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Spring Trophy Hot-Spot: Susquehanna River/Pennsylvania

By Dan Grulke

This early spring season smallie fell for a Rapala X-Rap jerkbait.

If you are an avid bass fisherman, then you know that spring-time is one of the best times of the year to catch your a “trophy” no what species you prefer to pursue.  Anglers can choose from spring-time trophy rockfish season; the tail-end of “gator” sea trout season (Elizabeth River); the ramping up of crappie season, and of course the beginning of the spawning season for largemouth bass of the Tidal Potomac River. However, my number one favorite--and all around choice for best chance to succeed in a quest for a trophy would be the Susquehanna River, in Pennsylvania, for smallmouth fishing.

Though trophy smallmouths can be caught throughout the year, my experience dictates that the “season” for trophy smallmouth on the Susquehanna River typically starts the middle of March and typically winds down in May. Unfortunately, bass season ends on this river on the last day of April—but restarts mid-June. I have caught more smallmouth bass of 20-inches long--or longer during the last week of March and the first week of April. These two weeks usually (depends on weather conditions) are also the best time for the opportunity to catch multiple 20-inch smallmouth in an outing, though the number of bass caught may not be as high, generally speaking, than it will be later in the year.

It is my belief that these two weeks are the best two weeks for a trophy because the bigger bass, the females, are their heaviest of the year. They have fully formed egg sacks to nourish and they will feed every day. River smallmouth bass spawn when water temperatures reach the 50-degree level and a new or full moon is a biological trigger. Thus the trophy angler only needs to know or recognize the locations and habitat preference these early season bass hold in and present baits that tempt the early season bruisers into biting. Think “eddy” and that simply means “stalled” water current.

The best way to go about finding and catching a trophy smallmouth is to hire a Life Outdoors Unlimited Guide or other licensed, reputable instructors. While this may sound self-serving, I will give you some research. The cost of hiring a guide ($375 plus expenses so figure $425) and getting his knowledge, use of tackle and lures, and transportation (boat) is 100 times cheaper than buying your own tackle, rod, reel, line, and boat (boat alone will go for $15,00-$25,000). A nice rod and reel sufficient for this type of fishing will run $150 to $200 for a middle of the road combo. By hiring a guide you are provided the knowledge of what lures work, when and where, and both yesterday’s experience and years of knowledge. Your LOU guide will know what worked yesterday, where they were yesterday, and based upon this, formulate a game plan that can eliminate many hours of fruitless fishing. He will also know the numerous “holes” where these fish will typically hold.

For those of you whom have boats or those hiring guides and want to be prepared, there are some basic fishing techniques that you will want to become familiar with in order to be successful. The first and most important is tube fishing. We use 6ft to 6’ 6” graphite rods of medium power and fast action to cast 2 ¾ to 4 inch Mizmo and Campground Special Tubes rigged on RAB Jigheads (purchased at River Front Campground, 717-877-2704) and tied to Sufix 8-pound line (in either Siege, ProMix, or Elite). The color of the tube varies with light conditions, water clarity, and mood of the fish. The less action, or the less you move your tube bait, the better it will work. Instead of dragging the tube, we will often shake it in place on the bottom of the river, thus agitating the bass into striking. The use of scents and tube rattles may also provide benefits. The same rod and line set up will also work well for the next best tactic for trophy smallmouth on the Susquehanna River and that is the use of hard, suspending jerk-baits. We prefer Rapala X-Raps in sizes 6, 8, and sometimes even 10 (10’s work well for walleye and musky also) in natural colors such as olive green and ghost. The best tactic again is to err on doing too little than too much. Cast these out perpendicular to the boat, jerk them two or three times (to get them down), let them swing behind the boat, then “pump/twitch” them slowly in place. If you learn these two techniques you will be ahead of the game in your pursuit of trophy smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River.

Early season smallie such as this one are the norm...not the exception.

To book trips please contact Ken Penrod (kenpenrod@comcast.net or 240-447-2206) or any of the other Life Outdoors Unlimited guides. Please check out our web-site www.penrodguides.com for other articles in LOU Magazine and our weekly fishing report. Ken operates a summer youth camp for well behaved boys between the ages of 12 and 18. There is nothing like this—anywhere. For questions on this article please contact Dan Grulke at musky13@yahoo.com, the web-site above, or via phone 703-389-3508.