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RickB

Susquehanna river in PA

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Got an invite to fish the Susquehanna river for smallmouth, as best as I can determine around Duncannon PA. Never been in that area of the country before and looking for any tips on baits and presentation. The invitation is open for when ever I can make it but was told mid to late March is the best time. If any one is familiar with area please let me know about it. I'm thinking mid to late March is going to be cold. I have fished in the cold before and being a southern boy I don't care for it. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks

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Look up Jeff Little Fishing" and you should find a wealth of info about the Susky for all times of year.

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@RickB its all about water temp and river levels. If you can pick days just a week ahead then look for days when the daily high temps are going to be in the 60's or higher and the daily low temps are going to be in the 40's. There usually is a stretch of good weather, maybe just 3 or 4 days, when the weather gets nice in late March but April is a better pick in my opinion. Also check out the USGS website and find the nearest river gauge to where you are going to fish. If you see the river levels are projected to be relatively stable or, at the very least, no going to rise rapidly then that is a good time to fish because the river won't be as muddy. You can still fish in muddy water, it just isn't as good. 

  As far as baits what I use mostly are largemouth bass size spinnerbaits with gold colored Colorado blades and chartreuse or fire tiger colored skirts, big swimbaits like Strike King Shadalicious 4.5 inch, Keitech Swing Impact Fat 4.3 to 4.8 on a 1/4 oz. jig head,and Cotton Cordell Big O Squarebill crankbait in 3 inch. Two things you should notice about my selections is all of them are big baits and all make a lot of vibration in the water. Don't think smallmouths at this time of year won't hit big baits. They are feeding heavily for the spawn and will attack a big bait. I've even used baits used for redfish with a lot of success. Also vibration is important because you won't be fishing clean water at this time of year. Warm weather means snow melt and that combined with spring rains means stained to muddy water. Also bring along some tubes and grubs in dark colors and 1/4 jig heads. Parts of the Susky around Duncannon are rocky and dropping a tube around these rocks is a great way to pick up big smallies. 

 Good luck with your trip and have fun. 

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Thanks Gundog, definitely looking forward to the trip just don’t want to freeze and take all of the fun out of it. Been crappie and trout fishing when it’s been too cold for this old boy and I just don’t enjoy it. Got the invite from my uncle that lives up that way and cold to me and him are two different things. Good info on when to fish, I’m looking more towards April after reading your reply just have to schedule at least a month prior to get my vacation from work. So whenever I pick I’m pretty much looked in regardless of temp and water levels. Baits, I know he uses tubes mostly but I have never had any luck or just haven’t put the time in but they’ll be in my arsenal, I do like using cranks and spinnerbaits with spinnerbaits being my favorite. Once again Many Thanks

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That’s the time of year we go. We use tubes and swimbaits mostly. The river can rise quickly that time of year so it’s a crap shoot as far as clarity and bite. It’s also the best time of year to get a giant pre-spawn football. Some times it has been in the 60’s and 70’s and others in the 30’s and 40’s. Over layer you can always strip clothes if too warm but if too cold you will not have a fun day. You should definitely go it is still one of the best smallmouth fishery’s in the world for both size and numbers. Good luck!

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Bassguytom, I'm going for sure just wanting make sure I don't frost bite. Don't reckon my uncle will let me build a fire on his boat. I'm used to fishing looking for shade. Guess I need to get my tube act together. Hopefully will be able to fish 2-3 days work permitting. About 5hrs to my uncle's and 3 more to the river. Just need to have all of my ducks in a row before heading out.

 

Thanks Guys

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@Gundog covered the bases.  @smalljaw67 also fishes the Susquehanna a lot.  I grew up on the North Branch, and I still fish it a lot.  @J Francho was also spot on about following Jeff Little.  I haven't used him as a guide, but his instructionals on river smallmouth fishing are probably the best out there.

 

April into May is generally your pre-spawn into the spawn, and can be awesome for both numbers and size.  In the spring, water temperature, river clarity, and flow determine pretty much everything and will determine whether you're throwing big spinnerbaits, a drop shot, or a grub on an 1/8oz head.  I don't know the gauge around Duncannon well enough to be familiar with the levels, so reaching out to a tackle shop, guide, or someone who fishes from a local launch to get familiar with the levels would be a good start.  Also, because you'll see a wide variety of water with fish holding likely in different places, prepare to do some junk fishing or jumping between patterns.  

 

Smallmouth, in general, can move a lot, and that time of year water temperature and flow rate are especially huge.  If the river is up and cloudy, you'll be finding fish off of points, on the tails of islands, and holding close to shoreline structure.  Fish can be caught flipping jigs along submerged vegetation (not unlike fishing in the south for largemouth), or working the current seams along large current breaks with whatever the water clarity dictates.  Fishing for smallmouth in chocolate milk-is water is very, very difficult even slow rolling a double Colorado, Rattle Trap, or a jig with 300 rattles on it.  If you find dark water, look for creek mouths likely bringing in clearer water and fish the seams around them.  If you're going to find active fish, that's your best bet. 

 

If the water is lower/warmer, smallies will put on their feedbags and sit close to fast water along wing dams, boulder fields, tailouts, ledges, etc.  These will be active fish and can be caught with 3/4 of your tackle box.  Along faster, shallower water in the spring, it's hard to beat a good shallow/squarebill crank, tubes (I generally rig them on tube jig hooks ranging from 1/8-3/8 oz depending upon current and water level), 4" grubs (1/8-1/4oz), soft plastic swimbaits and soft plastic jerkbaits, finesse jig/craw, and even football jig/craw along gravel/weed edges.  

