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Personal Stories about the Susquehanna River
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Submitted 12-31-2012
When I started fishing the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers in 2000, I caught great numbers of bass. Recently, I've been catching more big fish than I ever have. My success on the larger smallmouth seems to defy how I really feel the health of the river is. You used to have a tough time catching larger bass, say those in excess of 19 inches. The big fish were there, but your bait wouldn't get a chance to hit the bottom before a 14 incher grabbed it. I've had days this year catching 5 or more smallmouth 19 inches or better. I should be elated.

Smallmouth with black spots
Black spots on a Susquehanna smallmouth bass

I enjoy it, but wonder how long it will last. I feel that it won't. I may have incredible big fish days, but I also go hours and hours without a bite. This happens year 'round. I expect it on trips like last Fridays' where I caught 3 fish in a 9 hour trip, fishing in 35 degree water. I don't expect it in July, August or September. But it happens. Something is wrong.

The forage that they eat, the crawfish, hellgrammites and minnows are there. But the number of bass are frighteningly low. What I'm frightened of is a fishery collapse. The bass that are there are more than well equipped to properly defend a spawning bed and reproduce, but that hasn't happened very well in years. I think that the tributaries of the Susquehanna serve as healthy spawning waters, and that has kept what few young of the year fish coming into the fishery alive.

Starting in 2004, I've seen young of the year smallmouth die in scary numbers. The tributaries seem to be better for them. I see apparently uninjured adult smallmouth laying dead on the bottom of the clear river each month, especially in the spring. I do see some with lesions, tattered and fungus infected tails, or the black spots that I've heard are harmless. The open red pus filled spots aren't harmless though.

Rock bass have also all but disappeared. I saw one two weeks ago. My buddy caught it near the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehanna. Prior to that, I hadn't seen one in the watershed in over 5 years. You used to be able to catch them one after another in the City Island pool in Harrisburg, as well as pretty much every other section of the river. Canary in the coal mine? I think so.

So the fishery is going to collapse. I won't drive up to fish the river when it happens. Pennsylvania won't get my tourism dollars. Big deal, right? If it is a matter of dollars, which I think it is, other interests have greater financial influence.

What is the big deal is that the river is a municipal water source. The male fish have eggs in the testes. One theory why is endocrine disruptors (that pass through waste water treatment facilities unaffected). Gulp! Who wants to drink that water now? Look beyond industry, dollar signs and look to public health. The river is sick. Pennsylvania residents are likely to be next.

Jeffrey Little
New Windsor, Maryland

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Submitted 12-31-2012
Over the last 30 years of so I have seen the fishing get better and better and then fall off dramatically about 6 years ago. I fished at least once a week. Now when I boat or canoe the river I don't even take my fishing equipment because I can't take the frustration of the memories balanced with the lack of quite possibly ZERO fish.

Vaughn Good
Bird In Hand

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Submitted 12-30-2012
I grew up in Columbia and have been fishing the Susquehanna for over 50 years. Until about 8 or 9 years ago if you didn't catch 40 or 50 bass in a morning you had a bad day. Once a friend and I caught 100 in a morning, they weren't all big but they were all fun and they were all released.

I have certainly been aware of the decline of the water quality and I like most other people just assumed the DEP was doing all they could to correct it. I am astonished and outraged to learn they are ignoring it. I intend to contact my state rep and senator to ask for their help.

William Bennett
Columbia

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Submitted 12-26-2012
It may seem odd that someone from Florida is submitting a story to you, but I have been coming up to Pennsylvania for the past 10 years every year to fish the Susquehanna and Juniati Rivers. At first we didn't catch a lot of fish, but I didn't quite understand the smallmouth species, but after a couple years it turned out to be some of the best fishing that I have ever experienced in my life. Better than the Stick Marsh here in Florida and Lake Guntersville in Alabama.

The fishing never tapered off these past couple of years, but the fish are obviously suffering from some type of disease and I have noticed that it is becoming more prevalent as the years have gone by. What puzzles me is there seems to be nothing being done by the state of Pennsylvania to find out what the cause is or how to stop it, rather they put a catch and release year round on these particular waters (I am 100% C&R) thinking that this would solve the problem that besieges it.

But, during my past 3 visits to your wonderful fishery I have noticed the fish have black blotches on them and some are really scary to look at, much less touch when I am unhooking them. My friends from your state have even caught fish that look like they paid a visit to Chernobyl.

