|Personal Stories about the Susquehanna River|
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On The Ecology of the Susquehanna River (A short study by a concerned observer)
1953: I am 6 years old and have my first experience with the Susquehanna River. My older brothers 13 and 14 take me with them for an evening of fishing from the Steamboat Landing in Marysville. Groups of locals sit on the concrete pier which was built for the coal dredging activities on the river during the early part of the century. There is a roaring fire on the shore and I catch my first fish, a rock bass which later was measured at 11 inches. I am hooked on fishing and the Susquehanna.
1959: I am now 12 years old and am becoming a river rat. Every day during the summer I am on the river or in the river. If I'm not fishing, I'm swimming or wading or just exploring. My friend and I have purchased diving masks and explore the river from the bottom up. There is talk of building a sewer system to clean up the river, but nothing has happened as yet. The river is very much alive. The shoreline is lined with aquatic plants well out into the shallows. Wherever mud bottoms are found, large beds of aquatic grasses abound. The shore line and its grasses are alive with frogs, turtles, water snakes and red-wing blackbirds. The aquatic grasses are a haven for immature rock bass, black bass, sunfish and other minnows. The grasses also have the effect of cooling the environs during days of low water and high temperatures. Wading the shallows, life is visible everywhere, from the shiners, chubs and small bass feeding on minute insects, the crayfish, caddis and stone-flies found in and around every rock, to the damsel flies and dragon flies filling the air. Over head, the sky is full of martins and swallows gyrating in all directions. Further a-sky an Osprey can be seen riding the warm rising air scanning the river bottom for unsuspecting mullet or suckers. Every island, exposed rock and bar has its accompanying stand of aquatic grasses, all shelter for nearby fishes. My 18 year old brother invites me to go fishing with him. He rows our leaky wooden boat to a large boulder known as Whitey because of its whitish coloring. We anchor the boat on the downstream side of the rock and climb to the top. We start fishing the waters around the rock, catching Rock Bass, Black Bass and Sunfish in large numbers, one after another. As nobody has been bailing the boat, water begins to leak in, to the point that there are several inches on the bottom. As we catch fish, we begin tossing them into the water filled boat, just to see how many we can catch. After several hours, its time to head home. We climb down to the boat to find that its just about to sink from the leak and the large number of fish swimming inside. We decide to turn it on its side to free the fish inside. As we do so, fish of all kinds and sizes swim in all directions, its been a good day.
1964: The Susquehanna River has reached the lowest level in recorded history in September. I am a junior in high school but still spend much time in and on the river. The low water level has given me a chance to explore and learn about the river in great detail. The young fish of the year are concentrated in and around the aquatic grasses for safety from marauding Black Bass. The larger fish have moved to the deeper pockets but move into the shallows as shadows lengthen. The local sewer system has been installed and the river looks cleaner.
1968: I am a computer operator for a Harrisburg bank working a shift rotation. When I work the middle (3 to 11) or late (11 to finish), I have plenty of time to be on the river and usually am. During a spate of higher water, I notice something that I haven't seen before. As I'm fishing, I keep snagging pieces and clumps of the aquatic grass drifting in the current. This is the same grass that provides shade and shelter for juvenile fish. At the time, I don't think too much about it, other than its a bother to remove from my fishing line. I think that it must be a natural process from low water during the summer or some other influence. From this time forward, however, every year, there is less and less of the bottom grasses to be found until today, there is none. The fishing though, continues to be excellent. I now have an aluminum boat that doesn't leak and can count on catching large numbers of Black Bass, Rock Bass, Fall Fish and Catfish, on each and every trip to the river.
1985: I have married and enjoy fishing the river with my wife and step daughter. Most of the bottom aquatic grasses are gone but the shore grasses appear to be doing well. The fishing for Black Bass continues to be good but I do notice that I catch fewer and smaller Rock Bass. I wonder at the time if the lack of Rock Bass may be related to the lost grass beds which provided shelter and food. I don't think too hard on it though, I believe that the grass beds will come back, that its a natural cycle.
