Since the mid-1970s, the New York/Pennsylvania-border reservoir has a strong history of producing monster walleye.
Most of these fish were caught through the ice and were the largest walleye caught in either state each year.
The Keystone State record was pressured several times before finally being destroyed in 1979 by a slob 16-pound, 12-ounce, 34¼-inch walleye.
The following year, Mike Holly of Bradford pulled the current record 17 pounds, 9 ounces, 36½ inches through the ice.
Eleven years later a fish fell 2 ounces shy of the record.
The New York state record 16 pounds, 7 ounces was also caught at Kinzua in 1994, though it wasn't caught through the ice.
The lake also produced the current Pennsylvania state-record northern pike.
Though it too wasn't an ice fish, fishing for northerns still remains excellent during the winter.
Brown trout have become regular part of the ice fishing on Kinzua, though they aren't caught as frequently as walleye or pike.
Trout up to 6 pounds are common. Ice anglers sometimes hook into musky, but the bigger ones are too large to pull through the 6 to 8-inch holes drilled by most ice fishermen.
Rainbow trout are stocked in Kinzua, but they aren't caught as often as browns.
Catfish up to 12 pounds were fairly common during the late 1970s, but they are unusual now.
Lake trout and Atlantic salmon have been stocked as well, but are also fairly uncommon through the ice.
Tip-ups are the mainstay on this reservoir. Most ice anglers use at least four tip-ups and no more than one jigging rod.
Jigging rods left unattended quickly become structure on the bottom of the reservoir.
Emerald shiners are the staple tip-up bait; in fact, some of the most successful ice anglers will not fish without them.
Fortunately, they are usually available at area bait shops.
The favorite size bait for big-fish anglers is 4 to 6 inches. Either way you hook the fish through the lips or through the back dorsal fin will work.
Running these shiners with a treble hook single-wide gap is most likely the best approach. Early season, the fish are more aggressive, so either tactic works well.
Everyone has a different view when it comes to fishing Kinzua and how to set your rigs.
From what I've determined, there's no right answer, but I tend to set my tip-ups at a variety of depths.
Tip-up 1 is set near a shoreline boulder with the bait about 5 feet under the ice.
This is a great set-up for pike, trout or musky.
Tip-ups 2, 3 and 4 intended primarily for walleye, though they might catch anything are set with their baits about a foot above the bottom.
Tip-up 5 is set just a few feet under the ice over deep water. It is intended to catch trout primarily, but perhaps pike.
Start your tip-up pattern near shore, and near some type of steep structure such as a steep point, cliff or large boulder.
Pike and trout often roam just a few feet under the ice, and pike, especially, near shore. Set the bait about 3 to 4 feet beneath the ice.
If pike are your primary objective, set two or three tip-ups close to shore with a reasonable distance between them.
If the water is deep enough, vary the depths of the baits. For example, if the depth is about 15 feet, set one at 3 feet, one at 8 and another at 12.
Keep in mind that the fishing regulations require that tip-ups be close enough to be under your immediate control.
J-pattern not just for ducks
If you want a tip-up spread that is ready for any Kinzua big fish, run your tip-ups in a line, or a "J" shape, out from shore to a depth of no more than 30 feet.
Beyond 30 feet you will catch mostly smaller walleye, and bringing them up from depths greater than about 33 feet will kill most.
If the bottom slope is relatively gentle, the line should be roughly perpendicular to the shoreline.
On steeper slopes, run the line at a more acute angle so you can spread the holes at least 20 feet apart.
This will cover a reasonable amount of water, and it will usually avoid fish tangling two lines.
Walleye seldom take out more than 10 to 15 feet of line. Pike and trout often take much more.
Setting the depth of the bait depends on the fish you hope to catch. For walleye, the bait should usually be set within a foot of the bottom.
If trout are your objective, set at least a couple of baits no more than 5 feet under the ice, no matter what the depth.
If you see most hits coming on one or two tip-ups, concentrate more of your rigs in that same depth range.
I prefer, regardless of the pattern, to keep at least one tip-up close to shore.
I also reserve one of my five allotted rigs for jigging.
I drill several holes for this, with at least one close to each tip-up no more than five feet away so I can jig there if it appears that a school of walleye is in the area.
On the flip side, if I locate fish by jigging, I move tip-ups into the same area.
At most lakes, you might sometimes notice that one particular hole gets hot, but you cannot catch a nibble from any other hole no matter how close they are.
I assume in a case like this that the hole is just close enough, and on the correct side, of a very good piece of structure or cover.
Countless boulders, stumps and sunken logs are scattered on the bottom of Kinzua.
Where to go
Access is the major obstacle to ice fishing at Kinzua. The lake is large with few good access points.
Some access points require a treacherous walk down a very steep bank.
On the west side of the lake, the only good access is at Webbs Ferry, close to the New York border.
Even here, unless you have a 4x4 with chains, you might have to walk a few hundred yards to the ice.
There is another road to the ice at Roper Hollow, but this long, steep, narrow road isn't maintained during winter.
Along the east side, many anglers walk to the ice from Route 59 between the dam and the bridge over the Kinzua Arm, and at the swimming beach on the north side of the Route 59 bridge.
Ice anglers coming from the Bradford area have good success by walking to the ice from Route 321 near the head of Sugar Bay.
Willow Bay, just south of the New York border along Route 346, is another popular area.
The area close to the New York border generally is best early in the ice fishing season. But currents can make the ice treacherous there.
Later in the season, the better action often moves down the lake.
Some anglers get to the ice at Webbs Ferry or Willow Bay and walk down the lake on the ice.
Kinzua is notorious for weak spots, even when most of the ice is very thick. Many of these weak spots are caused by gas escaping from old wells.
Never strike out alone. Carry rope and ice spikes.
Some smart ice anglers wear life jackets.
Snowmobiles, ATVs and all other motorized vehicles are prohibited from operating on the ice at Kinzua, and from driving to the edge of the ice.
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