If there’s one thing that’s true about smallmouth, it’s that they LOVE current. While many metropolitan areas might not be located near some of the powerhouse smallmouth factories you hear about all the time like Erie, Ontario, Pickwick, or St. Claire, most of them are near some sort of tributary/river system that hold big smallmouth. These fish might not match up in size to their cousins in the Great Lakes, but battling these fish in heavy current will demand focus and determination. Hooking a 4 pounder in the Susquehanna River is no exception. Hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!
This isn’t my first rodeo with the Sus. Being from Upstate NY, I’ve fished it a lot and I’ve learned a few things over the years. Recently though, my buddy Matt and I tore up the area near 3 Mile Island in Goldsboro, Pennsylvania. It took us a little while to get dialed in, but we managed to catch about 60 fish per day, with several over 4 pounds. There was a lot going on over the course of our trip, but mainly we used the same baits in the same places the whole time.
Locating The Schools
This part of the Sus can be a little bit intimidating if you haven’t been there before. It’s really wide, and it reminds me a little bit of the St. Lawrence River. There are islands, shoals, creeks, big rocks, and a lot of hazards to look for. If the water is high, or at a normal level, then the fish should be tight to the shorelines, especially when they’re pulling water. If it’s low, or dropping, then they’re going to be scattered and that will get even worse if there’s little – no current. Don’t be afraid to do long drifts. Smallmouth move a lot, and they move a TON in a river system. The best thing you can do is cover as much water as you can with search baits until you get a bite. It’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t be alone. The good news is that there aren’t many shoals in rivers, so the fish tend to hold to true structure that you can see like islands, creeks mouths, or laydowns.
What To Throw
When I’m fishing rivers for smallmouth I like three things: something flashy, something to hang/suspend in the water column, and something for the bottom. Here are my favorites: Strike King 3/4 oz Tour Grade Sexy Shad Spinnerbait, tandem blades, one gold colorado one silver willow; Bass Pro Shops magnum flipping tube in green pumpkin on a brass 1/4 oz jig head; and a double fluke rig with Trokar TK100 hooks. The SK spinnerbait is my favorite and I write about it a lot, but it’s particularly good in rivers because it has flash and sound. The BPS tubes are great anywhere, especially in places where smallies are chomping on craws. And the fluke rig is dynamite for suspended fish, and you can score multiple doubles on it. The Trokar hooks are key because they have a nice low profile that tucks perfectly beside the fluke to hide well, while not being overly heavy and making the bait sink too quickly. Work it like a jerkbait, but with longer pauses in between and softer twitches. It’s a killer presentation! If you have any questions about it, feel free to send me a message.
What To Look For
I find that you want to look for any irregularities when you’re fishing rivers. Discharges, creeks, bends, islands, and if there’s a dam then try to find an app or a schedule for when they pull water. Most dams nowadays have an app you can download with a schedule for when they plan to open generators and how many. This can be a great tool to help you plan your trip. When they’re pulling water, the fish are going to turn on immediately. If the water is at a normal level when this happens, the fish will be tight to the banks and easy to target. If the level is low, then the fish can be hard to find, but you can still target the points of the islands, creek mouths, or any place where you see water entering the river. Remember, smallmouth LOVE current, so if you see a culvert, or a discharge area, you bet your boat you’ll find smallies there. If they’re pulling a lot of water, and the current is running strong, you’ll want to be really careful and make sure you have everything in proper working order to prevent ending up in a bad situation. Particularly in rivers that have waterfalls nearby with 80-100 foot drops. If they’re not pulling water, and there’s no current, take a nap. These are really tough conditions, and you’re going to struggle. If they start back feeding water, you’ll want to give the fish time to adjust and reposition themselves. You’ll also want to be as close to the dam as possible at this time, taking advantage of the change to target that deep area where some of the biggest fish live.