Fishing the Susquehanna River – Pennsylvania, USA

Article and photos by Andy H. / Great Miami Outfitters

The Susquehanna River draws many people for various recreation purposes. At 464 miles long, beginning in New York and emptying into the Chesapeake Bay, it is a haven for kayakers and canoeists for leisurely outings and sanctioned races alike. For me, though, something else pulls me there…massive smallies!

My fishing trips take me all over the country; from largemouth bass in Texas, flounder and redfish in the Carolinas, trout in the Smokies, and walleye in Michigan. However, my fishing roots are, and will always be, the smallmouth bass.

The Susquehanna has had a rough go when it comes to fishing. Pollution, overfishing, and dams have threatened the populations of many species, but with a little persistence and the right combination of tackle, the smallmouth in the river can be hooked.

With the Appalachian Trail running near by and some family ties in the area, I have always ended up in the same place. Several times a year, I will make the drive from here in Ohio to Dauphin, PA population 791. Here you will find, what I consider, a hidden gem for the kayak angler.

There are several campgrounds to set up a basecamp, my favorite being the Ferryboat Campground. From here you can launch directly at the Millersburg ferry and float south towards Harrisburg, taking out in the vicinity of Dauphin. The float does require a shuttle, but it beats fighting the current back upstream to camp. Plan for a full day of fishing and pack accordingly.

Launching at the Millersburg ferry just downstream of the Juniata River confluence, you should spend some time casting into the current and eddies downstream of the ferry. From here, continue downstream using the rocks, eddies, and islands as shelter from the current. The bass lie in wait most often in the current shielded in the larger rocks.

I suggest a medium or medium-light, fast action rod. It will allow you to fight the larger fish while still remaining sensitive enough to feel the hits in the current. You will have to play with the jig head size depending the depth at which the fish are biting. They are picky and this could fluctuate throughout the day. Keeping two rods rigged, one with ⅛ oz and one with ¼ oz will aid you in the changing conditions. Single tail grubs work well, with both chartreuse and cotton candy seeming to be favorites. However, having a variety of your favorite bass tackle is suggested as the fish do seem to change preferences often.

In addition to great fishing, you will be treated to amazing scenery. The river is wide and long with islands and boulders dotting it throughout. Keep an eye out for bald eagles too. I have seen them flying, nesting, and feeding in the area. Most of all, enjoy your time out there, you will likely see a few others, but it is still a lightly used area.

My preferred Susquehanna fishing setup:
Rod: St. Croix Legend Elite Spinning Rod- Medium, Fast
Reel: Shimano Stradic FK Spinning Reel- 6.0:1
Line: Stren Original Monofilament Fishing Line- Clear, 10lb
Lure: ⅛ oz (¼ oz) jig with Zoom Fat Albert- Cotton Candy
Kayak: Jackson Cuda 14
Paddle: Bending Branches Angler Classic – Telescoping

Susquehanna River Trail

***A word of caution, novice paddlers should take out prior to the Dauphin Narrows Statue of Liberty. Also, be aware of the low-head dam near harrisburg. The Susquehanna is shallow for its size, but don’t be fooled, the current is swift. For more information on safety on this river visit the Susquehanna River Trail site and as always use your best judgement.***

Visit our classes and trips page for kayaking educational programs to prepare you to venture out on the water safely and with confidence.


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