Bait those hooks

Last week’s suddenly chilly temperatures may have put a damper on most outdoor activities, but fisherman Greg Martin, of McElhattan, was pleased with the daytime highs in the 50s and nighttime temps brushing the freezing mark.

There’s a good chance that, by June 2, black and white crappies will be spawning and that could mean a banner start to the Northeast Panfish League that Martin has founded this year.

“When the water temperature is in the mid-60s, the crappies start spawning,” he said.

Just before the colder temperatures started last week, a fisherman at Hammond Lake in Tioga County told Martin that the water was about 59 degrees.

“The water temperature probably dropped (when the air temperature did), but it’s going to warm back up. By the time we start our tournament up there, the water temperature may be right around what they like for spawning,” Martin said. “We may be taking some big female crappies to the weigh-in.”

In addition to black and white crappie, other species eligible for the tournament are bluegill and other sunfish, and perch.

The panfish league will put “a new twist in competition fishing,” Martin said.

“There are a million bass clubs around,” he added, “but we’ll have year-round competition.”

Anglers can sign up in teams of two and must have a boat to use on the lakes where the tournaments will be held. Each tournament will be held on a Sunday.

“We’ll have five open water tournaments this year,” Martin said.

He acknowledged that the series is getting a late start this season, but that’s because he had to line up permits and get all of the necessary waivers and paperwork finished.

The series starts June 2 on Hammond Lake. The next month, it’ll be on the first Sunday at Walker Lake in Snyder County, then Rose Valley Lake on Aug. 4.

“All of the events in Pennsylvania this year are within an hour’s drive,” Martin said.

Two more tournaments will round out the open water events, then there’ll be “a little down time through the holidays,” he said. Fishing will pick back up between Christmas and New Year’s.

“I’m planning on five ice events this year,” Martin said.

A lack of viable ice fishing lead to the relocation of another tournament series that originally was led by Byron Eckardt, formerly of Halifax. He founded the IceFishingPA website, which sponsored ice fishing tournaments and later became the North East Ice Tour.

But Eckardt changed jobs and couldn’t devote as much time to the fishing tournaments, so he handed the series off to a New York state angler.

“He moved all of the events to New York and Vermont,” Martin said, “and they only fish on ice. We don’t always have a great ice fishing season down here.”

Eckardt now is Martin’s tournament director.

The new panfish league is low-key enough that a father-child or husband-wife team can participate, he said.

But don’t let that fool you – there’s plenty of room to cash in, too. There’s a $40 registration fee per team per event and a $10 lunker contest fee per event.

Martin expects to have enough teams register to ensure that the top five teams will receive cash prizes. The first-place team will get engraved plaques, and the teams in sixth- through 10th-place will get some sort of prize for their efforts.

At the end of the series, an open water champion and an ice water champion will be crowned. A special Triple A title – for the All-Around Angler – will go to the person who earns the most points.

The maximum number of teams that the series can accept is 35. Advance registrations are accepted, and a $10 deposit will hold a team’s spot on the roster.

On the day of a tournament, each team will bring their fish to the weigh station. Points are awarded per pound of fish caught.

Teams are allowed to keep up to 20 fish in their boat’s tanks and may weigh-in 12 fish, including their choice for the lunker prize.

Anglers will be asked to return their catches to the water, but it’s not mandatory.

“They are good table fare for people,” Martin said, adding that there is no closed season for panfish.

For more information about the series, or to register a team, visit or search for the league’s FaceBook page.