 

As for presentation, I can make a bunch of suggestions.  How familiar are you with river/stream fishing versus lakes?  Are you familiar with presenting in current?

 

 

If you catch some rough weather, or have a tough time with reading a river/boat positioning/presenting in current it can be a frustrating place.  If you just cover your basics, on the Susquehanna leading into the spawn, you could be in for world class smallmouth fishing.  

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This place sounds awesome! Reminds me of home. I look at the usgs water data website several times a day, I would recommend bookmarking it. There are even a few gauges that have turbidity and temperature readings so check for that too. If the water is muddy, a river smallmouth can still find a junebug plastic worm 

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that is my home river and that area in particular is where I fish the most.that time of year can be boom or bust. hit a warm stretch with stable river flows and you can load up. 100 fish days are not uncommon with double digit numbers over 3 pounds.if its cold and the water is too high your gonna struggle.check the Harrisburg gauge, if its at about 4-7 you should be good. also what kind of boat are you fishing from? that stretch can be very rocky and a jet boat is best a prop boat will work if you have decent water but you have to go slow and limit where you go.as for the fishing that time of year most fish will want to be out of fast current, bankside eddies,slowwer water behind rock ledges etc.as said hair jigs tubes,crankbaits , spinnerbaits , and jerkbaits and swimbaits can all be effective depending on water temp flow and just the mood of fish that day. although spring can be great for big fish don't overlook summer if you have the right boat. when the flow is more stable, you may not get as many big fish but its not uncommon to have 50 fish days with several 3pound plus fish even in mid summer. that time of year flukes and topwaters can be dynamite.nothing like catching 18" plus smallies on topwater while your buddies back home a dropshoting 30'  depths.

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Thanks so much for the info guys, it is greatly appreciated. My uncle and his bud fish there often, we’ll have 2 boats and 4 folks fishing. He’s been trying to get me to come up for the past couple of years and I finally have the time to get there. My uncle’s bud has a camper he keeps up there so hopefully they have a pretty good scoop as far as when to go and where to fish. He’s always calling me telling me about their 100+ smalljaw days and I’m ready to catch my share of them.

Any of you have a preference on tubes to use brand, color, size, hoping they will share but you never know. They may just be getting me up there to make sport of me and my southern fishing ways. So I had better have my own baits.

Once again I can’t thank you guys enough for all of the info and hopefully I'll have some pics to share after the trip.

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I personally like river rock tubes in any of the green pumpkin flake colors, craw colors etc. I also like smoke purple if the water is clear. I use both the the 2.75 and 3.5 versions. 1/8 and 3/16 are usually my go to weights and I like weedless heads made by Oldham. you can google them if you want. im sure youll get other opinions but that's what I like.your normal shallow to medium cranks. jerkbaits and spinnerbaits that you use down south should work fine. this is a big river with big aggressive fish don't think you need small stream baits to catch smallies here.

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I have nothing technical to add, the above members have you covered and it sounds like your uncle knows how to catch them.  I've only fished the Susquehanna once (in April 2016) and the first smallie I caught is still my PB at 19".  It's the fish in my avatar.

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I spent 5 years living less than 2 miles above that spot.  Contact two places for tackle suggestions. First is Riverfront Campgrounds. Believe me they know what that river is doing before the gauge does, they are at ground zero in Duncannon.  Johnny was the man that built up the business. He carries some Penrod Specials ( custom grubs) and some other popular tackle in his store. I suggest rigging then weedles.  Susquehanna Fishing Tackle is another great source. Mike, George and his family live on that water. Call and ask for some assistance. They are more than happy to help you and if needed they ship all around the country.

Lastly check out Ken Penrod's Life Outdoors Unlimited. He has articles and fishing reports that detail what is going on normally.  I know he uses the tubes from Riverfront Campground, and Mizmo tubes as well as Case plastics while fishing up there.

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I camp and launch at River Front Campground in Duncannon a lot, in fact I've fished that stretch from Montgomery Ferry down to the Statue since the late 80s. The other posters gave you great information so I can only add a little bit. As you were already told, the weather can really vary as can the river level but I will try to get you a good range of baits that should have you covered. Tubes, if you want to keep it simple you need to have only 2 color tubes to limit what you carry, those would be green pumpkin if the water is warm and by warm I mean above 52 and lower water temp you want smoke purple. Use inside jig heads, 1/8oz to 1/4oz depending on current, and then other baits for that time of year that I use with regular success are as follows. Hair jigs, not large ones but ones ranging in size from 1/16oz to 1/4oz, if the current is fast with high water the fish will hold tight to the bank around eddies and other slack water areas, a small hair jig or tube will work well. Jerkbaits are amazing if you have some water clarity which generally means a low flow and that could be the case depending on how the rest of the winter pans out. Don't rule out cranks either, I like one knocker lipless baits if the water is heavily stained, I like the rattlers when the water has some clarity, also shallow diving flat side cranks work extremely well, Rapala DT Flat 3s are good as well as a Bomber Flat A, and a shad rap is good if you don't have really fast heavy current. You got great suggestions, and I left out swim baits, but a 3" to 4" finesse swimbait fished on a slow steady retrieve or fished like a tube can work wonders, and if you have of the 3" Mann's Stingray grubs in avocado or green pumpkin, well those are killer as well, but having a combination of those things will have you covered.

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