2009: I have been away from the river for some time. Working a full time day job, starting a small business and raising a family has taken away my time on the river. Now that I'm in my sixties, my brother and I decide to relive our childhoods one more time. We park at a public access point near the spot where our house stood and walk to the river. There are a number of things immediately apparent, Not only are the aquatic grasses gone, but the shore grasses as well. The shoreline is bare, as are the river islands, exposed rocks and bars. Gone are the frogs, damsel flies, dragon flies, snakes and birds that once filled the ecological shoreline zone. Wading into the river, there was a very noticeable absence of minnows and juvenile fish of any species. We catch our favorite bait, hellgrammites from the same riffles we did as kids and wade to our favorite fishing hole behind the old house. The fishing hole is a slight drop off behind a submerged rock ledge and was always home to large numbers of Black Bass, Rock Bass, Sunfish, Catfish and even the occasional Walleye. In our youth, we never left this fishing spot disappointed; in fact, I caught my only Susquehanna Northern Pike from its depths. This is where I did most of my skin diving, always seeing large numbers of fish. After two hours of fishing, we only had one small Black Bass to show for our efforts. In frustration, we decide to wade through the hole to see what was there. We wade from end to end and find no fish, not one; it is a very discouraging day.
2012: I haven't been on the Susquehanna for three years and don't plan to this year. I reach retirement age next year and plan on moving to a warmer climate and travel. I feel very lucky to have experienced the best of the Susquehanna and feel sorry for future generations. I know that the Pennsylvania Fish Commission is aware of the situation, but don't know if they or others realize the real depth of the situation. What was once a thriving ecosystem on all levels has been slowly dying since the mid 1980s and will continue to do so unless drastic actions are taken.
|I moved from western PA 20 years ago to the Mechanicsburg, PA area. Prior to moving I fished more often than not. We would be on the lakes before sun up and stayed most of the day. What a life. Until the last many years. At the present time, I question myself each year to buy a license or not.
It has been getting to the point that on the river, the Susquehanna River, that we plan days ahead of time for hours, get the boat and gear ready the night before and cannot wait until early a.m. For what I say now. Sitting in the boat, wasting hours and NO FISH. It is sickening at this point in time.
Goverment officials need to get off of their ----and fix the river for the public as before and quit blaming others for the decline in the fish. What is it going to take before the sport is totally gone. It is very close to that now. Out of 7 fishermen that I fish with, now I cannot even get 1 to go with me because of the ridiculous fishing. Sad to say; however, today's fishing is a waste of my money.
|I am 72 years old and have been fishing the Susquehanna since I was less than 6 years old. I grew up in a house that was so close to the river that it came into the yard every Spring and into the house a few times over the years. Starting out with live bait, then spinning rods and lures and, eventually, flies, I have caught numerous bass. I can remember 50+ fish days, with the largest being 24 inches and more than 5 pounds.
As noted in other stories posted on this site, the bass fishing has died over the last 7 years. Ulcers down the sides of fish, female organs in male fish, whole classes dying year after year has been the ongoing reality. The health of the river has obviously been damaged, the economy of this area has been impacted, the pleasure of living next to the river has been diminished and yet the political class sits on their hands.
As a cynical old man, I suspect that the problem has been allowed to continue because corrective action would upset those who care more about today's bottom line then they do about the future.
I applaud and encourage the Fish and Boat Commission's efforts to get DCNR and others to acknowledge that we have a dead canary.
|I have fished the Susquehanna River all my life and would love to see it returned to it's natural beauty. If officials do not act to address the water quality issues on t he river, Pennsylvania risks losing what is left of what was once considered a world-class smallmouth bass fishery. We cannot let that happen, this bring fishing guides into our state and makes money for us and the quality of the fishing brings out more fishermen, we need to do something now.
|In my early teenage years of the late 60s, I was introduced to bass fishing in the river by my friend's dad, Mr. Longenecker (nickname: Cocky). I'm glad I got a chance to thank him before he left this world for taking me along fishing with his son because we had such great times on those Saturday mornings.
Below Royalton, just at dawn, we would pile into Cocky's aluminum V-boat just below the mouth of Swatara Creek and power across and upriver to below the turnpike bridge. There, the rock ledges line up perpendicular to the current and when the conditions were right we had a blast catching smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish, and catfish. By 11 a.m., we'd go through over 100 night crawlers, a bucket of minnies, and lots of hooks. Drift-fishing with a night crawler, you either had a bass strike (or snagged a rock) on every cast within 3 minutes. We caught dozens of bass. Most of them were under 8, but a fair amount were 10-14, and we also caught a few bigger ones every time . We used to laugh how the little 5 and 6 inchers would fight like crazy while half choking on a big worm, we called them spitzers.
Later on in the 70s and 80s, I made many a trip to the river catching and eating plenty of bass. Now, I was fishing at Fort Hunter above the Rockville Bridge in my canoe. Tossing the little white Twister tails in the shallows, just about every cast, a bass would hit. More great bass habitat there too. Now in my mid 40s, I realized how spectacular a smallmouth fishery the river was.