My question is with this excellent fishing you have up there and the current problem more or less being swept under the table by higher ups is, is there ever going to be anything actually done about it or will this river become the modern day requiem of the once fabled passenger pigeon.

It is in my opinion something that needs immediate attention before it is too late. I can't imagine not coming up there as one time I was so excited about coming there I threw up. Now, when I see the photos of the diseased fish I wanna throw up. Please keep up the fight!

Tight lines,
Steve Nourse
Winter Haven, Florida

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Submitted 12-24-2012
My story of the Susquehanna begins in 1962 when I was first introduced to smallmouth bass fishing by a man who became a very close friend in life. Growing up in Clearfield County the only fishing that I believed existed was trout, as we had many quality streams during that time. But Joe laughed at me when I told him I never thought of fishing for smallmouth bass. He told me once I take you on the river some evening you will forget about trout. Well he did take me out and I was totally hooked. I never experienced anything like it.

The bass were plentiful and very aggressive; it would not take long to boat twenty or thirty nice size bass. This was not a one time event as every time we went out it was a true adventure. This was a shock to me as the water quality on the East side of the river just below the Turnpike Bridge in Highspire was visibly polluted with oil from the Steelton canal and Bethlehem Steel plant. I could not believe that fish could survive in such water. However, the West side of the river was much cleaner but it too had its measure of contaminants.

Bass fishing on the river soon became my favorite pastime, I bought a boat and kept it at Stus Landing just beneath the Turnpike Bridge and fished the river almost every evening and weekend. My new white boat soon became two toned as the contaminants caused the bottom from the waterline down to turn brown. My favorite lure was a Tiny Torpedo as I enjoyed the violent surface attack the smallmouth would provide. On many outings I was amazed to find that the Tiny Torpedo had not only one bass but two. This tiny lure was able to attract fourteen and sixteen inch bass, at one time, it was truly amazing. Although this did not happen on every occasion it did repeat itself many times.

Another strange event that occurred on the river was motoring up the river in total darkness and experiencing smallmouth bass jumping against the side of boat and often times ending up in the boat. This was truly unbelievable and to many reading this still is. But it did happen on several occasions.

After moving out of the area in the seventies and returning to Clearfield County I would often take my oldest son and we would canoe down the river and spend the nights on the many islands, this would always provide a real treat for both of us.

I remember the first time I saw and heard what takes place when a small white fly hatches in the middle of night, the water would boil with fish gorging themselves on the fly hatch. The noise was so loud that it woke both of us as we lay sleeping in our tent. My son asked what that was and I had to tell him that I never saw anything like that before in my life.

Soon the fishing was not as great and we decided to move up river near Clemson Island as that area still was producing nice bass and on occasion it was not uncommon to land some really nice largemouth. There were numerous young bass caught but also some really nice twenty-plus inch smallmouth as well.

During the late seventies the river began to change, the water became much clearer and algae type growth was everywhere. There was a noticeable increase in the mussel population as thousand were now visible on the river bottom. As the years went by the river became much clearer and the fishing suffered.

We do not travel to the Susquehanna anymore as the presence of the diseased fish is a real turn-off, even though we always released our catch it was not a joy seeing the river decline as it was doing. What has taken place in this river remains a mystery but the condition changes seem to coincide with the advent of agriculture advances in the use of chemicals and liquid manure applications. The Susquehanna is definitely a distressed water and steps to define the problems must be made a priority to this Administration.

Joseph Colton
Smithmill

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Submitted 12-23-2012
Beginning in grade school about 1956-57 my friends and I fished the river about twice a week. Too young to drive, one of our parents would take us to a spot between Tunkhannock and Falls and we would first start by catching enough bait for an afternoon's fishing.

Stone cats were the bait of choice and we caught them with our bare hands feeling under rocks for them. We were really good at catching them and usually started with about 8-10 of them before heading up river to begin fishing.

Hellgramites were all over the place and it was nothing to catch a dozen or two to sell to the older guys back home. The white round masses of hellgramite eggs covered almost every flat exposed rock.

Walking along shore we saw hundreds of small frogs hopping out of our way. Small minnows and crayfish were all over in the shallows. The river was alive.

