First-rate smallmouth fishing can be found on Susquehanna


Bored with the best dove and striped bass seasons to come our way in some years? Then, let me point you to arguably the best smallmouth bass fishing in the nation.

No, it's not found in the Potomac River, but that's a pretty good guess. My vote -- and that of legions of other experienced anglers -- goes to the Susquehanna River.

David Navarre and I recently joined Kermit Henning and noted wildlife artist Gerald Putt for an absolutely perfect float-fishing trip on the Susquehanna. For the 5-mile stretch that we floated, the total numbers of smallmouth bass caught and released exceeded 150, because that was the number we had hooked by the time we stopped for lunch on one of the river's scenic islands.

We didn't continue the count after lunch, but I'd be willing to bet the house that the four of us easily doubled that figure. And this just wasn't one of those days when the fish were biting unusually well.

Dick Broden and I had a similarly successful day last summer when fishing with Bill Kramer. The three of us easily put in excess of a hundred smallmouths on the end of our lines and could have added greatly to that total if a storm hadn't chased us off the river after only two hours.

On that day, we put Kramer's flat-bottomed tin boat in at New Buffalo and stayed close to that village's public launching area because of the threatening weather. Though I have fished Maryland's portion of the Susquehanna for smallmouth many times, I have come to prefer Pennsylvania's portion along U.S. 15 from Harrisburg northward.

On this recent trip, we put our canoes in at Duncannon, about 20 miles north of Harrisburg, and this time the weather was ideal. Each of us carried two rods -- a light-action spinning outfit and a fly rod. I rode with my friend Kermit, while my son-in-law, David, floated with Gerry Putt. This was the first Susquehanna trip for Dave, and it certainly made the desired impression.

The river has been quite low this year because of the dry summer, and though a canoe is the right choice here most of the time, it was the only choice this summer. Kermit warned, "Bring something to wade in, because we will probably be walking just as much as we are riding."

It wasn't that bad, but the old wading shoes did earn their keep.

Most of the Susquehanna is wadable, and there is no more enjoyable way to fish during warm weather than with an old pair of sneakers (glue a piece of old carpet on the soles for traction) and an old pair of shorts.

The hot lure of the day was a Rebel crawfish. I started with a minnow/spinner lure but after watching Gerry and David hook a couple of bass in secession, Kermit and I made the switch. Mine was the little 1/4 -ounce version, and the routine was to toss it behind rocks. That is were these bass lay most of time. The water is relatively still there, so little energy is required of them to sit there and grab crawfish and minnows as they drift by in the faster current.

Gerry and David mostly used their spinning gear, but Kermit and I probably used our fly rods an equal amount of time. After all, this was to be a relaxed, fun day on the river, and the graceful fly rod is about as relaxed as you can get.

In the morning, I tied on a Clouser crawfish, but replaced it after lunch with a local pattern resembling a black Wooly Bugger with red and silver tinsel that may have held a slight edge at the end of the day.

Be sure to take your fly rod when you fish this river. An 8 1/2 - to 9-foot rod using a WF8F bass taper line is ideal. As for a spinning rig, carry a 6- to 6 1/2 -foot rod with a fast tip and a suitably small reel loaded with 6- to 8-pound-test mono line. Lures and flys should resemble river bait -- crawfish and minnows, mostly.

Ironically, we were not fishing during the best time. April and October are best, in my experiences.

Getting there is simple -- U.S. 15 to Harrisburg, and then pick a spot. Incidentally, there is super bass action on the river, even in downtown Harrisburg. From Westminster, the drive takes a little more than an hour.


Fall bay fishing

Last Saturday, I joined Gary Johnson for a frantic afternoon of fishing for breaking bluefish in the Eastern Bay area of the Chesapeake. These were some of the nicest fall blues I have caught on surface plugs for some time, with most going 3 to 4 pounds. It has long been my belief that a bluefish is the hardest fighting sport fish available in the Bay.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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