I took a break from fishing in the 90s spending more time with the family and earning an advanced degree in Env Pollution Control at PSU-Harrisburg, After 2000, I started hearing stories from other fishermen about the deteriorating fishing on the river. Over the next several years, there were more bad reports of lousy fishing, fish kills, and lesions. I heard don't waste your time fishing the river anymore. I heard, but I needed to see for myself.
Finally returning in 2009 to where I learned to fish with Cocky, I set out in my canoe with a coworker. Over a period of 30 years, I caught hundreds of bass here. Tonight, in perfect conditions, we caught exactly 2 bass, one of which had lesions. The next summer, I headed above the Rockville Bridge. Covering lots of water in kayaks, I caught two, 13 inch bass, the only hits I had all morning in excellent conditions. My nephew didn't get a hit at all.
The final straw was above Millersburg in 2011. The conditions were prime. Three of us in kayaks fished for several hours and not one single strike! To me, the biggest shock was paddling around the shallows and not seeing a single fish....not a one.
What happened to this world class fishery? You do not have to have a college education to know there is something very seriously wrong with the river. Maybe it is the pharmaceuticals that pass through our wastewater treatment plants; they were not here 30 years ago. But whatever the cause, we need to eliminate it and get the river on the recovery road. Otherwise, even more profound negative impacts to this ecosystem could be forthcoming.
|I had been fishing the river from Halifax to Colombia for about 20 years. I say had because I no longer fish the river because of the deplorable state of the river and its very limited (for smallmouth and walleye) opportunities. I originally started by wading with friends and catching 20 plus (16" to 22" we did not count anything smaller) each time. Then in 1997 graduated to a jet boat so I and friends could explore better spots. Again excellent fishing every trip. We went almost every weekend from June through October (two boats-four guys-untold money spent on gas, food, equipment) for a couple years. We would invite friends from Reading and New York. You cannot imagine the story's we all have.
Then it started to go downhill, less fish caught, dead fish floating, spots on fish, pollution advisories. Talked to fellow anglers we ran into and all had same story. We started going less often and finally stopped going to the river last year after we stopped seeing younger fish and less people. We loved the river and its beauty but quit wasting our time and money there.
We still fish at lakes and go down to the Maryland flats but it's not the same. The mighty river is dying and our Government will not admit it, or try to fix it. If they decide to start doing something about it we will return but not until then. It's just such a shame it came to this.
|Having grown up in southern Lancaster county in the '80s, I have countless fishing and boating stories from the Susquehanna. In some important ways they shaped my appreciation of the outdoors, nature, and conservation. I could tell stories ranging from trolling with my Dad to wade fishing with buddies after school. My desire to help nature encouraged me to become and Eagle Scout, and to some degree pursue a career in science.
Unfortunately, now my main motivation for writing is to comment on how much has changed. While I personally still fish the Susquehanna regularly after moving back to Lancaster in 2007, the river is a shell of what it once was. While I still have the patience and skill enough to land fish, I struggle to get my son and his friends interested in fishing. In some ways I don't blame them.
When I was a kid a few minnows guaranteed an afternoon of catching smallmouth and red-eye bass. Of course, the latter are completely gone and smallmouth are a challenge to find. Too much work for kids even with a helping hand!
My out of town friends came (and spent!!) in Lancaster trying to tap the Susquehanna, but after a few mediocre outings now I travel to them (and spend my money there)!
If PA legislators cannot declare the river impaired for the future of our kids, maybe they will eventually realize that the situation hits the pocketbook of MANY who make their living from tourism and the "goodness" of Lancaster and the surrounding areas. A poisoned river is not "good."
As a Ph.D. organic chemist (John Hopkins, 1990), I know these issues are not insurmountable. It comes down to a little science and a dose of regulation of those who pollute the water. Yes, it is farmers. Yes, it is commerce and industry in Harrisburg. Yes, it is warmer water and less oxygen. Yes, disease is harder to fight amongst these stresses.
We know the answers to most of theses issues, we just need to implement a coherent response plan which would likely quickly benefit everyone. I am fine with no fishing periods, no tournaments, and catch and release. These may help, but it is a band aid and essentially we are punishing the best champions of what the river can be for the sake of those who cannot clean up their act. I know the farmers can clean up theirs with some help. I'm not as sure about Harrisburg politicians and "industry advocates"...
|In 1967, I used to fish the Susquehanna near Falls, Pa. My favorite baits were crayfish. On any Sunday afternoon in August or September, my dad would drop me off at my favorite spot, and in 4-5 hrs. I would catch 20 to 25 smallmouth bass ranging from 9 to 15 inches. It was a great way for a youngster to spend the day.