Last summer I took my eight year old grandson and accompanied my brother in his boat for an afternoon's fishing. As we motored upriver, I did not see a single hellgramite egg mass anywhere. The shallows appeared devoid of any aquatic life and not a single frog hopped away from us when we went ashore for lunch. We did catch several small bass, none legal but my grandson had a great time.

My brother and I both commented almost simultaniously that the river appeared dead. It was clear to us something was wrong. The river we knew as kids was changed, by what we don't know. It may not have been dead but it was clearly sick.

Mike Raykovicz
Vestal, NY

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Submitted 12-23-2012
I have fished the Susquehanna River for the past 20 years. As a young teenager I would catch around 20 - 30 smallmouth bass just wet wading a couple specific holes around the town of Perdix while using nothing but night crawlers. Since then I have fished miles of the river up and down from that point. The number of bass over the past 6-7 years has drastically decreased with the worst years being 5-6 years ago.

Smallmouth with lesions

I have also floated the section from the Montgomery Ferry Launch to the Launch just above the statue around 50 times. When we first started floating this water (Clemson to Duncannon mostly) in 1999 we would catch around 50 fish per boat of 2 fishermen. Tubes and Rebel Craws were the main lures we used. This would continue the next couple years and began a yearly float trip that would include 10 boats and 20 people. At this point, there were guys who only fished once a year, but could have a blast and catch a minimum of a dozen smallies. Then in 2006 and 2007 something changed. The so called fisherman of the group would only catch a dozen and the once a year fishermen struggled to catch any. I would like to note that I did not keep a single smallmouth in the 20 years of fishing the river.

This made the once a year fishermen go golfing instead. To this day we still go on our annual fishing trip, but now 12 go golfing and only 6 will go fishing. The fishing has improved since those two very poor years ('06-'07), but has never been like it was when we first started.

This past year, the top boat brought in 40 smallies while the other two boats caught 20 a piece. Now these numbers are not bad, but I feel with 20 years of experience, newer and better equipment and a better knowledge of smallmouth habitat that I should be catching more. The days of 30 - 50 fish wet wading days seem to be gone. 15 is now considered to be a good day. The size of the smallmouth we are catching have been the same since 1999, but the number of fish between the 6 - 12 inch range have drastically declined. I have caught plenty of fish that have been diseased starting around 2006. I also do not see as many 2-4 inch smallmouth darting around.

We will continue to go on an annual fishing trip, but I only hope someday I can get the golfers back to catching 15 smallies again.

Brandon Horick
McSherrystown

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Submitted 12-23-2012
I am a retired professional biologist and a recreational fisherman. Shortly after I returned to Pennsylvania in 1988 (24 years ago) I invited myself to go on one of the PFBC nighttime electrofishing smallmouth bass surveys in the Susquehanna River with the Regional Biologist and his crew. At the time, Larry Jackson (now retired) was the biologist for the South Central Region. His crew included Andy Shiels (now PFBC Deputy Director of Operations). The PFBC crew were efficient at their work and handled themsleves professionally. I, on the other hand, was inexperienced and pretty inept at nighttime work and managed to rip a long gash in my waders while jumping from the boat as it was trailored on land. (I still count that as one of my most embarassing monents.) But, it was amazing to see the number of smallmouth bass the crew caught that night. I specifically remember a couple of large bass in the seventeen-inch range, along with a large number of smaller fish. All told, the SMB population was exactly what it should be -- lots of young fish, several mid-sized fish and a few big ones. Perfect!

Fast forward about twenty years and again, I was working at night with a PFBC crew, this time collecting smallmouth bass for a U.S. Geological Survey study of pharmaceutical and wastewater compounds. For this effort, we were working on the lower end of the Juniata River and the fish-catching crew was headed by Dave Miko. At the time, Dave was the Regional Biologist. Now, he is the [chief of Fisheries Management]. Anyway, we needed several smallmouth bass for chemical analysis of their tissues. Dave and his crew kept bringing in bass after bass, all amazing specimens 12-14 inches long and some even larger. The work crew on shore included Dr. Vicki Blazer and her staff from the USGS laboratory in Leetown, West Virginia. They were weighing and measuring the fish, and collectiong tissues for chemical analysis. The USGS crew had worked at many locations in the U.S. and especially in the Northeastern part of the country. There were several jaw-dropping moments for the USGS team as Dave and his crew kept bringing in one bucket after another of quality smallmouth bass. They had never seen so many big smallmouth anywhere they had previously worked. But, there were very few small fish. Even at that time, the SMB population was already on the decline with a good population of older fish but few young ones.

