Stalking smallmouth bass on the wide Susquehanna


July 28, 1996|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Professional bass angler and guide Bill Kramer agrees with the growing belief that the Susquehanna River is the finest smallmouth water in the country. "Look at this," he said, indicating his daily catch record book. "Back during the spawn, in April and May, my clients were averaging more than a hundred smallies a day. And that was while fishing under bad conditions like muddy water and high water levels."

Westminster's Dick Bradley and I recently spent an afternoon with the local pro fishing a portion of the Susquehanna above Duncannon, in the area of Millersburg, Pa. Scattered but heavy storms had pushed us above the Maryland portion of the river because of unfavorable water conditions. Here, some 20 miles north of Harrisburg, off U.S. 15, we found relatively clear water and, as it turned out, a superb afternoon of smallmouth bassing.

FTC Most of the river is only 3 to 4 feet deep here and its bed is mostly gravel. Rich grass beds provide a bounty of food for the Susquehanna's bass.

Kramer recommended we try casting Gitzits, jerkbaits, top-water lures or spinners. Dick decided to tie a No. 1-sized Mepps with a small splash of chartreuse on its blade, while I pulled out a smallmouth-sized Rapala. Kramer, to my amazement, was tossing a huge jerkbait.

"Most people make the mistake of throwing small lures to smallmouths all the time," he answered when I doubted that a river bronzeback would be able to get its mouth open far enough to wrap around his lure. "Fish are always hungry and they want something to fill them up, just like you and I will reach for a big sirloin instead of a carrot stick, if given the choice."

Kramer and I were picking up occasional fish, but Dick was out-catching us by an easy 2-1 margin. I finally decided to switch lures and pulled out a No. 1 Mepps with a white blade and began casting it.

To make short work of the lure selection part of the story -- these fish want chartreuse Mepps spinners above all other temptations. This was the one selection I didn't have in a tackle box that could put a Wal-Mart to shame.

"What's that saying?" Dick mused, "If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use."

"I don't know about that," Kramer replied, "but, I do know that under a dark sky like we have this afternoon, chartreuse always shines through. But if the sky was bright today, I'd prefer white or silver on my lures."

After a few hours of excellent fishing, dark storm clouds began to fill the Susquehanna's southern horizon and Kramer suggested that we retreat to a bassy looking midriver island near the Duncannon boat ramp in case we needed to get out of the river quickly.

Ten minutes later Kramer positioned the boat within easy casting distance of a lush grass bed. "Remember, around these grass beds you need to throw your lure only on the slack-water side and never into the bed itself. Bass cruise the edges for food and are seldom found inside the beds."

We began to catch scrappy smallmouths that put up valiant fights against on our light spinning tackle. We would have stayed right there, but the rumbling of the fast-approaching storm forced us to run for the boat ramp.

We managed only a little over three hours on the Susquehanna because of the storms, but still, our catch and release tally was in the area of 50 bass. Most of the fish were respectable 14- to 16-inchers. That's good enough to bring me back for more.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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