Saturday, July 2, 2016

Lady Liberty was happy to see us freeing a lot of fish on this July 4 weekend

The Statue of Liberty replica stands on the Susquehanna River.

I went out again Friday with Jason Shay of Ken Penrod's Life Outdoor Unlimited on the Susquehanna River.  If you remember,my friend Kirk and I went out with Jason in April and had a blast.  This trip would be a little different.

susquehanna smallmouth bass
Always get a picture of your
first fish of the day.
First, Karen had the day off so she joined me instead of Kirk.  Second, we were going on an evening trip from 4:30 to dusk.  The cost of an evening trip was a little less expensive than a day trip, but Jason reasoned that we would catch just as many fish.  Lastly, we launched from a different area of the river.

Karen and I were going to camp at the Riverfront Campground in Duncannon, so we dropped off all our stuff, set up the tent and headed to the alternate boat ramp to meet up with Jason.  The first thing I noticed when we were at the campground -- the place we launched from in April -- was that the river was way lower than before.  Lots of exposed rocks where they didn't appear before.  I wondered if this was one of the reasons we were going to be fishing in a different area.

We reached the boat ramp a little early and I set up the rods for me and Karen.  She has her own fishing rod now but I sacrificed my old Shimano reel with an Ugly Stik so she could have two rods with two different lures tied on and ready to go.

Last time Rapala Shadow Raps and tube baits were the hot ticket.  Prior to this, Jason had called this trip a "spinnerbait trip."  I was pretty excited because I have never had much success with spinnerbaits, and I was hoping to refine the technique.  As it turned out, we didn't use spinnerbaits (water temps were too high) but we used two lures I had never used before.

susquehanna smallmouth bass
Karen's first Susquehanna smallmouth.
The first one was a swimbait -- a rubber shad on a jighead.  I've used plenty of rubbery lures the past couple years, mainly bouncing them off the bottom.  But with the swimbaits, we would be swimming them through the water (That's why they're called swimbaits!!!) with a steady retrieve.  He said earlier in the week, his clients with swimbaits were out-fishing him with spinnerbaits.

The other lure we would be using was a Whopper Plopper -- a topwater plug with a rotating prop on the back.  This thing looked ... interesting.

The plan was to start with the swimbaits and try topwaters until "the topwater bite" was on.  I'm not sure if I've expressed it here but catching fish on topwaters is my absolute favorite technique.  It's usually not the best way to catch a lot of fish but there is nothing like seeing the swirls and explosions -- or a lure getting punted through the air -- from an attacking fish.  Even if the fish doesn't hook up, it's still exciting!

Jason pulled into the boat ramp, we loaded up our gear and hit the water.  He has a boat with a jet prop, and the underside of the boat has some kind of rubber matting.  This setup makes it easier to navigate through the rocky shallow waters.  He said this time of year there aren't as many boats out because of the water level.

About 10 minutes later we arrived at a spot with lots of protruding rocks.  Oh and The Statue of Liberty was there.  If you travel on 22/322 north of Harrisburg, you might have seen her before.  It's a replica (not actual size) of The Statue of Liberty standing atop an old bridge structure in the middle of the river.  It's an interesting story and worth an internet search.

susquehanna smallmouth bass
My biggest of the day, about 15 inches.
The water was really clear and we could easily see the bottom.  We started tossing the swimbaits and didn't have much luck for about 20 minutes.  Jason caught a couple, then I finally got one and then Karen got her first, too.  Unfortunately, these weren't the same size smallmouth as the trip from early April.  Most were "Potomac sized" fish but were more plentiful than the Potomac population.  Most were in the 8-12 range with a couple over that.  My biggest was around 15 inches, and I think Karen had one that was 12-13.

I mentioned how clear the water was.  We would often see swarms of small smallmouth trailing or attacking the swimbaits when they got close to the boat.  At first it was kind of fun to slow the retrieve to entice some of the fish, but then we kind of got bored with it and would pull the lures away from the smaller fish.

We also saw a lot of carp roaming by and a few catfish.  One catfish that must have been 20+ inches even followed my swimbait back to the boat.

susquehanna smallmouth swimbaits
Casualties of war -- swimbaits that got too torn up
from enticing the smallmouth.
Later on, Karen started throwing the Whopper Plopper without much success while Jason and I continued catching small fish on the swimbaits.  Then she threw the topwater lure between two rocks and we all heard the explosion of water.  That's what's great about a big fish on a topwater lure -- everybody hears it.

The fish was hooked and was causing a ruckus on top of the water.  It made a couple jumps and we could see it was a nice smallmouth, probably in the 18-inch range.  Jason grabbed the net (first time we needed it today) as Karen fought the fish.  Finally she got the fish to the boat but it swam underneath the front and the fishing line looked to get caught in the trolling motor.  Jason grabbed the line and was pulling and like Keyzer Soze the fish was ... gone.  I saw it swim away back downriver.  That would have been a nice fish for Karen to have on her first trip to the Susquehanna.  Jason said, "Don't worry, there are more like that here."

Cooking sausage at the campground.
After that, Jason and I were like lemmings and started throwing Whopper Ploppers, too.  What's the best fishing lure to use?  Whatever someone else was using to catch a big fish!

We all caught some more fish but nothing like the one that got away from Karen.  I tied on a black/silver Hub's Chub just to be different and caught a couple fish.

Finally the sun had gone down behind a hill, and we headed back to the boat ramp.  It was still light but Jason had to navigate the river through the minefield of barely submerged rocks.  Idling downriver, he pointed out a couple areas that always claim boats each year from people going too fast or not knowing the underwater terrain.  At one point we were coasting through fairly smooth water but it was only about a foot deep!

I think I ended up with 19 smallmouth -- 15 on the swimbait and four on topwaters.  Karen probably had 15 fish and of course a great story about The One That Got Away.  While we didn't hook into a lot of nicer fish like in April, it wasn't a bad tally for just under four hours of fishing.  Plus they were smallmouth bass with the typical attitude!

juniata smallmouth bass
Z-Man worm tricks a Juniata smallmouth.
Karen and I camped overnight at the campground at the Juniata/Susquehanna confluence, and we did some fishing the next morning on the Juniata.

Having no swimbaits or Whopper Poppers in my arsenal, I tried the Z-Man Finesse worms hopping them across the bottom.  After a couple hours, I landed four "cookie cutter" smallmouth on Z-Man Finesse worms hopping across the bottom.  I had one that felt a little better but it got away.

Karen also got a "cookie cutter" on a Bass Pro Shops Stik-O worm.

Jason was telling us that the smallmouth bass population reportedly isn't considered very good because there aren't a lot of smaller fish, which is why the river is closed for smallmouth fishing from May 1 to mid-June so the fish can spawn without intrusion.  But I guess the people who have made that decision have never really fished the river.

Juniata crayfish
Both of us were on the lookout for
smallmouth bass but for different reasons.
The water near the campground is really shallow with not a lot of structure other than right at the mouth of the Juniata.  It looks like wearing hip waders could get you pretty far out in the Susquehanna section but it is more than a quarter mile across!  I was hoping that would be an alternate campsite instead of going to the Potomac all the time, but there's not a lot of fishing opportunities from shore in that area when the water is so low.

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