Hot Spring Bassing on the Susquehanna
October 04, 2010
These are the places to try on the Susquehanna, right now, and throughout the spring season!
By Tim Sherman
Central Maryland bass anglers, take heed. Later this month, largemouth bass will start to stir from their winter doldrums. Sharpen your hooks and restock your tackle boxes. The Susquehanna River and flats are calling to those who are ready to set the hook on some of the best bass fishing of the year.
Through spring, anglers can expect an upward water temperature swing that gradually brings the bass fishing to life. Anglers who adjust their patterns as the temperatures rise will score well on the Susquehanna.
A legal bass must be at least 15 inches long when fishing from March 1 through June 15 in Maryland tidal waters. The size limit is 12 inches for the rest of the year. Maryland's creel limit for black bass species is five per day year 'round. Keep this in mind because you will also encounter a good number of smallmouth bass on the river as well.
Tom Wewerka is a Bel Air resident who spends countless hours on the Susquehanna River and its flats. He is an avid amateur tournament fisherman and pro staff member of a local spinnerbait company. His hobby and part-time occupation keep him in touch with the Susquehanna's seasonal patterns.
"From March to May, the Susquehanna's temperature will rise some 20 degrees," said Wewerka. Fishing the typical early-spring and pre-spawn patterns are the best methods of landing bass in both numbers and size.
Tom Werwerka knows that worms worked slowly on the bottom will yield quality bass every spring on the Susquehanna River. Photo by Tim Sherman
SMALL, DEEP AND SLOW Water temperatures will range through the 40s in mid to late March. Bass are not particularly aggressive in waters of these temperatures, yet they still need to feed. Bass prefer deep water in shivery temperatures. Given these factors, Wewerka searches the deep ledges in the river and channel edges on the flats. There are many ledges and dropoffs just north of the I-95 bridge.
It just takes a little river reconnaissance with a good depthfinder to find where the bass are holding on a given day. The back channel along the Havre de Grace side of the flats is a place where Wewerka will search after working the river ledges.
Lures must be worked slowly in deep water to give bass a chance to find them. Grubs and worms are Wewerka's choice on early-spring trips. He rigs 3- or 4-inch twistertail grubs on 3/8-ounce jigheads to reach depths down to 20 feet. He finds that largemouths prefer grubs in chartreuse/pepper in early spring. He will use smoke-color grubs if the river is flowing clear.
Small plastic worms also take their share of bass on the initial outings of spring. Wewerka has found over the past few seasons that the same worm rigged on a drop shot rig will entice a lot of bass on early bass outings. He ties his hook with a Palomar knot and leaves 12 to 16 inches of a tag end to which he ties a weight of 1/8 to 1/4 ounce. He then uses scented 4-inch worms in blue fleck and black patterns. The scented worms give bass a little extra incentive to feed.
APRIL OPPORTUNITIES Bass action will slowly but surely come alive as the river and flats warm through April. As the waters warm, the bass will be transitioning to pre-spawn patterns. Bass will move to points near deep water. They will slip back into deep water for refuge during passing harsh weather fronts. As water temps rise so, too, does the metabolism of bass.
Faster-moving lures like spinnerbaits are what bass will favor as the water warms into the mid-50s. Cast spinnerbaits in black-back shad patterns with gold Colorado/willow tandem blades. Stump Point on the Cecil County side of the flats is one of the best points in the area. It sits in 3 to 5 feet of water with deep-water access nearby.
Wood structure provides good pre-spawn habitat. Deadfalls in 5 to 6 feet of water will hold more bass than timber in shallower water. You can find mid-depth wood along the shoreline of the flats south of Tydings Park in Havre De Grace. Wewerka pitches worms and jigs to the wood. He prefers an l/8-ounce straight black jig-and-chunk trailer combination. He will methodically work a 1/4-ounce yellow spinnerbait with a single Colorado blade through the wood. This pattern works especially well in the wood in Swan Creek.
In spring, bass will seek the warmest water they can find. For this reason, riprap shorelines hold early-spring bass. Riprap holds heat and warms the water around it. Tom Wewerka uses 6-inch Texas-rigged worms in his favorite colors with a 1/8-ounce bullet sinker. Bass will also take jig-and-pig lures. Wewerka suggests the small black jig-and-pig.
Test for aggressive bass near riprap with small suspending jerkbaits. Wewerka suggests blue/chrome/ orange and fire-tiger patterns. You can find riprap south of the U.S. Route 40 Bridge in Harford County, on the outside properties of the marina and near the Veterans Administration hospital.
There are times in spring when not just the tide dictates the level and clarity of the Susquehanna. When the Conowingo Dam releases water while generating power, the river will rise and the current will become strong. With the run-off of spring rains, the river and flats can be mired in murky water quickly.
You can seek cleaner water in marinas when the main flow of the river is strong and flowing muddy. Penns Beach, Tidewater and Tydings marinas all sit out of the main flow of the river. Bass will seek shelter in the cleaner, calmer waters near pier pilings. Jigs and worms are the top lures for fishing the pilings. Remember to retrieve snagged lures from pilings for the safety of boat slip users.
GRASS PATTERNS ON THE FLATS Water temps will reach the 60-degree mark by the end of April. In this climate bass will start to migrate into their spawning patterns. They will pull off the wood, riprap and points for the preferred aquatic vegetation of the flats for spawning. At the end of April and into May, milfoil, hydrilla and eelgrass will be blooming throughout the river and flats. However, bass prefer to spawn in the shallow waters of the flats. The fast current of the river (when dam gates are open) dictates that bass use the flats for spawning.
Lures that can be used as search baits should be cast when bass initially move in the grass. Bass will be roaming through the vegetation, looking for the best spawning grounds. Typically, you'll find bass searching for spawning areas at the end of April and the beginning of May. Wewerka uses spinnerbaits and crankbaits to probe the grass.
He'll cast white or white/chartreuse spinnerbaits with tandem gold blades. He suggests 1/2-ounce rattletraps in chrome and firetiger patterns. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits should be allowed to tick the top of the vegetation. A quick twitch of the rod tip will free the lure from the grass and can generate reaction strikes from bass within.
BRONZEBACK BONUS If there is one thing you count on annually on the Susquehanna, it's the mid-April smallmouth bite. When the bite turns on, you can bet that Garrett Island will hold most of the smallies. Garrett Island is the island south of Susquehanna State Park and is easily found because the I-95 bridge crosses over top of it. The island has both rock and wood structure along its shoreline. The Harford County side of the island truly holds more bronzebacks than does the Cecil County side.
Wewerka has a threesome of lures that he counts on to catch the springtime smallies. He uses a hard-to-find chartreuse/gray back medium-diving crankbait that achieves a depth of 6 feet. Smallies are quite fond of small, soft-plastic critter baits. He uses watermelon-color critter baits with the freakish appendages tipped in chartreuse. He relies on a 4-inch pumpkinseed worm when the smallmouth bite gets tough.
There are three quality ramps for accessing the Susquehanna River and flats. The launch facility in Tydings Park provides instant access to the flats. The park is located at the end of Union Avenue in Havre de Grace. The ramps in Susquehanna State Park will put you right in the heart of spring bassing on the river. The ramps are convenient to I-95 and are located at the end of Lapidum Road. A public ramp is located on the Cecil County side of the river in Port Deposit. They are found south of Center Street on U.S. Route 222.
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