PA Smallmouth, Rebounding But Not Rebounded

Over the past two weeks I’ve started to focus all my fly fishing energy on warm water, specifically for smallmouth bass. I’ve been on the Juniata River twice, I headed east to fish the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, and most recently I did some exploring on the Conestoga River in southern Lancaster, County. While all of these bass fisheries are slightly different in size and habitat, there was one similarity—the number and size of the bass. I was impressed with the number of smallmouth that each one of these bodies of water held. Fishing in the heat of the afternoon isn’t going to net you a large number of fish, but get there early or stay for the last two hours before dark and you are in for some action (with the right pattern of course).

 A healthy Juniata River smallmouth bass taken on a black Woolly Bugger.

A healthy Juniata River smallmouth bass taken on a black Woolly Bugger.

So I’m starting to believe some of the talk I’ve been hearing from guides on the Susquehanna and Juniata that the bass are finally rebounding from the mysterious sores and lesions of the past 10-12 years. However, that is with one big caveat, the bass on average are still not anywhere near the average size that you would see in the late 80s or early 90s. If you read the online fishing forums and talk to guys on the rivers, you’ll hear the same story. There are lots of small healthy young bass. I can remember wade fishing with a spin rod in the early 90s and it wasn’t uncommon to go out for two or three hours and catch 40-50 fish with many of those fish in the 14”-16” range. It also wasn’t uncommon to catch several bass in the 18”-20” range. I’m certainly not saying there aren’t big bass roaming the Susquehanna and Juniata. I see the pictures online, but the amount of water you need to cover and casts you need to throw to land several really nice fish might require an entire day and a couple miles of river or more. I understand that the bass fishing industry has taken a hit in Pennsylvania and I more than anyone want to see the rivers return to their former glory, but let’s be realistic. The fishing appears to be getting better, but I have a hard time coming to the conclusion that the bass fishing has rebounded. More like it is in the process of rebounding. I see it being another two to four years with good water conditions and I think “rebounded” is a possibility.

 A smallmouth bass I caught on the Susquehanna above Shocks Mill Bridge.

A smallmouth bass I caught on the Susquehanna above Shocks Mill Bridge.

The problem I see is that I’m not convinced the biologists ever really pinpointed what impacted the bass in the first place. I’ve heard many theories, from climate change, to a natural cycle, to agricultural run-off being to blame. Maybe it’s all of the above, but I never saw someone stand up and give a 100% definitive answer. I hope the state and federal governments can focus resources on the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers and return them to their former glory and avoid problems in the future. And then we can say the Pennsylvania smallmouth have rebounded.