracks, and standing water over ice.
  • Use extra caution on rivers and streams where ice can appear thicker than it really is. Moving water erodes ice from below the surface.
  • Venturing out on ice alone is not advisable. Take a friend along for fun and for safety.
  • Wear a PFD (life jacket).
  • Always carry safety equipment and know how to use it.
  • Check the weather and plan accordingly. Several days with temperatures above freezing will weaken the ice.

Night Fishing in State Parks

Nighttime fishing, whether from a boat on from the shoreline, is a popular pastime. Pennsylvania State Parks provides great opportunities for this recreational activity.

Night fishing is generally permitted in areas designated for fishing and non-whitewater boating. However, persons who plan on fishing at night from the shoreline can first contact the park office to determine which locations are open to this activity.

Fishing with a Float Tube in State Parks

Float tubes, also known as a belly boats or kick boats, continue to rise in popularity. Quality float tubes are permitted while fishing in state park lakes and still waters, away from designated swimming and boat launching areas.

A quality U-shaped, V-shaped, or round float tube is constructed of high quality, durable materials with one or more inflatable bladders inside a sewn cover.

Float tubes may only be propelled by non-mechanical, non-motorized devices like oars. A U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device must be worn at all times. No launch permit is required.

A state park officer can terminate float tube use if the device does not conform with material quality requirements, is being used in an unsafe manner, or is used during unsafe conditions.

ADA Access for Fishing in State Parks

This activity or structure is ADA accessible.

Some state parks have fishing piers to accommodate people with disabilities. The DCNR interactive map for Where to Fish shows what fishing facilities are accessible for people with disabilities.

If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.

Fishing in State Forests

Some of the best fishing to be found anywhere in the state can be found on state forest lands. 

From the sparkling cold headwater streams in the mountain regions where native brook trout thrive to the lakes and ponds of the Pocono region to the famous fly hatches on Penns Creek, fishing opportunities abound in almost all twenty state forests.

State forests have some of the most pristine waters in the commonwealth and they support abundant fish life. ​The abundance of streams, ponds, and lakes found in state forests supply opportunities for cold-water and warm-water fishing.

The Department of Environmental Protection classifies 2,970 miles of waterways as high-quality and 626 miles of waterways are classified as exceptional value. In addition, the Fish and Boat Commission classifies 207 miles as wilderness trout streams.

Information about fishing opportunities in individual forest districts are available at the forest district’s pages.

Fishing Regulations in State Parks and Forests

All anglers 16 years and older must have and display a valid Pennsylvania fishing license from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) to fish Pennsylvania waterways.

If you are fishing by boat, motorboats must display a current boat registration from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Non-powered boats launched in state parks and forests also must display one of the following:

  • Boat registration
  • Launching permit from the PFBC
  • Launching permit or mooring permit from DCNR (available at most state park offices)

Boat operators are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations for watercraft in the areas that they boat, and are responsible for the actions of all people on board their boat. Children 12 years and younger, and non-swimmers must wear life jackets when boating.

Fishing licenses and boat registration fees help protect and preserve Pennsylvania’s water resources and enhance the sport of fishing.

While fishing in state parks and state forests, all Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regulations apply and all DCNR rules and regulations apply.

Some waterways have special regulations, so it is important to be familiar with the seasons, sizes, and creel limits before fishing at a location.

The Pennsylvania Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws provides an overview of fishing regulations. For the summary book and additional information visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.

Fishing and Waterway Conservation Considerations

You can help to preserve our natural resources and fishing at our waterways for future generations by following these tips:

  • Learn proper catch and release techniques to return out of season, regulated, or surplus catch back to the water unharmed

  • Know and follow fishing regulations

  • Know and follow boating regulations, including canoes and kayaks

  • Dispose of fishing line properly to prevent wildlife from becoming trapped and injured

  • Avoid sensitive areas and do not pick or trample native plants and wildflowers

  • Do not discard live bait at the fishing site

  • Use lead-free tackle

  • Do not drive through streams or riparian areas