John Pascavage is an impressive recreational and tournament bass fisherman. We catch up with John and learn about his fishing in Pennsylvania for big smallmouth and largemouth bass.
How long have you been fishing?
I have been fishing since I was five. My father took me to Sayer’s Lake here in Central Pennsylvania. I caught a crappie on my small spincaster.
Most of my earlier memories are of going fishing with my father, whether it be for panfish, bass, ice fishing, or fly fishing for trout. Trout fishing is something my area is very well known for, with local figures such as Joe Humphreys, and renowned trout streams such as Little Juniata, Spring Creek, and Penn’s Creek. I had my first experiences in competitive fishing in the local youth trout tournament on Bald Eagle Creek, for which I won my age group when I was 12.
How long have you been part of Tyrone Bassmasters?
I have been a member of this club since 2015. In 2012, I moved to Berwick, a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania, for my first real job out of college. While there, I fished smaller lakes out of a kayak, and I fished as co angler in a few tournaments.
In 2013, I was fortunate enough to find a job near my hometown. I jumped at the chance to live and work in the area again. Shortly after moving back, I purchased my first bass boat, a Bass Tracker Pro Team 170TX. It was at this time I decided to find a bass club and join.
Tyrone Bassmasters had the most members of the clubs near me, and I liked having the opportunity to fish at the district, local, and regional level. This club is just such a great group of guys, many of whom would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. There are guys of all skill levels, from beginners to old seasoned vets, and those with sponsors. We are competitive during tournaments, but always joking around and sharing what worked at the weigh-in.
In 2016, you had the lunker of the year for the club. Tell us about that fish.
It was a 5.74 pound smallmouth that I caught during the first day of our two day club tournament at Chautauqua Lake in New York. The fish took a texas rigged black with blue flake five inch Senko.
At Chautauqua, there are essentially two main patterns, which are docks and weeds. During practice, I had driven by the spot I decided to start in, but I didn’t fish it. This spot had a row of seven or eight sailboat docks which looked good, but I was disappointed to find the water under it was only about three feet deep, and choked with weeds almost too thick to fish.
So I decided to move a bit deeper, and fish the deep weedline. I began working right down it with tubes, drop shots, jigs, and more, and at one point, I decided to throw the Senko I had rigged up, and drag it very slowly down the weed edge. Sure enough, on the first cast with this, I felt something ticking the bait, but not taking it.
On the second cast, I let it sit just a bit longer, and I had something pick the bait up, but I missed the hookset. I decided to make one more cast in this same area, and let it sit for about as long as I could stand it. At one point when I lifted my rod, I felt a lot of resistance. I initially thought it was just weeds, but when I felt it come through the weeds the resistance was still there.
I set the hook and felt movement. I wasn’t sure what I hooked, as the fish continuously bolted for the bottom, and didn’t come to the surface. After a brief fight, I managed to net the fish. That set the tone for the rest of the weekend. I ended up catching good limits on both days, and winning the lunker award for the tournament, and second overall. I would have had the win if not for a dead fish penalty on a deep hooked fish.
What have been other highlights for you in tournament fishing?
I have won two of our club tournaments, once at Sayer’s Lake and just recently at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. I have also placed in the money many times. Last year, I placed third in The Bass Federation PA District IV tournament at Raystown Lake.
This year, I have been invited to compete in several higher profile tournaments. I will be a member of our club’s six-man team for the PA Bass Federation Regional Tournament on Raystown. I am hoping that since this is almost a home lake for us that we will do well.
In addition, I have been invited to fish in the PA Bass Federation State Championship, which will be held on Cayuga Lake, New York from June 22-23. This will be quite a challenge, as it will be the largest lake I have ever fished after Lake Erie. On the other hand, it seems to be well suited to my strengths, so I am looking forward to it.
What are your favorite places to smallmouth bass fish in PA?
I have been fishing the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers since I was very young. Both of these are nearby, and have healthy populations of smallmouth. My father and I had many days of floating these rivers in canoes and/or kayaks, or wet wading them, where we would catch around triple digits.