The decline has not reversed itself. Still, the Susquehanna River and the lower Juniata River have serious bass population issues. The PFBC has poured staff time and research funding into finding a solution for the problem. They have convened public educational meetings and multi-agency planning sessions to try to come up with a solution. But, the problem goes unsolved. Perhpas the strategy of sharing our Susquehanna River stories can generate additional voices crying for a solution. I only hope my story can add to the volume of support for the PFBC efforts as they continue to tackle this perplexing issue.

Several years ago, the Susquehanna River was regarded as a "world-class smallmouth bass fishery." That designation is no longer applicable. Bob Clouser, the renowned fly designer, fisherman, guide, author, and lecturer actully stopped guiding on the Susquehanna River because the fishing was so bad that he couldn't provide a quality experience for his customers. But, the River can come back. Let's work to find the cause(s) for the problems and then let's continue to work together to re-establish that "world-class" characterization.

Kent Crawford
Hummelstown

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Submitted 12-22-2012
The year was 1985. I was a mechanical engineering student at the State University of New York. I was successful in securing a co-op position at the Three Mile Island Unit 1 Nuclear Generating Station. Even at the tender age of twenty-one I was already completely addicted to fishing.

I loved the river. I didn't own any boats at that time. However, I recall fabulous smallmouth bass fishing at the Island, the confluence with the Swatara Creek and Falmouth Access areas. The catch included walleyes and many channel catfish. We waded into the river every opportunity we had. The river was alive with a vibrant community of fish and aquatic plants. You could wade with a good pair of polarized sunglasses and see many species of fish.

Now as I approach age fifty I manage to fish a few times a year on the North Branch from Wilkes-Barre north to Laceyville. She (North Branch) is still a good friend and rewards me with beautiful smallmouth and walleye.

As a corporate engineer for twenty-six years I realize the importance of providing industrial opportunities to create jobs and stimulate the economy. But I also believe that this can be accomplished without degrading the clean water and clean air legislation enacted in the 1970's. For years we read of magificent recovery of waterways including the rivers and great lakes.

I am afraid we are at a turning point. Tremendous political pressure is short sighted and forsakes balance between industrial growth and the environment. The troubled smallmouth fishery in the main stem is a warning. We better get it right.

Mark Diehl, P.E.
Pocono Summit

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Submitted 12-22-2012
The Wonderful Susquehanna River

Bald eagles require clean water that can supply an ample supply of fish for food if the bald eagles are to not only survice, but also flourish. Over the last two and a half decades the lower Susquehanna has done a fine job of providing food for eagles, as can be told by the fact that the largest concentration of bald eagles in Pennsylcania are found along that stretch of river.

My records are anything but flawless, but I have a newspaper article I wrote in 1989 about bald eagles along the river. More recently I wrote an article every year for either eight or nine years about a pair of bald eagles that successfully nested near Holtwood Dam along the Susquehanna River.

More importantly, I have been, for my  personal enjoyment, watching bald eagles regularly for 25 years along the Susquehanna River. Importantly, at least to me, I have also taken numerous friends to view our beautiful national symbol as it soars over the river.

Without clean water the fish die, and without fish the eagles die. The river must be restored to its past health for numerous reasons, and the fish and bald eagles are just two of those reasons.

Clean water and clean air are basic to the health of humans and wildlife. The Susquehanna must be restored to full health - again.

John W. McGonigle
West Chester

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Submitted 12-22-2012
Last year 2011, i just couldn't wait to go fishing when the bass were running, it was so much fun to catch six small-mouth bass in an hour.

Smallmouth
Smallmouth bass from Kline's run and Susquehanna River

Jay Pechart
Wrightsville

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Submitted 12-22-2012
My story is of a brief time frame. I moved here in 1982 from NJ and was into stream trout fishing. I cursed the lack of lakes and ponds as compared to northern NJ. Then is 1993 I took a keen interest in catching a walleye. I worked with a friend who is a "river rat", he turned me on to the river. What a fishery.

