Exploring the Meadow Lake (FDR Park) in South Philadelphia

Hello, Readers!

Today, I'm introducing you guys to Meadow Lake, mostly known as the "FDR Park" (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), or "The Lakes."

Beautiful picture of Meadow Lake during the beginning of Summer. There's another post in this Blog that talks about the FDR Park. If you want to read about it after this post, click here.

The FDR park is located in a very convenient spot in South Philadelphia, just next to the AT&T station - the last stop of the Broadstreet line (Orange line). When it comes to man-made Lakes, Meadow Lake is a very well designed one, nowadays still holding a good amount of aquatic biodiversity.

As a plain curiosity (outside the realm of fishing), the FDR Park in South Philadelphia also has its "shady" parts. Heh. Above is a nice video that portrays one of its darkest secrets. 

Personally, I used to refer to this Park as the "Sunfish Paradise". It's a very exaggerated term to be used nowadays, since a huge portion of fishes are gone due to over harvesting; however, this particular place in Philadelphia was a good spot for many different species of Sunfish (including Largemouth Bass as well). The fact is that Meadow Lake is slowly dying due to over harvesting - people are taking way too many fish for consumption, legally or illegally (poaching), not following the Seasons, Sizes, and Creel Limits proposed by the Fish and Boat Commission

Even though, the Lake is strong. There's still life in Meadow Lake. Therefore, if you are an angler that doesn't only fish for size, but loves fishing for different Species of fish, Meadow Lake is a good spot for you in the city. If you have kids, even better - bring them with you! A simple "worm under a bobber" set up will give your kids a lot of happiness. Also, it's good to remind the public that any kid below 16 years old does not need a fishing license in order to fish.

I've used Google Earth to capture a satellite picture of the entire park, which can be seen below. I've divided the lakes one by one - number 1 through 5. It's easier for me to introduce you to this spot using these numbers, since different species of fish are found at different spots. There's a sixth body of water at the FDR, which is part of the golf course (kind of private). It's "fishable", and it does hold big fish at certain seasons of the year. If you never heard about the FDR Park before, you can read its history on wikipedia.

Note that the AT&T Station is on the NORTHEAST of the Map. Click on it for a maximized view.

Below are a couple sample videos of my fishing sessions down at the FDR Park:

Multi-Species fishing at the FDR Park. :)

Carping Meadow Lake using Mulberries (a.k.a. Mulberry Carp Fishing).

Another fishing session down there :)

The different types of fish that I've seen inside the multiple lakes of the FDR park are:

Largemouth Bass: the locals state that they used to be abundant in "The Lakes." They are still present these days; however, in much lower quantities. If you work out your artificials during the beginning of Spring until the end of Fall, and put a lot of determination in it (cover as much water as you can), you will certainly catch some! It's a shame that certain people take them illegally during spawning season, greatly cutting the numbers of future generations of Largemouth Bass in Meadow Lake. Unfortunately, and also the reality of the place, Meadow Lake lacks environmental enforcement. In three years that I've been fishing there, I have never seen a single Game Warden, which is truly a shame.

March 26th, 2012 - I caught this one at the Main Lake using a top water Jitterbug. Bad photo, but beautiful fish!

April 20th, 2014 - A feisty Largemouth Bass, caught on a whacky-rigged Senko on a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook. 

March 23rd, 2012 - My good fishing friend - Mike H. - caught a bunch of Largemouth Bass in Meadow Lake already. Being compulsive and determined about targeting LMB and using only 1 rod and artificials, Mike has been catching LMB and other game-fish all around Philly and New Jersey.

March 26th, 2012 - Another chunky Largemouth Bass caught right off the dock on the main lake of Meadow Lake

July 28th, 2011 - Notice the vegetation on the photo background. During Summer and beginning of Fall, Meadow Lake is almost totally filled with vegetation. For some anglers, the vegetation is a burden; for LMB anglers, however, it's usually fish heaven!

"Sunnies" (Bluegill): Mainly Bluegills. There are some big ones in the small tributaries of the Meadow Lake (ranging from 5-9 inches)! Even though these fish don't get very big, they are still good entertainment when nothing else is biting. On an ultralight set-up (ultra-light rod, 4lb test line, small hook, no sink or split shot), the big ones put up a great fight! Also, when it comes to family fishing, Bluegills are the best option for Meadow Lake. They are abundant, and they can be fished at all seasons of the year.

October 9th, 2012 - Nightcrawlers, Little twists or minnows, bread, etc...lots of different baits will work with Bluegills! Bring a kid with you and give him an unique experience. The one above was caught on position 4 (look at the map at the beginning of the post)

October 9th, 2012 - Once again, notice all the vegetation on the Lake. Even so, the fish were still hunting for food under it, and biting good on minnow imitations.

November 11th, 2011 - One of the smallest Bluegills I ever caught at Meadow Lake. This little guy is also prime bait for Northern Snakeheads when put under a float (alive), close to vegetation.

