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Susquehanna Stripers- Location, Location and Live Bait

When it comes to finding Rockfish in the Susquehanna River there are two main ingredients for a successful outing, location and bait. Both of these factors have been a well-kept secret, until now. This past weekend was the first weekend of the summer rockfish season where you are allowed to keep 2 fish between 18"-28" or 1 between 18"-28" and one larger than 28".

I got a call earlier in the week from some friends of mine who live much closer to the Susquehanna than I do and he said this was the weekend to come out and learn the secret location. I agreed to meet them at 5:30am which is early but even worse if you have to drive 80 miles first, but they promised it would worth the lack of sleep.

We met on the Cecil County side of the river near Port Deposit MD. My friends made me promise not to reveal the exact location (like I could actually give you directions to a rectangular rock half submerged in the river) but there are several pull-offs where you can park and access the river. Before you decide to wade in the river you should check the river stage by calling 410-457-4076. Pepco controls the river flow below the Conowingo Dam and they release varying amounts of water based on rain, river conditions, electricity generation etc. You can also check the US Geological Survey web site at SUSQUEHANNA RIVER AT CONOWINGO, MD but you almost need to be a statistics major to comprehend the merit of this site.

Once we put on our waders we set off in search of white perch, the secret bait that also works well for large smallmouth bass. To find the perch you need to go to the edge of the grass beds in about 2-3 feet of water and fish a piece of a worm on a small hook. This time of the year it is easier to find the perch than it is later in the summer. If you can't locate the perch scan the surface of the water and look for small ripples, the perch feed in schools and when they do they disrupt the water surface slightly. You will need to bring a bait bucket with you and try to catch a dozen or so perch, the perch are not too hardy after you toss them a few times so you need to have plenty. The ideal perch are 3-5" in length but you know what they say, the larger the bait the bigger the fish.

Once we caught a sufficient amount of bait it was time to wade farther out and switch gears to try and catch some larger fish. The ideal tackle for this type of fishing is probably a 6-6 ˝ ft. graphite rod that is a medium to medium/heavy weight (fairly stiff) with 10 -12 lb. test line. You want to hook the perch through the lips from bottom to top with a size 2/0 or 3/0 hook.

Once you find a deep pool you should cast your perch out and let it sit. Slowly let out line but make sure you are watching you line. The Rockfish will attack the perch and then just take it and run. You should let the fish run for 3-5 seconds then set the hook. Next thing you know you will be fighting a (hopefully large) rockfish. I hooked several rockfish that spit the perch out after I fought them for a short period of time; this may have been due to the bad mojo factor, which is passed from one angler to another. Tip-the key to avoiding the bad mojo factor is to avoid laughing at or enjoying another angler's misfortune.

By 7:30am we had caught about 10 Rockfish all but one (mine of course) exceeded the minimum 18 inches. Once we caught enough for dinner we decided to stop fishing, catch and release fishing in the river has a higher mortality because of the lack of salinity and warmer water and we didn't want to harm the fishery.

The entire time we were wading up to our chests we saw several boats pass through the area and not once did I see anyone else catch a fish. I'm not sure why they didn't find any fish with all of their expensive fish finders, navigational gear and fancy boats but all I can figure is that they didn't have the right bait in the right location.

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