JEFF KNAPP: Problems remain on Susquehanna, Juniata
February 18, 2014 10:40 AM
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This year promises to be a productive one for the state’s thousands of bass anglers. From small impoundments to free-flowing rivers to large reservoirs, there’s a wide variety of bass fishing opportunities.

Here’s a look at the latest bass-related news, as well as a selection of quality bass fishing options from around the state.

Management-wise, the biggest news continues to surround the lower Susquehanna River. Widespread die-offs of young-of-year smallmouth bass have been documented for several years. More recently adult smallmouth bass have been recovered that have had lesions and significant black skin splotches.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants the state Department of Environmental Resources to list the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired. Such as listing would kick-start clean-up efforts. However, the DEP has not listed this 100-mile stretch as impaired, stating the science is not sufficient to warrant such action. Anglers that witness distressed bass in the Susquehanna can report their findings via an online form accessible from the PFBC website (

River smallmouth bass issues aren’t limited to the lower Susquehanna River. The lower Juniata has also been a concern. Catch-and-release regulations for smallmouth bass have been in place on the lower Susquehanna and lower Juniata for some time; more recently a closed season has been enforce during the spring spawning period. It is illegal to target smallmouth bass in these river stretches at this time. Be sure to consult this year’s Summary of Rules and Regulations for exact dates as well as river sections covered by these special regulations.

Survey work done last fall by the PFBC verifies the reduced smallmouth population in portions of the Juniata River, particularly younger fish. The team sampled smallmouth populations at four historic sites. A report issued late last year stated, “Considering adult smallmouth bass (age 1 and older), catch rates were well above the long-term median at the upstream portion of the Juniata River (Mapleton and Newton Hamilton sampling stations combined) but below long-term median at downstream locations (Thompsontown and Millerstown sampling stations combined. Additionally, catch rates for larger and older individuals, those longer than 15 inches in total length, were above the long-term median in the upper Juniata River and equal to the long-term median in the lower Juniata River.”

Invasive species continue to plague some bass waters. About two years ago zebra mussels were found in Crawford County’s Conneaut Lake, the state’s largest natural lake, and the home of an excellent smallmouth and largemouth bass fishery. By last summer anglers reported extensive mussel beds and exceptionally clear water. The bass fishing was slow, with many Conneaut veterans pointing to the bathtub-clear water as the culprit for the tough fishing.

On a more positive note, last year’s action picked up on Mercer County’s Lake Wilhelm. Wilhelm has traditionally been one the state’s best largemouth bass lakes. The unauthorized introduction of gizzard shad, though, led to an explosion of this exotic species. While the largemouth bass population hasn’t been affected by the presence of shad — as verified by PFBC field work — the bigmouths have been exceptionally hard to come by, thanks to the glut of natural food. It is hoped last year’s better bass fishing is an indication that shad numbers are coming down to a more reasonable level, a trend that should lead to better bass action.

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