Black Crappie: the "Ancient Ones", as some locals prefer to call them. They are highly contaminated; They are old; They are not edible. Guess what? Because most people don't take them (there is still a small population of anglers that will take them home, even knowing that they are contaminated), and also because a lot of people don't know how to fish for them, they get very big in The Lakes! They used to be in greater numbers just like any other Species of fish, but we should truly be glad they are still present in the Lake these days. Recall that Black Crappies will never bite on "dead" bait. Therefore, when fishing with a live nightcrawler, make sure to give it a couple twitches - give it some more life. Minnow imitations work best, of course! I've also seen people catching them on small plugs.

October 9th, 2012 - This one was caught on a Gulp! Minnow, under a float. It was also caught in Position 4.

June 12th, 2011 - Probably one of my first Black Crappies at Meadow Lake, caught on a nightcrawler under a float. The dollar bill is being used as a length reference to the fish - one dollar bill = 6 inches.

Gizzard Shad: There is a healthy population of Gizzard Shad in Meadow Lake. However, as some may know, Gizzards are filter-feeders. In other words, they feed on microscopic beings, meaning that they will never bite your hook. The only known way of landing a Gizzard Shad is by Foul-hooking, which is illegal in Pennsylvania if done purposely.

March 26th, 2012 - Mike H. with a nice Gizzard Shad from Meadow Lake.

Channel Catfish: The PA Fish and Boat Commission actually stocked Meadow Lake with some Channel Catfish in the past. Therefore, there's a small population of Channel Catfish available in the Lakes! I've caught two Channel Catfish there in the past three years; although, I wasn't really targeting them. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of a Meadow Lake Cat. Once I have one, I'll add it here.

Common Carp: Carp anglers, be aware that there are plenty of Carp in the Meadow Lake! I've carped there only a few times personally; however, I've seen many Carps swimming by! The biggest one that I've seen in person was a chunky 20lbs Common Carp pulled out of the main Lake. Also, my greatest achievement there was a 3lbs Partial Mirror Carp. So, they are in there! Bring your can of corn, chum, and wait. If you are more sophisticated, feel free to bring your own home-made dough, your 12 feet rods and rod rack. =) Be patient, and you should end up with a couple nice Carps. 

May 10th, 2012 - Rob Z. with a chunky "Meadow Lake Carp" caught on a piece of kernel corn at the Main Lake. 

May 10th, 2012 - Same fish, from another angle. Notice the rod holder at the back. When Carping, it's super important to have a rod holder and a loosened drag! Without these, a big Carp can easily pull your rod into the water. Keep that in mind! 

November 24th, 2014 - A chunky 15lber from the main Lake. It fought really well after hitting the corn, despite low water temperatures.

November 24th, 2014 - Probably my greatest achievement at Meadow Lake, in terms of Carp fishing: a 3lbs Partial Mirror Carp.

December 1st, 2014 - An 8lber, also on the corn.

American Eel: There's a minimal population of American Eels in the Lakes. I've caught some close to bridges, fishing on the bottom with small pieces of fish. If one is really interested in catching them, just place a small piece of fish (or another type of meat) on the bottom and wait a couple minutes. 

April 20th, 2014 - Believe it or not, I caught this American Eel on a very small live Bluegill! It's all about gluttony, folks...

Northern Snakeheads: There's one other factor that makes Meadow Lake unique! The FDR Park is the ONLY place in Philadelphia with an abundant population of the Northern Snakehead fish - a.k.a. "Frankenfish". Just like some other types of Gamefish, Northern Snakeheads are on top of the aquatic food chain; therefore, just imagine fishing one of those! With their incredible speeds, the big ones fight like a torpedo. If you are an angler that loves challenges, make sure you step near the dirty weedy beds of the Meadow Lake. With persistence and dedication, an angler is apt to land a Northern Snakehead there. Their populations are lower nowadays due to the fact that they are an invasive Species (the government wants them killed), and the fact that the Asian population harvest them for dinner. Still...the locals state that the Frankenfish is one of the best fighters in Philadelphia! To know more about this Species, you may click here to view my incomplete article on them. 

April 20th, 2014 - A small Northern Snakehead, caught on a live Bluegill. As one can see, the tail of the Bluegill is still hanging out of its mouth. Heh. Beautiful coloration as well.

April 14th, 2012 - Mike H. has caught many Northern Snakeheads at Meadow Lake. Therefore, I chose the best pictures for you guys to take a look at! They are aggressive and great fighters. Personally, I also find their patterns to be amazing.

March 20th, 2012 - Another Northern Snakehead. Notice that they won't bite on anything that doesn't move! Fish imitations and certain types of soft plastics are best for them.

March 20th, 2012 - Another Northern Snakehead, caught on the same day at the same spot. Good stuff! 

As mentioned above (and in my incomplete article)...the only problem with the Snakehead Species is that they are an invasive Species in Philadelphia; and again, they are one of the top predators in the aquatic food chain (together with other Species of game fish). As a lie-in-wait predator, the Northern Snakehead can eat basically anything that passes in front of it -- from small fish to vegetation, from vegetation to garbage. Nobody knows exactly when they were introduced in Philadelphia's waters; however, there are speculations that someone released these fish in "The Lakes" about a decade ago. Since then, they have adapted and reproduced.

