With Memorial Day tomorrow, thousands of Harford County residents are spending the long holiday weekend on the water. Some folks have battled endless traffic jams, traveling to Ocean City, Rehoboth and Virginia Beach, while others have opted to spend their leisure time closer to home.
Avid recreational anglers and pleasure boaters have several viable options, most of them situated less than 30 minutes from Bel Air, Aberdeen and Edgewood.
Conowingo Lake, just 20 minutes north of Bel Air, is the largest impoundment on the Susquehanna River. Measuring nearly 11 miles long and approximately 2 miles across at its widest point, this particular body of water offers a wide variety of recreational activities.
When water temperatures are less than 75 degrees, the upper reaches of the lake provides outstanding smallmouth bass action. Bronzebacks ranging from 1 to 5 pounds inhabit the fast waters between Big Bear Island and Holtwood Dam, locations usually only accessible to owners of small aluminum boats. Boats constructed of fiberglass often are severely damaged by countless submerged boulders and rocks lurking just beneath the surface.
The mouth of Muddy Creek, also located in the lake's upper reaches, is always a good bet for big bronzebacks, slabsided crappie, hefty channel catfish and mammoth carp. Granted, bass, crappie and catfish are anything but pushovers when it comes to fighting ability, but use the same ultralite outfit to land a 15- to 35-pound carp and it puts an entirely new meaning to the word challenging.
The cut between Big Bear and Little Bear Island holds lots of bass, a few catfish, yellow perch and hordes of big carp. Live minnows are best for the bass and perch, cut herring and night crawlers will lure 2- to 5-pound channel cats and whole kernel, yellow corn attracts the undivided attention of the carp.
Although anglers often catch good numbers of slabsided crappie, chunky bluegill and broad-shouldered largemouths at several downlake locations, the most productive fishing periods are restricted to early morning and late afternoon, times when boating traffic is considerably lighter.
Because Conowingo Lake is relatively clean, fresh water, it's not only popular with recreational anglers, but it's also considered one of the best areas in Harford County for water skiing or just blasting around on the water with high-powered speed boats and jet skis. Consequently, conflicts often erupt between the two user groups if both happen to be in the same area.
If you don't own a boat, you'll find lots of great fishing opportunities below Conowingo Dam.
A spokesman for Philadelphia Electric Company said the catwalk of Conowingo Dam and the adjacent fishing gallery will be open Memorial Day weekend. Anglers fishing from the catwalk catch large numbers of channel catfish, huge carp, an occasional smallmouth bass and when conditions are right, walleye.
A 200-yard long stretch of rocky beach situated just below the dam on the Harford County shoreline provides shorebound anglers with access to great white perch fishing. Fisherman casting small spinners and shad darts trimmed with a chunk of night crawler or grass shrimp catch perch ranging from 8 to 13 inches throughout most of the spring.
Downriver, at the mouth of Deer Creek, early-morning anglers enjoy wading with "belly boats," which are essentially nothing more than large inner tubes fitted with a canvas seat and a few accessory bags. The device allows light-tackle fishermen the opportunity to safely reach those secluded, deep pockets that often hold the largest bass.
Although belly boats are relatively safe, it's a good idea to use them only during periods of low flow, when water is not gushing through the turbines at Conowingo Dam.
When the river's relatively high, fish downriver near Lapidum Landing, a modern state launch ramp at the southern end of Susquehanna State Park. The ramp is open 24 hours a day with a launch fee of $5.