by Jerry Norris
Ah, tee shirt weather and I can hear the buds on the shad bush growing already!
In Susquehanna River Fishing Part I
, I wrote about the shad run and the dilemma that I face each spring trying to decide whether to fish for shad or white perch. Well as the water warms, it isnít long before Mother Nature intervenes, solving that problem as the white perch run begins to overlap the shad run. But even before the white perch move into the upriver shallows, there are several weeks of deep water perch jerkiní that starts anywhere from late March to the first week in April.
As with all fishing, the weather variations add or subtract a few days here and there to the rhythm of the seasons.
The deep water fishing is exclusively limited to boat angling as the perch move from their winter haunts into the pre spawn staging areas around and above the I-95 Bridge. The fish will normally hold in twenty to thirty feet of water before moving ever shallower as they prepare to make their spawning run. A good depth finder is a real advantage, but you can usually tell where the fish are just by all the boats anchored up. The most successful deep water method of harvesting some succulent fillets is a double hook bait rig with enough weight to hold bottom. The choice of bait is as varied as the number of fisherman, but almost everyone agrees that bloodworms, although the most expensive, are the best. Others use grass shrimp, minnows, or night crawlers but leave the fish bites at home because the water is too cold for them to work. I generally use night crawlers because I catch them myself and keep a bucket full in wet news paper well into late spring.
The bottom rig again varies with the angler. While I prefer to tie my own rigs using the
same setup that I developed for the early season yellow perch, many anglers use the old standby commercial coated steel standoff double hook rigs. They work fine except that losing several in a day can become expensive. Mine cost me a lot less and I can customize them to suit my notions as to what the fish want. I prefer to use spinner hooks, either nickel or chartreuse yellow or green, and add colored beads to my rigs as I feel they both add a little edge in enticing the fish to hit. Several manufacturers offer commercial spinner hook rigs if you donít want to tie your own. Preferred hook size is either a number two or number four depending upon the size of the fish. I have also used double one sixteenth ounce baited shad darts tied to droppers with a heavier weight at the bottom. They worked also, but I prefer the spinner hook rig baited with no more than about a one inch piece of night crawler.
The fish will be smack on the bottom so once you have located a school of fish you need get your rig down to them. Sometimes you can drift, but generally the current will cause too fast a drift and lots of hang-ups so the best bet is to anchor up and start perch jerkiní. The best weight is one just heavy enough to keep in contact with the bottom while allowing you to walk the bait down steam with a short lift and drop. I generally start out with one half ounce and adjust up or down depending upon how well I am able to stay on the bottom. Being on the bottom is critical, and if you canít maintain the bottom, you wonít catch very many fish. For this fishing, I usually use a light bait casting rod and reel with ten pound braid because I have better control as I lift and drop, walking the rig down stream. A light or medium light action spinning outfit works well also, but an ultra light struggles because of the weight necessary to maintain contact with the bottom. At the tale tell tap, tap, tap, set the hook and it is game on!
As the water warms, the perch begin to move up river and the angling armada follows right along with them. As they move shallower, they also begin to feed more aggressively. The same deep water rig works here as well, just adjust the amount of weight to correspond the depth and current. Once the fish get into around fifteen feet of water, I start being able to pick them up on tandem one eighth ounce shad dart rigs-florescent orange with yellow hair of course. Depending upon their aggressiveness, I may or may not tip the darts with a small piece of night crawler. The dart fishing is a faster pace and usually results in larger fish as well. It also allows me to go to ultra light tackle which is my favorite perching weapon. Another favorite technique is to drift and jig blade baits-quite often you get some bonus walleye fillets as a reward!
By mid April, the perch usually have moved up river off the Lapidum ramp and as far as the old mill. This is prime ultra light tackle fishing. The terminal tackle changes from heavy sinkers and bait to lures and the action really begins to pick up. As noted, my preferred lures are fluorescent orange shad darts with either yellow or chartreuse green hair but others swear by twister tails, tubes and various and sundry other lures. Later in the season, chartreuse green darts and twister tails work well too. One quarter or three eights ounce blade baits will work as well, but are quickly lost in the rocks. This is also surprise fishing time because a cast may bring a white perch, a walleye, a hickory shad or even on very rare occasions a white or American shad. Sometimes a stray rockfish will attack the dart or even a hooked perch-now that will test out your ultra light!
As the water continues to warm, the perch spread all the way to the dam and fishing is truly fantastic. Early mornings anchored up in an eddy behind a rock catching doubles on perch on almost every cast is as good as it gets. I like the early mornings because it is less crowded and nature is free to be itself without all the hubbub and man made commotion. It is not at all uncommon to be sitting in the river catching perch on every cast and hearing a tom turkey gobble as he comes down from the roost and starts looking for a spring rendezvous of his own. One morning last year, I was able to video a Blue Heron catching and swallowing a hand sized white perch. A word of caution here as well; whether wading or in a boat, keep an eye on water levels as they can rise very rapidly.
It is not uncommon at all to catch well over a hundred perch in a morning. Obviously, almost all are carefully released with maybe a dozen or so taken for fillets. Fishing is not limited to early mornings and is generally good all day long. You just need to know where to look for the fish. High water or low, perch are a margin fish. They will hold in eddies behind rocks or adjacent to areas of current in deeper water along the shoreline. The lower water levels of early morning concentrate lots of fish into small areas of the deeper pockets. Find one of those pockets and the action is fast and furious. Whether fishing from shore or from a boat, I cast into the fast water and let the dart swing through the transition area where the current and eddy meet and then work the lures up along the edge of the fast water. With regularity, that will bring at least one strike, and more often than not, two. Often times a short pause after hooking one fish will result in a second fish taking the free hook. When the shad are still in the river it is not uncommon to hook a perch and then have it go for the ride of its life as a shad takes the other hook and goes into after burner runs complete with sky rocketing jumps. Iíve often wondered what the poor bewildered perch must think when that happens.
Yup, I can hear the shad bush buds just a-growing, come on spring!
Read Susquehanna River Fishing Part I