The video portrays Northern Snakehead fingerlings feeding to the algae in Meadow Lake. As mentioned above, Northern Snakehead populations are well established nowadays. They are here to stay, folks.

The Northern Snakehead fish is not only found in the FDR park nowadays, though. It's certainly an abundant species in the park, but it was also seen in other local bodies of water. Summer of last year, for example, one of my friends caught a small Snakehead at the Schuylkill River, between the Walnut and Chestnut bridges. Also, Mike H. caught one of them next to the Fairmount Dam (the photo is below). Just by seeing ONE of them out there, a person can come to the conclusion that this species has successfully propagated in Philadelphia, and it's proliferating at a fast speed. They are already in open waters, guys, and there's nothing we can do about it. 

July 3rd, 2012 - Mike H. with his first Northern Snakehead from the Schuylkill River.

As a reminder, the Boat and Commission does not allow the transportation of live Snakehead fish. It's illegal to keep Northern Snakeheads alive because they are an invasive species. Thus, it's also illegal to sell them, etc. You can see all the details here.

Flathead Catfish: I truly believe that the Flathead Catfish will become the new "fever" of Meadow Lake in the next decades or so. First acknowledged in 1999 by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, the Flathead Catfish spread wildly around Philadelphia! They started in the Delaware River (~1995), eventually swimming to its tributaries. The Schuylkill River (~1999) is a good example -- there's a fixed and reproducing population of Flatheads in the non-tidal Schuylkill River nowadays (above the Fairmout Dam). And now, ~2014, they have been found in Meadow Lake. Note that I have not yet attempted to catch them there; however, friends have been keeping me updated. 

Important note: Flathead Catfish were considered to be an invasive Species of fish by the PA Fish and Boat Commission around 2002. Thus, officers recommended anglers to get rid of the fish. However, as for 2014, I've personally contacted a game warden about this topic and I have word from them that the disposal of Flathead Catfish is no longer mandatory! Therefore, Catch-Photo-Release is a plausible approach. :) 

Preferentially, fish for them with live bait on the bottom. Circle hooks and heavy-test line works great for them. They will also bite on fresh cut-bait. Below are a couple photos of FB reader Visal R. with recent Flatheads from Meadow Lake. Thanks for your contribution, Visal! 

September 29th, 2014 - Visal R. with an average size Flathead Catfish for Meadow Lake.

September 22nd, 2014 - Visal R. with another Flathead Catfish from Meadow Lake. It was caught on a Bluegill.

Now, back to the fishing...

I've fished the FDR park more than only a couple times, never really ending up with a big fish (note that i never did any Carping there), which is quite frustrating. I've caught Channel Catfish on nightcrawlers next to number 4; and also Bluegills and Crappies: you can always get some good sized bluegills (prox. 5-7 inches) on the bridges, and occasionally a Black Crappie (prox. 6-13 inches). You should feel lucky if you get a Black Crappie, though, hence their quantities are quite low these days. To tell you the truth, I always get excited while fishing for Bluegills because of the Crappies: You never know when you will land one! For Snakeheads, the best spot is position number 3. The locals refer to it as "The pond". It's a body of water that is completely excluded from all other waters, heavy on aquatic vegetation. According to "Joe, from the Lakes" - a local that fishes the FDR park constantly - he caught 96 Snakeheads during one summer in a certain year, mostly coming from position 3.

I've seen people hunting for Bass and Snakehead on positions 1 - which is the picture on the left, and the Big Lake, which is position number 2. People often fish the Big Lake around the gazebo, and the old pier. 

Position number 5 is also a good spot for Largemouth Bass, and big Sunfish. However, it's a spot more suitable for the adventurous type of fishermen, hence it's too far and remote. I have to admit that I haven't fished number 5 a lot (once, I got lost in the jungle there - it was pretty scary). For number 6, I've never tried it. I do have witnesses saying that they have seen big Carps spawning on location 6. 

Over all, you will usually see a lot of fishermen at the FDR park getting nothing! Getting skunked is not "news" over there. However, keep the old fishing cliche in mind: "They are in there!" Therefore, do not give up if you go fishing there one day, and end up getting absolutely nothing. Dedication and persistence are the keys for success in Meadow Lake. My tip for improving your fishing results is: always change your location. In the FDR park, location is an essential variable for a successful fishing day. NEVER stay in one location too long.

I hope you folks enjoyed this introductory post, and I hope you catch A LOT if you decide to fish Meadow Lake one of these days! However, please keep in mind that conscious fishing always boils down to S.A.F.E. angling! In order to maintain the sustainability of our waters for ourselves and even for future generations to come, please practice Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) and selective-harvest (i.e. take only what you need and what you will consume; release endangered and rare Species of fish), Also, please avoid practicing non-point source pollution (i.e. littering)! 

Best of luck for all of us!

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S.