I've fished the Susquehanna Flats now for the last fourteen years, this will be the fifteenth. I've basically been on the water every fishable day in the month of April till May 3 for fourteen years at the Susqy Flats. I do not have the exact numbers but what I do know is I've spent many days on the water at the flats over the last fourteen years. I have learned much myself and have learned a lot from the "king" of the flats, Mike Benjamin. I still don't know it all and probably never will. It seems like the more I'm on a piece of water the more I realize I don't know. Funny how as I "mature" in my fishing life fantasy, "the more I KNOW I don't know". Granted I've been pretty good at working patterns and observing clues to locating fish and always trying to get better. The main super secretI have is burning gas; when the fish are difficult I certainly burn gas and more often than not success follows.
DISCLAIMER: Some may not agree with some things I say. I agree, all I say may not be true, just my observation, I wish I knew everything!
(pictured above is the master himself, Pete Dressler, aka "Superfish" from the old WorldwideAngler.com fishing forum, predecessor to Tidal Fish, fishing with me at the Susqy Flats a few years back)
Haven't written any really in depth explanations on the flats, thought this would be a good time to do it. Don't know what I'm going to write.....as I go, I'll record what comes to mind. Using a chart of the flats seems to me to be a good way to help you understand what I'm talking about. Certainly many folks fish the flats differently than I. Nothing can replace time on the water, I spend plenty of it! Many great Flat's fisherman are out there. I may do some things similar and some different. The main theme we all share is the desire to "hook-up" a large Striper on light tackle, whether it be on a surface plug, BKD, spoon, crank bait, Fly or any lure that imitates something Stripers want to eat.
The Susquehanna Flats is a delta at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Plenty of shallow water with ditches running through and channels around. For new Susqy Flats anglers it can be a place of danger due to abrubt shallow water and submerged or barely floating debris. It's always good to go with someone who knows the water, and or be very, very careful. A good thing regarding the shallow water is it's almost all a nice sandy bottom, especially in the center area of the flats. Some shorelines around the flats do have a rocky bottom. Always be careful and observant!
Dark blue indicates shallow, light blue indicates deeper water, green is "really" shallow.
This chart will be the tool I use to help explain what I know about the Susqy Flats. The flats is an area about 8 miles long and 6 miles wide. Not a huge area! Stripers come here to eat, they do on occasion as witnessed by me in the last 14 years, spawn in the southern portion of the flats, primarily where you see the numbers 14, 16 and 17. The majority of the time Stripers feed on the flats. With Herring , white perch, mud shad and hickory shad running through the flats in route to the Susqy River or Northeast River to spawn an abundance of food is around. I believe Herring is their favorite! Stripers are pigs.....they don't go long without eating. One key factor to remember is the Susqy Flats catch and release season is in an area with borders on the North and South. On the south end it's from Turkey Point on the eastern shore over to Sandy Point on the western shore. To the north it's a line drawn from a jetty at the north end of Port Deposit to some rocks out in the Susqy River called the "Twin Sisters" rocks, "I think" and then the boat ramp over at Lapidum. Before fishing in any area learn the laws, borders, ect...Regulations change and I could be wrong. Check before you go!
First thing which comes to mind regarding the entire body of the flats is water temperature. Look at the chart, the Susqy River is a huge volume of water rolling into the bay. This fact means the water temperature at the mouth of the river is more steady. Takes much more warm or much more cold air temp to change this water temperature. That means the water on the westerly side of the flats stays more stable, not as much up and down movement as in other parts of the flats. This phenomenon can help the fishing and hurt the fishing in this region of the flats. The eastern side of the flats isn't influenced as much by the Susqy River flow. This means the temperature can go up and down abruptly. This fact can turn fish on and off like a light in this area.
Numbers 1-7 are heavily effected by the Susqy River, 8-11 not as much and 12-20 even less.
Effect of Water Temperature
I believe the food chain starting from tiny organisms up through the top of the Chain, "Stripers", move to the warmest available water when the water temps are below 60 degrees at the Susqy Flats. The Northeast River, area number 22 is a huge factor in water temperature early in the flats season. This water is overall shallow, when the water is in the 40's for example, let's say 43 the sun has a huge impact on raising that water temperature drastically in a day. I've seen water temps rise as much as 8 degrees in a day on the eastern side of the flats. The warmed water of the Northeast River area, #22, flows south down the eastern side of the flats thru areas 13-22 on the outgoing tide, basically the eastern side of the flats. Depending on wind and current will dictate where the cold/warm water lines are located. You have to look for them, they change constantly with current and wind. On many occasions the "warm' water is broken up into bubbles or small areas of significantly warmer water. These warm water "bubbles" are key to catching Stripers at the flats in the early season or when the water is still below 60 degrees but especially when the water is in the 40's. So, with that said, a good rule of thumb is to get over to the eastern side of the flats and search for the warmest water. It's what I do and has worked on many occasion.