Once I graduated from high school, I got away from the river until I got married and moved to Brackney, Pa. I fished above the bridge in Tunkhannock and the late summer bass fishing was as good as I had remembered.
In 2009 and 2010 I took my son to both of my favorite spots several times with the promise of great fishing. Unfortunately, all trips ended up mostly fish-less, while using the same techniques. Something had happened to my once beloved Susquehanna. What a shame.
|I started fishing the Susquehanna River with my buddy Dave 9 years ago. Dave and I at first couldn't stand each other. At work for a whole year we argue almost everyday. One day Dave invited me fishing, and from that day on we became best friends. Dave is in Hospice now and our fishing days are over, but I'll keep fishing our favorite spot just to keep the memories going.
|Only 92 Miles to Paradise
Unfortunately as an angler of more than 30 years who knew the legend of Susquehanna smallmouth fishing; it took me almost as long to discover what I was missing. Years of listening to stories finally convinced me to give smallmouth fishing and the Susquehanna a try a few weeks after the 9-11 disaster in 2001. With fly rods and friends in tow we set our sights on the confluence with the Juniata in Duncannon where the only action was some small fish on small poppers. Much later we abandoned that junction for a supposed better spot downriver. This time I opted for spinning tackle so I could try out some new lures I purchased just for the occasion. Maybe it was beginners luck or the Suskie teasing a newcomer but the abbreviated evening session yielded me close to 40 smallies, a few of which that were 18 or better. Pardon the pun but I was hooked despite being a passionate trout angler with excellent fishing 10 minutes from home because as of this moment, all I wanted to do was fish for smallmouth in the Susquehanna!
For five years after my initiation, I drove the 92 miles each way from my Bethlehem home many times to fish the Susquehanna for smallmouth because it was worth the time and drive for that level of success. In 2003 I went alone after work, several days a week in the summer and wade fished until early December, teeth chattering away but still catching at least 20 fish in a couple of hours. I used conventional tackle by day, often catching 40 or more fish before hiking back to my car to grab a bite to eat and a fly rod for the evening hatch. If the bugs and bass cooperated, I would sometimes wade until well after midnight when the only company I had were thousands of hatching flies illuminated by the headlights of a passing train. During peak times when the fish were particularly cooperative, a hastily arranged multi-day Susquefest would ensue, complete with fishing buddies and hijinks at a local hotel or campground.
I fished in the heat of summer, the cool of autumn, during high water and low, in darkness and light. Wading from west shore to east I caught smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish, largemouth and walleye; I even chased a few carp and just couldn't get enough but then it happened. Around 2005-2006 despite my best efforts, catch rates started to drop precipitously. The 90-100 fish - all day outings and the 20-30 fish after work specials, became 10 fish days, later 5 fish days and finally outright skunkings. I was devastated! Even the infamous White Fly hatch was a fishing bust. We tried new spots, different techniques but this magical river that occupied my thoughts and fishing plans, a place that never failed to deliver was now reduced to a long drive for nothing. I couldn't figure out what was happening and no matter what I did, how or when I fished; the Susquehanna and the 185 mile round trip were no longer worth it.
In 2007 I caught what turned out to be my penultimate and final smallmouth after a full day of effort. It was the following year when my fishing buddies and I declared the river needed a break so we voluntarily decided not to fish it for at least 5 years to see what happened. That 5 year hiatus has now become an indefinite moratorium because of continued bad news and I now fear I may not be around long enough to see the river come back to its former glory. I have lived and fished through accidental fish kills on the Letort and Monocasy; I've seen declines and rebounds in bass and sunfish honey holes but I have never seen anything like this since I began fishing in the 1970s. I feel fortunate to have experienced at least a few great years but that only frustrates me more because they were too few. Finding a replacement is fruitless despite having the Delaware, Lehigh and Schuylkill in my backyard; because no place even comes close to the mighty Susquehanna in better days.
I just hope I get to relive those great Suskie days of only a few short years ago before I die like the river has.
|When I was in high school and owned one fishing rod and barely had any tackle I caught an average of about 30 or 40 bass per day when I went fishing on the Juniata and Susquehanna rivers. Now I'm almost 30 and I'm a semi-professional level tournament fisherman who has a tackle store in my basement and feel I am an extremely skilled bass fisherman and the absolute best day I have had on the river in the past 3 years was 14 bass.
