Cross Creek Lake in Washington County

Fishing : Cross Creek Lake getting some rave reviews Cross Creek Lake in Washington County is getting rave reviews for its panfish and largemouth bass.

“It’s certainly one of the best lakes in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologist Rick Lorson, who last month surveyed the 242-acre impoundment on Route 50 near Avella to see how well Panfish Enhancement Regulations are working. “It’s to sunfish and crappie what Lancaster County is to growing corn — fertile, productive and hard to beat.”

Sixty-eight percent of the 927 sunfish that Lorson handled were more than seven inches, which is the minimum size under the enhancement program, and many were eight to 10 inches. Though the commission stocks redear sunfish, Lorson said there were fewer than expected, but their sizes were impressive. There were plenty more pumpkinseeds and bluegill. In terms of crappie, Lorson handled 1,192, and 56 percent were bigger than nine inches, which is the enhancement program minimum for that species. “The nice thing about it is our year classes varied,” he said. “Often you’ll get a couple of strong year classes, but we got several.”

Mike Milvet, who has owned a bait shop on the lake for 20 years, said this year has been one of the best for crappie (except for the recent spate of hot weather) and that slab bluegill have made for some memorable outings.

“My son and I caught 40 slabs, 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches, in an hour one day,” Milvet said. “I had on a red ant with a maggot and the bobber would go under as soon as the ant hit the water.”

Panfish, which refers to severeal species, including sunfish and crappie, make up the lake’s forage base, which also includes a few golden shiners, and carp and suckers, Lorson said.

Check It Out
Cross Creek Lake is on Cross Creek, which flows west into the Ohio River. It is located in Cross Creek Park, a Washington County facility near Avella and Rea.

The main entrance is about 18 miles east of Bridgeville on Route 50. The lake has a 10 horsepower limit and is most accessible by boat, although shore fishing can be excellent for those willing to do some walking through brush.

Millvet’s bait shop, at the entrance to the park, rents pontoons, 14-foot motor boats, canoes and rowboats. No launch fee is required for rental boats. There is a $10 a year fee for non-Washington County residents to launch there, $7.50 for county residents.

For more information, call Milvet at 724-356-2285.

All help to support improving numbers of saugeye and good to excellent populations of largemouth bass managed under the Big Bass Enhancement program, in which the harvest minimim is 15 inches. Lorson said he handled 40 saugeye between 17 and 27 inches in his survey, with several more than two-feet long. Numbers would be even better, he said, if he could stock the walleye-sauger hybrid more consistently.

The commission won’t electro-shock for bass until 2007. But a 1994 survey turned up 200, 12-plus inch largemouth bass per hour. And in 2003, the lake yielded an 8-pound, 13-ounce largemouth, one of the five biggest caught anywhere in the state that year.

The Washington County Bassmasters can attest to the strength of the fishery since Cross Creek is their home water and they have made some award winning habitat improvements there.

“The largemouth are really coming back,” said Henry Likar, the Washington County Bassmasters president. “Most are between one and two pounds but guys were getting them this spring three to five pounds, and even six and seven pounds — not routinely, but enough to get your attention.

“Right now, they’re coming off points. Buzz baits and floating worms seem to be the ticket.”

For years, the club has partnered with the fish commission in placing structure on the lake bed. So far, it has installed 125 porcupine cribs, from small for baitfish to large for bass. It has used big rocks to create reefs in the deeper parts of the lake and plans to add more cribs and rocks this summer.

The deepest areas, near the dam, are about 58 feet, though most of the lake is 25 feet deep, and the upper 50 acres are shallow, about 10 feet. There are cattails near shore and bushy pondweed. In March, the club sank more than 200 Christmas trees in Cross Creek, wiring concrete blocks to each one, and then dropping them from pontoon boats around drop-offs.

“It was time-consuming,” Likar said. “But we knew which points needed structure. And they work! We’re catching fish off them already.”

For their efforts, the club, which is affiliated with the West Virginia BASS Federation, will receive BASS’s 2004 Eastern Division Conservation Club Award. It also received the 2004 Eastern Division Community Service and Chapter of the Year awards, which distinguishes it from clubs in 13 other states. But, as awards go, none compares to the one Likar accepted in March when he flew to BASS headquarters in Disneyworld to accept the 2004 BASS Community Service Award for the club’s efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Ivan last fall.

It collected canned goods and blankets for the local food bank and raised $1,400 in a tournament on Cross Creek just two weeks after the hurricane ripped through homes and business in Washington County. With just 21 members, the club beat out hundreds of other BASS affiliates nationwide for the prestigious honor.

“We’re one of the smallest clubs to ever receive the award,” said Likar, who founded the club in 1988.

While the award was based mostly on the club’s flood relief work, it also recognized its youth development activities. This month, the club launched a junior tournament chapter for children 12 to 17 who will fish their first tournament Wednesday.

Anglers heading to Cross Creek may find more pressure than usual, since nearby Dutch Fork Lake was closed last year because of flood-related safety concerns.

By Deborah Weisberg

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