Once learned, there is no better. Period. Pike, Smallmouth, Walleye, Channel Cats, Muskie's, They literally can all be caught in a single outing. I've seen 30" walleye, 50" Muskie's, 45" Pike and 22" Smallmouth. To be honest, I am fishing the North Branch. I can not speak for the lower stretches, but the one thing I have noticed is the clarity of the river has improved over the 20 years I've been on it.

The one disheartening aspect is during high water, the Chemung River turns the river into chocolate milk. We hear of no attempts by NYSDEC to address it, if they can. In all, the river is still the best fishery.

Also as a hunter and trapper, the river is a mecca for ducks, geese, deer, and furbearers.

Beaver
Not just for fishing, 62 lb. beaver caught in the Susquehanna River 12-28-2011

Steve Grazaitis
New Albany

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Submitted 12-21-2012
Our family lived in Northumberland, our Aunt and Grandmother living on "The Island."

My mother driving across the War Memorial Bridge saw boys standing on the bridge diving one after the other into the river. As she got closer she realized it was her three sons. My brothers spent most free time in, on and around the Susquehanna.

2nd Story. My cousin who lived on what we called "The Island" and I spent long fantastical days playing in the wooded area at the edge of the river and to our delight someone had a row boat tied to a tree. We were elementary age nonetheless we would get in that row boat and go out as far as the rope would allow.

The River was then and is now a constant source of peace and restoration of my soul.

As an adult I moved to Harrisburg where I walked or bicycled from Shipoke to the Jewish Community Center everyday of my adult life until I moved to State College. I long for the sight of the Susquehanna. I now kayak and with my sister we spend lanquid days floating and kayaking on the Susquehanna around Duncannon.

GerneyLee Carter
State College

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Submitted 12-21-2012
On the Saturday of the Independence Day holiday of 2001, my son Nick, Bruce Hollender and I fished the Susquehanna River at the mouth of Shermans Creek. We had an incredible day, catching many, many smallmouth bass with some really quality ones. The biggest was a really dark one that Nick caught that went 18 inches (see the pic below).

Nick with smallmouth

It turned out the Andy Shiels and his dad fished the same day out of Middletown and also did extremely well. Andy had counted their fish and reported to me that they had caught 151 smallmouth bass. Nick and I decided to go back on Monday and take advantage of this outstanding fishing while it lasted. We had never counted our fish, so we took a can with loose change in it and took out a penny every time we caught a fish. I made a rule that we could not count the pennies until we were done fishing. We had really good fishing that day, but not as good as two days earlier. On the way back to the launch ramp, we spotted a small group of bass taking mayflies on the surface and decided to rig up the fly rods and catch a few more before we quit. We caught 3 or 4 more and called it a day. On the ride home, Nick counted the pennies. Nick counted his and got 79. While he was counting mine, I did some quick math. I knew I needed 72 to tie Andy's total. When Nick announced my total, I couldnt control my laughter. I knew the competitor in Andy would think I rigged the game. My 73 gave us a total of 152, one more than Andy.

Those were the best days I ever had for numbers on the Susquehanna. I've had better days for big fish, usually in the late fall, but not numbers. Unfortunately, those days are gone. Today, a good day is 15-25 fish for two people. I've had some days where 4 fish is the total catch for the boat. In the good old days, 30 fish was a bad day for two anglers. Not only are the fish gone, but some years the floating filamentous algae is so bad that fishing is actually impossible. Every cast brings a lure full of green goo. Not only have the smallmouth suffered, but rock bass and redbreast sunfish are almost entirely gone from the river. We have also documented a severe decrease in survival of hatchery-reared American shad stocked in our shad restoration program.

What was once one of the premier river fisheries in the world is now relegated to a seasonal fishery for the few large bass that are left.

Mike Hendricks
Certified Fisheries Scientist
PFBC

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Submitted 12-21-2012

My wife of 30 years Janet and I spent this a weekend paddling the West Branch of the Susquehanna, between Renovo and Lock Haven, PA. It was a great two days with near perfect conditions. This was my third time on this stretch and Janet's first. I choose this section as it had the best scenery with the closest access points along the Susquehanna.

We had planned to go one weekend in May. When the forecast promised clear skies for May 15 and 16, we decided to pack up and head north. I drove the truck with the canoe mounted on the rack and Janet followed in the car since we would provide our own shuttle.

