A trip to Peach Bottom likely to heat up winter fishing prospects Right bait, depth are the secrets

OUTDOORS

January 03, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

One of the best things about fishing is it's a recreational activity you can enjoy all year.

Granted, winter weather in Harford County is downright miserable, but if you dress for the occasion, an excursion to Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant often can produce red-hot winter fishing action.

Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant is situated on Conowingo Lake's western shore, approximately two miles above the Mason-Dixon Line. The facility is one of the nation's oldest nuclear plants, producing electrical power for much of the surrounding area.

Electricity is generated when the facility's reactors convert lake water to live steam, which drives huge turbine generators. This super-heated water then passes through a series of cooling towers before being discharged through a canal and eventually returned to Conowingo Lake.

The facility's discharge canal empties at the downstream end of a rocky peninsula constructed by Philadelphia Electric Company more than 30 years ago. It's here where the Susquehanna River's ice-cold waters mix with effluents discharged from the canal, creating an environment that attracts huge numbers of tiny gizzard shad.

The combined effects of warm water and an abundant food source encourage large numbers of marauding predator fish to frequent the same location.

This unique area produces excellent catches of hybrid white bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, redeye rock bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill, an occasional tiger musky and when conditions are right, lots of channel catfish. The secret to success is fishing the right bait or lure at the correct depth.

First and foremost, it's imperative to use a bait or lure that closely resembles a live gizzard shad. Live minnows are best, but if you insist on using lures, deep diving crankbaits and Sassy Shad can be highly productive under the right conditions.

Live and artificial baits usually produce best on overcast days when a moderate volume of water is discharged from the plant. On bright, sunny days, stick with live minnows.

Because the canal's current is quite strong, averaging nearly five knots, it's best to fish along the edge of fast-water areas. It's at these locations where swarms of gizzard shad often congregate to feed on plankton flowing downriver, thus becoming easy prey for marauding gamefish.

When the action's hot, you'll see shad leap from the water in an effort to escape the jaws of an unseen predator. Casting a live minnow close to the splash usually results in an explosive strike from a hefty smallmouth or hybrid white bass, both of which are tough adversaries on light tackle.

If you're looking for hefty channel catfish, you'll find them lurking close to the bottom feeding on gizzard shad, worms and crayfish. Merely attach a standard bottom fishing rig to the end of your line, bait up with a live minnow or strip of fresh squid and lower it to the bottom. A hungry channel cat can detect the aroma of a struggling minnow or chunk of squid at an incredible distance.

There is no shoreline access to the better fishing areas near Peach Bottom. Consequently, you'll need a small boat to reach the best locations. An outboard-powered aluminum or fiberglass boat of 12 to 16 feet is more than adequate to fish Conowingo Lake and its tributaries.

Philadelphia Electric Company, in an agreement with the Pennsylvania Fish Commission and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has installed an excellent launch ramp adjacent to the nuclear plant.

There's no ramp fee, it's open all year from 6 a.m to 9 p.m., and you'll find ample parking for cars with boat trailers. For information and lake conditions, call the visitors center at (410) 457-5011.

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