By Vic Attardo
What: Susquehanna River smallmouth.
Where: Sunbury to Duncannon.
Why: The Susquehanna is undoubtedly the best smallmouth river in Pennsylvania, and possibly (according to the author, anyway) the best smallie river in the country.
When: Right now.
The official catch-and-release season ended June 13, and fishing will be at its best in early summer.
Techniques: Toss crankbaits, split-shot plastics, throw poppers.
Information: Susquehanna Valley Visitors Bureau (800-525-7320).
Pennsylvania is known nationally for its trout fishing, but I think we also have some of the greatest smallmouth fishing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I believe the Susquehanna River is the best, bar none, smallmouth river in the country.
The quantity of mini-mouths is astounding, and in the right locations, bass size is stellar.
In good years, it’s not unusual for most of your catch to run 16 to 18 inches.
Last season I heard some complaints about the way the Susquehanna was fishing, at least in the lower portion from Sunbury to Harrisburg.
And I have to agree. By Susquehanna standards it was an off year, hot and dry.
I didn’t have my best outings on the lower river last season.
But I recall past “off years” on the Susky followed by gangbuster seasons.
Actually, I thought the Delaware River smallmouth were a little “off” as well.
So this year, with the great snowfall we had, and good spring rains, I’m looking for big smallmouth on Pennsylvania’s big rivers.
Slicing the Susquehanna pie
You have to take it in thin slices or else you’d get real sick.
The more I fish the river, including the West Branch and the North Branch, the more I realize that you have to be prepared to fish different slices in different ways.
Think of it as needing to use either a salad fork, dinner fork or desert fork.
There are actually regional differences in the way this river is fished.
Rather than attempt to tell and categorize all of them, let me pick one section where there are big smallmouth and go into detail.
From Sunbury to Duncannon, the river is immensely wide, with large islands dividing the flow into two major halves.
Within these halves there are often a number of channels.
I went across the river at one point around the Mahantango access and counted no fewer than six channels from one bank to the other.
Each channels has its own set of riffles, runs, pools and tailouts.
Next to one channel is another with the same structures, but the two are not parallel, or flowing in tandem.
As a result you have a riffle next to a pool next to a run next to a riffle, and so on and so forth across the river.
This is how I’ve been thinking of the river now for a while. It’s a new way of thinking about it, and it helps me to fish it better.
Access to the Susky
On the west side of the river in this region lies Snyder County and a good number of public access points.
The construction on Route 11/15 is finished in this area, I think, and access is better — certainly the road turnoffs are safer.
I say “I think” the construction is done because who can ever tell about construction in this truck-busy region?
A few years ago, Pennsylvania Power & Light sold its power plant at Hummel’s Wharf.
The boat launch is still maintained but anglers are no longer permitted to fish the wall or walk to the dam from the power plant.
Keep that in mind.
The PP&L Shadynook access is located on Routes 11/15, and from there it’s a short ride upstream to a lowhead dam.
The froth and run below the dam is good for bass and other fish.
Several hundred yards below the dam, the river calms down considerably for some distance, and it is a lot narrower than it will be in just a few miles.
I don’t think the bass fishing in this section is all that good, at least until you get downstream to the railroad bridge.
The run at the bridge is terrific and no matter how much pressure it gets, the eddy on the east side produces bass.
The next access is the PFBC access at the Isle of Que.
You’ll know you’re approaching it because it’s the first place in this area of the river where there is a line of homes up along the west bank.
I like the runs that are part of the Que. This is where I generally start to catch those 17 and 18-inch smallmouth.
Penns Creek empties into the river at the Mahantango access.
The big river here is so wide you’d need a grenade launcher to toss a stone from one bank to the other.
Sometimes this area can be problematic to fish. The reason is water clarity.
Penns Creek can be as brown as molasses pie and the dark streak it creates goes on for a good mile or more.
The other side of the river is sometimes affected by runoff from an upstream industry.
But out in the center of this wide, wide river, near the island, the water runs clear. It’s also the home of some very big bass.
If on a summer’s day, you see a couple of idiots wading up to their chest hairs hugging an old eel weir in this region — that’s me and my friends.
We slide out of our boat and face the eel weir throwing small crankbaits and poppers.
It’s a blast. And yes, that’s a lifevest you see us wearing. We’re crazy, but we don’t have a death wish.
The Hoover’s Island Access is located about 31?2 miles south of Selinsgrove.
The ramp is a little steep and if the water is low you have to drive and drop the boat way out in the river.
You can maneuver downstream for several miles with a propeller engine, but a jet is obviously better in this very rocky water.
Downstream there’s the old towering pillars of a railroad bridge across the river and this area has good bass but I wouldn’t recommend going any further downstream without a jet.
The trip back up is going to be tough enough.