Effect of a Cold Front
Let's reverse this thought and talk about cold fronts blowing through. We all know Mar-April is a time of drastic weather changes. Let's say we've had a few days of stable air temps with sun and overcast mixed in and the water temp on the flats is 55 degrees at it's warmest, at area #20, and the mouth of the Susqy River, #1, is 51 degrees. Through this stable weather time, the pattern of fishing has been 5-8' of water in the area of #"s 10 and 18-21 along with some action along the channel edges and deeper flats in areas # 7,11, 12, 13 and 16. Fish have been hitting 6" or 10" Chartreuse Glitter BKD's along with Crank Baits and an occasional surface plug acton in area #'s 8,9,18, 24 and 25. On "Tuesday" nite the front passes through, air temp plummets to 28 degrees with winds 15-25 from the North/North West. Wednesday morning is a NEW day, trust me on that one. The water temps in area numbers 3-22 dropped like an anvil off a roof-top. The 55 degree water in areas 18-21 shot down to 47 degrees and the water is muddy. Every fish in these areas took off....where'd they go? I know where they have gone on several occasions after a major cold front. Remember I said the Susqy River water temperature doesn't change abruptly, well, after a cold front this pays dividends. Along with not dropping in temperature hardly at all over night, it also didn't get muddy! Muddy water is BAD at the flats. If the visibility is under 12" it gets tough, under 6" and bait is the only option. On occasion after a cold front many fish from the flats will move to the warmest water, now the river mouth, #1, and the clearest water, also area #1.
Let's Talk Surface Plugg'in
A big draw at the Susqy Flats is the opportunity to catch a true trophy Striper on a surface plug. A general rule of thumb is over 50 degrees you can get some surface hits, over 55 is better and 60+ is the best. Finding warm water pockets is very important in giving yourself the best shot at getting some surface hits early in the season when waters are hovering in the upper 40's to upper 50's. Once the water temp has reached 60+ I don't believe few degree temperature differences are as important.
Here's a true story! Early in the 07 season water temps were hovering in the mid to upper 40's. We were catching fish on jigs and crank baits but nothing on the surface yet. I was catching some fish in the area of 12,13 and 16 on BKD's and 3/4 ounce heads. The sun had been shining all day giving the water a nice shot of heat. South of area #14 is shallow water and heats well in the sun. In the afternoon after hours of sun the tide shifted to incoming, clouds and drizzle came in and I ran over to area #14 (Sandy Point). Water temp at area #16 was 46 degrees. As I approached area #14 the temp started "clicking" up on my fishfinder. I moved into water around 4' and the water temp flew up to 55 degrees. My crew was throwing 17 Tony Spoons, I grabbed a surface plug and and had one of my guys chuck it towards shore....on the second twitch a mammoth grabbed the surface plug. This beauty grabbed it right away.....first surface plugged fish of the year.
Water Temp. is Key When Water Temps are below 60 especially below 50 degrees
The sun plays a huge role in the Susqy Flats early season bite, when you witness a water temp change of 3 degrees or more in a short distance start fishing in the warmest water you find!!!
The key to surface plugging is locating where the fish are holding. Over the last several years grass beds have come back in the Susqy Flats. Major grass beds have been in the areas of #'s 3,4,5,6,8,9,10, 18,19, 20, 24 and 25. Prior to Herring running up the Northeast river or the Susqy River to spawn and after they spawn they've been holding in the weed beds in areas listed above. The areas I concentrate in depend on water temp, clarity and if I see any activity, (Stripers chasing herring). Water depths in these areas can be anywhere from 2-6' deep depending on tide and your exact location. Be very careful in these locations....in the green areas (on the chart) of the flats depths can be as shallow as inches!
While fishing any shallow areas it's crutial to be silent!!!! No banging the deck, yelling, squealing, ect......if you make noise it'll screw it up. Don't run your engine over the area you plan to fish....run your boat at idle speed, move upwind/tide of the area you want to target then drift silently through the area you want to fish....silence! When your drift is done and you've caught fish circle out and well around of the area you caught fish in...get back up wind/tide and drift again...silence!
If the fish aren't hitting plugs in shallow water try 17 Tony Spoons (gold or silver) or shallow diving crank baits like a yozuri crystal minnow or similar bait. I like the ones that rattle and suspend when you pause. I like red/white, chartreuse/white or blue/white crank baits. They'll all work if you have fish present and feeding at all. If the water is very clouded with visibility less than 2' rattling baits are by far the most effective.
Another true story: A few years back a guy named Barefoot (from here on TidalFish) and Fritzer were fishing with me on a horrible, nasty, cold early season flats day. We fished very hard all over the flats with mostly crank baits due to stained and cold water. I recall the water being around 42 degrees in most areas. We were hunting around for warmer water to "up" our chances of catching anything. We covered lots of area without much (any) success when I wandered over to area number 24....as we idled into less than 6' and then 4' of water the temp gauge went from 42.4 to 44.2 degrees. I announced the temp difference to my guys and away they went with some casts. It wasn't long when "Barefoot" hooked up with a big, big fish...and a couple more...
The moral of the story on this 45" fish was moving around, locating warmer water, being persistent and staying confident. Anybody can catch'm at the flats when they are everywhere but only a select few can find'm when they aren't there hardly at all.....on those horrible, cold/nasty days dress warm and be persist!!!