This is ridiculous. Everyone knows there is something extremely wrong with the river right now but the government is doing nothing about it. i suspect it has to do with "fracking" and that is why nothing is being done because way too much money is being made by our government for them to acknowledge they are destroying one of the greatest fisheries in the entire United States. Just one of the many horrible things our government is responsible for. I guess that's just reality this day and age.
|Over the recent summer I fished on the Susquehanna River near the Berwick power plants and caught 5 healthy smallmouths in a matter of a few hours. In November I fished in a tournament on the Susquehanna River up by Williamsport and caught a 3.2 pound smallie. The Susquehanna is such a great fishery and it makes me happy to fish it with such great results. Its hard to find such results any place in the U.S. and knowing there is one in our own backyard is something to be proud of. It would be a shame to see such a beautiful ecosystem be shut down by anybody.
|I grew up in the Susquehanna Valley and fished the river and many of the tributaries since the early 80's. We would go to Otter Creek and fish off the bank for smallies and other fish with shiners and worms and would catch 40-50. I left the area and river fishing in the late 80's and did not return to river fishing again until 2000. That was when my old freshman college roommate and I got back together. He was an avid bass fisherman and I was an avid trout fisherman and well the rest was history.
Sorry trout fisherman, but the river smallmouth won out on my fishing passion. I remember those days when we were fishing out of his Ranger in Aldred catching up to 50 bass on traps, senkos, spinner-baits and tubes. Well, needless to say, my buddy figured out that a Ranger in a river like the Susquehanna is not the way to go and he bought a jet boat. We learned together, fishing the Duncannon area, turnpike area, Falmouth, Juniata River and even the West Branch, we learned by doing not waiting for someone to show us.
Within five years I bought my own jet boat and begin to explore the river for those hard fighting fish, many times on my own. The nice thing about fishing alone is that you have no pressure, sometimes just internal but on occasion external, to put the person on the back on fish. This gives you time to try new things, go places that have not been heavily explored and fail, but I became more and more successful over the years.
When I got my first jet boat in 2005, I was already noticing a change in the river especially after the large fish kill in June of 2005. I saw thousands of adult smallmouth floating down the river around New Cumberland, rotting in the early summer sun. It was a sad day for someone who just found the passion of Susquehanna smallmouth fishing. Over the next couple of years, I begin to stage my fishing out of Duncannon at Riverfront Campground, the fish below Harrisburg were just not there like above. In 2007, I begin to keep a camper there every Spring and Fall, clearing out when the Summer campers moved in, coming back when they left. To me river smallmouth fishing is best in the cold and we have enough water to run comfortably. This was when I began meeting more people whose passion was the same.
Four to five years ago, I began to notice the sores and a couple different fungi on the fish even above Harrisburg and then last year the fish begin to get the black spots. By 2010, I was solely fishing above Harrisburg because the fishery, while there are still some fish in some areas, was so unproductive it was not worth wasting my time. I went lake fishing when the water was too low up north. Even with the problems on the river, it is still one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world that is why I am investing in it, but for how long. I now have a small tackle company and guide a little. I have moved to the next step of a passion, passing it on to others. I believe the only way to save this treasure is by sharing it with more people who don't know what they have in their own backyards.
I love this river and the people who have made it a part of their life. If something is not done soon, this way of life and passion will fade away and the next generations may never know the joy of having a 5 pound Susquehanna River smallmouth ripping the rod out of your hands.
|I own a cabin and 10 acres along the Juniata river near Mt Union for the last 32 years. Up until the last 4-5 yrs. anyone that could toss a small jig head with any color twister tail or spinner could catch some smallmouth bass and endless rock bass [red eyes]. The 6 & 7 yr. olds had no problem either. I still fish the river all year and I can vouch to you that something has ruined the fishing big time.
I still catch some smallmouth and I haven't seen any lesions on them, but the rock bass are next to none. I see many Herons, more than ever, that I'm sure are eating their share of the young fish and competing for the crayfish and other natural food that the fish eat. I don't fish the Susq. any more like I used to and it was truly the best bass fishing I ever had 25 years ago and it has gone downhill ever since.
I can't imagine with all the technology and resources we have today why we can't get a real handle on this problem. Please include the Juniata River on your concerns as it is in trouble also.
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