It is a nearly 4-hour drive from our home in Southwest Pennsylvania to Lock Haven. We left at 5:30 Saturday morning, stopping for gas and caffeine along the way. We arrived in Lock Haven around 10, and parked the car in the small lot at the west edge of the retaining wall along the south shore of the river. After a quick stroll on the path built on top of the wall, we climbed back into the truck and drover west along route 120 that follows the river towards Renovo.

Renovo is a small, seen-better-days river town built around a locomotive refurbishment plant. The population in 1900 was four thousand  today, about 1,300 call Renovo home. The railroad business is long gone, so most folks either commute to larger towns downriver or work in the logging or local service industries. Renovo has become tourist-savvy, and hosts an annual Flaming Fall Foliage Festival in October, which multiplies the local population tenfold.

It was quiet here this Mid-May Saturday morning, so we pulled into the large boat access area and unloaded the truck. I slid the canoe into the water and carefully loaded our gear. The water around the ramp looked high and the current further out looked pretty strong.

We locked up the truck, climbed into the canoe, and pushed out into the current.

Canoeing the river
A Beautiful Day on the Susquehanna!

Theres an interesting transition that happens when you first push off on a downriver trip. You leave mobility, access, convenience, and modernity and replace it with a frail shell filled with all youll need to sleep, eat, and shelter for days. It is not without some risk, and safety and even survival is completely in your own hands.

Of course, canoeing a river in the middle of a large East Coast state in mid-spring isnt exactly climbing Everest, but it isnt a night at the movies, either. There is no cell phone coverage. One lightly travelled road hugs along the river at some spots, and snakes away from it at others. The river is deceptively powerful, with bone-chilling water, fast flows, and strainers along each bank. Elk, bear, badgers, rattlesnakes, and coyotes prowl the woods. Any emergency would be a long way from rescue.

Once Renovo slips behind us, our only companions are a lonely railroad track, geese, ducks, and trees. The river winds its way through and around the high, steep ridges that soar four to five hundred feet above us on both sides, and houses are few and some abandoned.

We originally planned to put in upriver at Keating, but we were running late, and I didnt want to repeat last year when Nathaniel and I arrived at McCloskey Island at 8:30 at night, with just enough twilight left to find our camping spot.

My worries were unfounded, though, as we raced along on the strong current at 5-7 miles per hour. We paddled regularly, but didnt need to work too hard.

A little over two hours later we were at McCloskey Island, a mile-long wooded island that splits the river into two fast stretches. We pulled into the small opening in the weeds near the end of the island and hopped out.

McCloskey Island is posted No Trespassing on the western end, but there are no signs the last half of the island, and the eastern two hundred yards is high, flat, and open. Many canoe campers have stopped here over the years, and all are careful to leave no trace. We picked a spot near the tip where we could see both sides of the river. We took our time unloading and setting up. Soon we had a full-blown campsite, with tent, hammock, charcoal stove, table, chairs, and cooler. We took some time to explore until the thick undergrowth blocked our way.

The West Branch flow is mostly controlled by upstream dams, but this far downstream spring floods can be epic. The trees on this island and all the others weve seen all bent facing downstream, mute testimony to the force and height of spring floodwaters. Standing here fifteen feet or so above the racing waters below its hard to imagine water surging here through this tranquil, green-coated space.

We returned to our campsite and picked up some firewood  thousands of dried branches carried here by wind and current. On our last two visits here there was no loose firewood, so I guess we must be the first campers this spring.

We played some board games, read, relaxed, and enjoyed the spring afternoon. The trees blocked most of the sun, and a steady wind whipped down the valley and kept a chill in the air, bit otherwise it was a very pleasant afternoon after a long morning. We enjoyed the antics of some geese that would fly upstream, land on the water, and float downstream honking all the way, and repeat the whole adventure again.

Around 5 I started the grill and we ate steaks, au gratin potatoes, and peas. The Coleman xponent backpacking stove performed perfectly as always  the charcoal grill was ok, but Ive lost my touch after using gas so many years. The steaks werent perfect, but they were good. We enjoyed dessert of Pepperidge Farm cookies, chocolate, and Hostess Ho-Hos and time together, unspoiled by pressures or demands.

Darkness came a bit early in the tree-covered valley, and by 8:30 we were both beat. I staked out a chemlight for midnight bio-break orientation, gathered up the gear for the morning, and we climbed into our sleeping bags.