Channels and Ditches at the Flats
The flats as stated earlier is a delta at the mouth of the Susqy River. It's got deep areas around the edges and shallow areas in the middle and ditches in between the channels and shallows. It's an area full of great, fishy areas.
You can see the main channels that traverse the edges of the flats....from the area close to #17 all the way up to near #22 you see a channel on the chart. On the west side from the mouth of the Susqy River near #1 all the way to #16, you can see the channel on the above chart. Channel edges are good areas to hunt on days when the shallow water bite is nonexistent. In these areas I use BKD's on an ounce jig head or more if it's windy. On many days I've connected on great numbers of big fish in the channels....especially in the channel from the mouth of the Susqy River to area #16. The channel between #'s 24 and 25 and 2,3,4 and 5 have held fish on many occasions.
The ditches however are a totally different animal than the deep river channels on the edges of the flats. The ditches are not marked on any of my charts....they are definitely out there though! 3 major ditches run from the mouth of the River in a southerly direction and end in the area of #7. At the mouth of the river one major ditch starts and then eventually splits up and 3 ditches are prevalent.
The ditches start around area #2 and run through #'s 3,4,5,6,7,9,10. I fish these ditches often throughout the flats season. In many areas the ditches go from 2-3' of water or less to 10' or more.....it varies from place to place. Moral of the story is the ditches are like a highway to the baitfish through the flats. Large Stripers hang around the ditches and "bushwack" the bait as it passes through. I fish the ditches one step at a time.....I'll fish one area, if no bites or signs of life I move about a quarter mile and start slinging again......if fish are in the area you'll know...they'll bite when in the ditches! I like 6" or 10" BKD's when the fish aren't hitting on the surface. I'll load the BKD's on the jighead that allows me to gently DETECT bottom and not slam the bottom. For example, if the wind is blowing 20 knots and the ditch i'm fishing is 8-12' deep I'll probably use a 1 ounce or even 1 1/2 ounce to detect bottom. On the other hand if the the wind is calm and the water is 8-12' deep I'll probably only need 1/2 to 3/4 ounce jighead to DETECT bottom.
No matter where I fish at the flats I don't waste time if not catching or seeing signs of fish in a particular place, I move often!
Let's Talk about Wind and It's Effect
We've talked about how important water temperature is on the bite at the flats. Maybe even more important is water clarity. We all know a ton of rain in the Susqy River valley will demolish the water clarity at the flats. If I can't see 12" I'm concerned about being able to catch Stripers or not on lures. Today we can have clear water......overnight the wind picked up out of the southeast to 20 knots......the shallows in the center of the flats is now muddy ( where I caught yesterday) and the water on the western side and northern end of the flats is muddy. The mouth of the river is still clear due to the volume of flow out of the river.
If we had a heavy southeast wind then the waters in areas # 10, 11,13,18,19,20,21 and 22 will be more clear than water in the areas west of 9,10 and 12. There is no exact science on where the mud will be, it'll be differnent all the time. You have to get out and look around for the best conditions. The areas downwind of the center of the flats will get muddy pretty quickly in heavy wind. If you are out there during or after a heavy breeze move upwind until you get into more clear water. Also, in the wind and stained water rattling crank baits are your best bet! However, I've been out on many occasions in wind and mud and hammered fish in the ditches on BKD's. No matter the conditions stay on the move when not catching! Cover the water!
Once fish are located, the Flats is Magical....the chance at a 50 pounder is high!
Other Flats Influences and Thoughts
Having about 14 years of fishing every fishable flats day in April I've realized some things. Today can be great, tomorrow can stink and visa versa. Stripers feed on the Susqy Flats, they don't spawn there in huge numbers, they eat here! So.....when the food (herring) runs up the rivers to spawn, many times the mass of Stripers we had yesterday are up the rivers eating more herring tomorrow. It happens like that so much at the flats. With that said, you can have a bad day or two and all of a sudden a billion fish show up at the flats. They either came back down the Susqy River or they moved up the bay from the south following and eating more baitfish. Since we have northern and southern boundaries at the Susqy Flats we are at the mercy of the fish gods! If the fish are at the flats you can find them by paying attention to water temperature, clarity and even bird activity. Typically we don't have much bird activity but it sure can happen, be observant!!!
The Susqy Flats is a magical place where true giants, a "fish of a lifetime" can be caught. Please be careful when handling Striped Bass during any catch and release fishery!
Walleye Pete's Resources
For more great information on proper catch and release of Striped Bass go here.
Great Tackle Shops to stock up on your Susquehanna Flats Fishing Tackle
Herbs Tackle on Main St in the village of Northeast or go to their website here this place has to be seen to be believed.....incredible shop!!!
For a great supply of everything you need at the Susqy Flats visit Keith at Alltackle in Annapolis or go to his site here or visit
To find my favorite plastic bait go here
Whether fishing for huge Stripers, summer Stripers, Specks, Red Drum or even Flounder, my friend's Steve and Sandy owners of Bass Kandy Delights supply me with a lure that's helped catch literally thousands of game fish! Thanks Steve and Sandy!
If you have any questions feel free to email me at Pete@walleyepete.com. I'll answer your questions as quickly as I possibly can.