By Rebecca Sloan
Lake, state parks offer activities, amenities
Fishing fans come from all over to fish in Pymatuning Lake.
ANDOVER, Ohio — When I was a kid, I spent many afternoons in my dad’s rowboat, casting my line into the glassy green waters of Pymatuning Lake.
Every time my lure smacked the water, I hoped to snag one of Pymatuning’s mighty “muskies.”
These fish (properly called muskellunges) can exceed 5 feet in length and weigh more than 60 pounds.
Boy, oh, boy, did I want to catch one!
I pictured myself struggling to reel in the granddaddy of them all — my sneakers planted stubbornly against the ribs of the rowboat, my fishing pole bent like a willow sapling.
There’d be splashing and thrashing as I pulled the whopper to the net.
The years have gone by, and I’m sorry to say I never did catch a mighty muskie, but I still love boarding a boat and trolling the glassy green waters of Pymatuning Lake.
I’m certainly not alone in this treasured pastime.
Pymatuning Lake has the reputation of being one of the best fishing lakes around, and fishing enthusiasts come from near and far to try their luck (especially now that the boat motor horsepower limit has been raised from 9.9 to 20).
The lake is known not only for its muskies but also its walleye, crappie, bass, bluegill, perch and channel catfish.
On a sparkling afternoon, it’s fun to watch myriad watercrafts slicing the waves — both fishing boats and pleasure cruisers.
You’ll see boxy pontoons packed with picnicking tourists and colorful sailboats drifting on the breeze.
You may even spot a slender canoe or a kayak.
If you long to join the action but don’t own a boat, you can rent one at a local marina.
At Pymatuning Lake’s Espyville Marina, for example, you’ll pay about $95 a day to rent a pontoon and about $50 per day to rent a motorboat.
Daily kayak rentals cost about $35 and daily canoe rentals cost $25.
For $125 you can even rent a pontoon overnight and enjoy some night fishing.
If you drop anchor out in the middle of the lake, you may not have to worry about a single mosquito.
Imagine lounging on deck beneath a dome of stars while the gentle waves lull you to sleep, or waking to a misty sunrise and the cry of Canada geese.
Of course, a boat isn’t mandatory to cast a line into Pymatuning Lake.
With more than 70 miles of shoreline, you can always fish from dry land.
Just make sure you have a fishing license — that is mandatory.
Ohio licenses cost about $20 for people ages 16 to 65 who have lived in Ohio for the past six months.
I should mention that Pymatuning Lake straddles the Ohio and Pennsylvania borders, with part of the 17,088-acre lake belonging to the Keystone State and part belonging to the Buckeye State.
Therefore, make sure you choose a license for the appropriate state.
Ohio or Pennsylvania fishing licenses are honored anywhere on the lake, but you must have an Ohio license to fish from the Ohio shore and a Pennsylvania license to fish from the Pennsylvania shore.
I should also mention that there are two Pymatuning State Parks — one on the Ohio side of the lake in Andover and one on the Pennsylvania side of the lake in Jamestown.
Both state parks have boat launches, swimming beaches, hiking trails, campgrounds and rental cottages.
Pymatuning State Park on the Ohio side of the lake offers 26 family cottages that sleep six and are heated for year-round use and 32 standard cottages that sleep four and are available May 1 through Nov. 1.
Dogs are allowed in a few pet-friendly cottages.
Family cottages feature gas fireplaces and microwaves, and a few premium cottages boast a dishwasher, gas grill, central air and a three-person spa.
All cottages are furnished and include linens, towels, eating utensils and cable TV.
Rates vary from $65 to $135 per night, and $440 to $920 per week.
The Pennsylvania side of the lake has 20 furnished cabins.
These cabins have two or three bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area and one bathroom. Occupants must bring their own linens and cookware.
If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of places to camp on both the Ohio and Pennsylvania sides of the lake.
Pymatuning State Park on the Ohio side offers 331 campsites for $23 to $31 per night, for example.
The campgrounds offer heated shower houses, flush toilets, laundry facilities, basketball and volleyball courts, playgrounds, a nature center and a camp commissary.
On the Pennsylvania side of the lake, there are campsites in Jamestown, in Espyville (near Tuttle Beach) and in Linesville.
Pymatuning State Park on the Ohio side of the lake also offers three yurts, which are round canvas structures on wooden platforms with canvas roofs and dome skylights.
Each yurt sleeps five and features a microwave, stove and refrigerator.
In case you’re wondering, the word Pymatuning is reputedly Seneca for “the crooked mouthed man’s dwelling place,” with “crooked” referring to deceit rather than a facial deformity.
As a kid, I was fascinated with the area’s American Indian history, especially after I found an arrowhead washed up on shore near one of the boat marinas.
It amazed me to consider that the smooth, lapping lake water covered land that was once an impenetrable swamp.
Every time my fishing lure got snagged on an underwater stump, I’d picture a sunken driftwood forest beneath the murky depths.
Then I’d recall the tales I’d heard about the swamp before it was flooded.
With tangled thickets, predatory animals and dreaded quicksand, only Indians and adventurous trappers dared populate the area until a few brave white settlers arrived in the early 1800s.
From then on, there was talk of draining the swamp to make it suitable for farming, but it was flooding instead of draining that ultimately came to fruition.
That occurred in 1931 when construction began on a dam in Jamestown, Pa.
A dam would prevent floods while providing adequate water supplies for the Shenango and Beaver valleys.
A dam would also create a recreational lake.
By 1934, the roughly $3 million-dollar project was complete — thanks to the labor of 7,000 men — and the wild and mysterious swamp was just a memory.
In its place was a summer recreational haven that, by the 1950s, was a state park.
The tourists came in droves, and they’re still coming today — and not just in the summertime, either.
During winter, cross-country skiers trek the snowy hiking trails, and ice fishermen dot the frozen shores.
Spring means wildflowers along the wooded nature walks, and fall means fiery foliage and cozy evenings cuddled in a rental cottage.
Pymatuning Lake is also a year-round favorite for nature lovers.
Bald eagles nest around the lake, and park visitors are sure to spot deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and a variety of songbirds and migratory waterfowl.
Black bears and coyotes have even been spotted in the area.