However, I would be crazy if I didn’t say that Lake Erie is my favorite place to fish for smallmouth. Simply because, it’s Erie. Almost any given time in late May or early June, one can make the trek up there, and catch massive numbers of three and four pound smallies, along with fish over five and beyond in the mix. If the main lake is too rough to fish, one can simply head to Presque Isle Bay, or one of the lagoons and continue the action.
What are your favorite baits and presentations for catching smallmouth bass on these waters?
For the rivers, I like Senkos, grubs, Ned rigs, small craw imitations, small crankbaits, and tubes. It is important to imitate both the size of the minnows the fish in these waters feed on, along with the ample crawfish, which are all over the place in late summer. Also, if anyone wants a true challenge, try hooking into a smallmouth on a fly rod.
For Lake Erie, tube jigs are king along with drop shots, jigging spoons, blade baits, and jerkbaits. In Presque Isle Bay, many of these still work, but I often switch to jigs or plastics for a shallower presentation.
One of my secrets for the bay is to use a rainbow trout colored lure. There are millions of steelhead fingerlings that are stocked into the bay and various tributary streams around the lake, which leave the creeks in the spring. These are key prey items for many fish, and seem to take some of the bigger bass in the bay.
What are your favorite places to largemouth bass fish in Pennsylvania?
When most people think of Pennsylvania, they don’t think much about largemouth. However, there are many great fisheries for them throughout the state. The two lakes I fish the most, Sayer’s Lake and Raystown Lake, both contain ample numbers of largemouth, along with larger fish.
Also, there are a few “hidden jewel” lakes in northeast Pennsylvania that I fished when I was living up there, Sylvan Lake and Harveys Lake. I try to get back to these lakes whenever I can.
What are your favorite baits and presentations for catching largemouth bass on these waters?
For largemouth, I like to fish grass and weeds as much as possible, as I’ve found my bigger fish seem to come from these areas, especially at Raystown in the heat of summer. I like to start in these areas with a topwater or frog, and then a reaction bait such as a Chatterbait.
After this, I like to slow down and pitch tubes and Senkos to the pockets in the weeds. I will then go down the deep weed edge with a shaky head. Another great, underutilized technique for this situation is a split shot rigged plastic, casting it into the grass, rip it free, and let it fall. This allows you to coax finicky fish with a more finesse approach, while still covering the area quickly.
Laydowns and shoreline cover can be good as well, but these areas tend to get heavily fished, so in these areas, I like to go against the grain, and work a squarebill or spinnerbait.
For fishing offshore, I use my Garmin Striker 7 SV to find humps, brush piles, roadbeds, weed edges, ledges, etc, and mark them. I am a bit unorthodox in the front of my boat, where I have a flasher style sonar, however this allows me to see everything that is going on under me in real time. I will fish these areas with Carolina rigs, drop shots, football jigs, deep crankbaits, and tube jigs.
Who are your pro staff companies and what do you like about their products for fishing?
I am currently sponsored by Liquid Mayhem Bait Company and Lunker City Fishing. Attractants are one of the most heavily hyped products in the fishing industry, and I have tried many from sprays to jellies to marinades and even scent infused lures. Liquid Mayhem is the best on the market, and has made a huge difference in my fishing success. It is made from real baitfish and forage items. It sticks to lures cast after cast, to make fish key in on your bait and strike hard.
Lunker City, I believe, is one of the unsung heroes of the fishing industry, and one of the more influential of all time. They are best known as the creators of the Sluggo, a soft plastic stickbait and soft jerkbait, that has been cited as a precursor to the Senko, fluke baits, and others. And yet, it always amazes me how few people use them. One of their other innovative products is the Salad Spoon, which is a hybrid of a grub, buzzbait, frog, and topwater. Another one is the Panhead Jig, which is designed specifically for skipping, and modeled after a flat round rock one would choose for skipping across the surface of the water. It has become one of my baits of choice for dock fishing, as well as anytime there is overhanging cover.
Thanks John and good luck in 2018.