I read for about 5 minutes and was done. Janet didnt sleep quite as well  shes a side-sleeper and the Thermarest pad doesnt provide adequate padding (I sleep better in a tent outside than I do at home). She was cold at 4 AM so I helped her reset her sleeping bags and pulled the tent fly over a bit more to help conserve heat.

By 5:30 the morning twilight woke all the birds, so it was time to get moving. I made some hot tea and got breakfast ready. It was chilly  probably in the 40s, and I was glad I packed sweat pants and sweatshirt. We slowly got moving and by 7:30 had everything packed, the canoe loaded up, and we were ready to go.

Its actually a bit slow going the first morning. You have to figure out where everything goes and you dont have a routine down. On a multi-day trip the efficiency goes way up and you can be packed and moving in less than an hour. Nevertheless, we bid adieu to our temporary home and pushed out into the current.

Below McClosky Island the river and the surrounding valley widens considerably. Here its easy to feel small and insignificant on this big, broad river. Usually the water is clear enough you can see how shallow this river is, despite its breadth. However, with todays turbid runoff pushing downstream, we saw no bottom.
We raced past now-flooded islands, cutting corners to avoid the wind that started to blow directly against us from time to time. The now-familiar terrain moved slowly past, and we enjoyed the sunshine when peered through some low-lying clouds that swept over from time to time.

There are a few good riffle runs along this stretch, made longer by the high water flow. The shoreline raced by, and the scenery changed quickly. Islands seem to clock two sections of the river  I guided us river left where we zoomed along a narrow channel along the north shore, trees on either side, the way ahead blocked, The water found its way through, with our canoe floating along like a leaf. We pulled into an eddy and climbed onto the spring soft shore for a quick break before the final five miles into Lock haven. Two geese were guarding the island but decided retreat was the better option.

Islands in the Susquehanna are mostly transient, make up of various flotsam that gets deposited during heavier flows. Seedlings spring up during the dry, low-water summer. The saplings are rooted enough yet flexible enough to withstand the next years floods. More debris is caught in the web of sticks and twigs and leaves and mud  and the cycle continues.

Some islands come and go annually. Others, such as the island we camped on become established enough to resist all but the most cataclysmic floods. Mature trees grow and eventually the island looks like the surrounding forest.

On McCloskey Island we found several White Pine at least 100 feet tall  likely grown from seedlings that sprouted from behemoths that once covered the hills upstream. Millions of White Pine were harvested to provide masts for sailing ships, raw wood for countless industries, and create fortunes for the lumber kings that built Williamsport and Lock Haven and other river towns in the last half of the nineteenth century. Like those industries and fortunes, the islands are often swept away by unexpected and uncontrollable forces set in motion thousands of miles away.

Soon we entered the narrow gorge that leads to Lock Haven. We saw more houses  some quite nice, others tiny and overwhelmed by dark trees. Then we passed under the Norfolk-Southern Railway bridge, built at the turn of the last century and coated with a fine patina of rust.

The current continued on, past the point where the flow usually slackens. We entered the last bit of riffles before the retention lake formed by the Jay Street dam  the riffles were long and energetic, and a welcome end to this too-short trip.

Our take-out point was the base of the levee on the south shore. The $85 million dollar project now protects Lock Haven from ravaging floods that had previously swept through. On top of the levee is a very nice walking trail with benches and trash cans every few hundred yards. Its a great place to see the river and the town, but the grand houses that once were riverfront property now face a grass-covered wall.

We pulled into the swampy area at the base of a ramp that led up to the top of the levee  a good 50 feet above river level. We unloaded the canoe and carried all the gear up to the car on the other side  up the riverside ramp, down the other side and back again.

We drove to Renovo, spotted our island from the road, and recovered our truck. We stopped at the local tourist kiosk staffed by a nice volunteer who told us about the foliage festival and the nice canoeing in the fall. We signed the guest book then drove back to Lock Haven.

The canoe was still waiting for us  now looking like a dead fish and no longer an elegant watercraft. I lifted it, placed the thwart across my shoulders and started the long climb to the top of the levee. Back down the other side, one more heave to load it on the rack, and soon we were tied down and departing Lock Haven.

The ride home was long since we were both tired form a busy week and a rushed weekend. But we look forward to another, longer trip sometime soon.

William McCormack
Mount Joy

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Susquehanna River Impairment
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