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Susquehanna River for Muskie

From: Len Hartman  2000 - All Rights Reserved

Starting in the mountains of Pennsylvania as some of the best trout streams and flowing south where two main streams combine to create some great fishing waters and become a river, the West Branch of the Susquehanna provides some of the best bass fishing waters as the stream picks up feeder streams and takes on deeper water. Walleye seem to do quite well in the lower portion in the deeper hole.

The East branch is noted for mixed fishing from trout through bass, walleye and in the lower reaches Muskie. Some Muskie are found in the lower waters of the West branch, but not as well established.

South from Sunbury the Muskie waters become more prevalent and on any cast you can expect to hook Muskie to twenty pounds. While hammerhandle Muskie are fun to catch, an occasional good Muskie will take your lure. So you fish thinking big rather than just fishing.

Drifting down river finds the river ever changing from shallow flats to some fairly deep water where trolling offers its rewards in walleyes arid Muskie taking turns on your lures. Walleyes run mostly to four pounds but on occasion to 11 pounds, our biggest. Muskie run from ten to twenty-five pounds with an occasional one at thirty pounds.

At an entrance of a fair size stream, a deep hole showed some great possibilities. There was a lad fishing from shore and as we started fishing the area he called across the stream to us that where we were casting a big fish was chasing some thing in the weeds. On the fifth cast I had a follow-up but he turned the underwater Cisco down. I switched to a Dalton Special a surface runner, and kept on working the area. Perhaps fifteen minutes later I had a good strike and hooked a Muskie.

After two jumps and a short fight I boated a 16 pound Muskie. I noticed this fish had a big bulge in his gut and I noticed that he was hooked in the gill rakers and bleeding too hard to survive. So, I slugged the Muskie and pried open his mouth and noticed a tail deep in his throat. I pulled out a baby muskrat. This was perhaps the Muskie the lad saw feeding along the weeds and had caught this muskrat.

Several miles down  stream we entered a deep channel and worked the shoreline casting without a strike. On the next run we decided to troll a pair of waterdogs. Bets chose white and black stripes and I chose yellow and black stripes. I mention color here because of the results of five runs fishing the same repeatedly, Bets took two Muskie 10 and 14 pounds. I took three walleye without a Muskie strike.

The next trolling flat we tried a color test again. Bets chose the white with black stripes and this time I repeated with the ye1low and black striped waterdogs. The results were the opposite. This time I took a Muskie 12 pounds and Bets took two walleyes. This was more proof that color wasn’t the Muskie's choice but rather that your lure offered the best action at the time and mostly that your lure was the first one sighted by the Muskie. Test after test like this over the years proved it wasn't color but lure action and being presented to a feeding Muskie first.

Going down near Harrisburg, the river shallows out to nearly a mile in width, it offers some great casting waters. You tilt your motor up and try to drift from one opening to another, dodging rock shelves and pool type holes to fish. We would drift an opening and cast over rocky protrusions and pick up an occasional bass, walleye and Muskie. When the Muskie hit you had your hands full because he would run across the river rather than with the current.

Bets landed one under ten pounds in short order because she chose to fight in the opening in which she hooked him. We had just eaten shore lunch and I chose to cast an opening between the rocks as soon as we started our drift.

I hit this Muskie in an opening I found out later was only four feet deep. After hooking this Muskie he chose to run over a shallow rock pile into the next hole. I quickly jumped out of the boat and started wading as he was heading out across shallow water and we couldn't follow with the boat. Three holes our and  finally enough deep water, I landed a 29 pound Muskie. But I was wading and falling and had shin bruises to show for the fight. It was a rewarding battle and even though this Muskie was released, it's not the best way to land a Muskie.

As you work your way down river, you find better trolling waters with deeper longer channels; and the Muskie caught were getting bigger. Around rocky islands with a few weed growths proved some great casting waters. Bass were more plentiful and walleye were running to five pounds.

One flat above Three Mile Island proved a great Muskie hole. We fished this hole on three different occasions and never got skunked. Six Muskie over the three trips and a respectable 32 pounder, our top catch, proved the great potential of the river.

At the lower end of Three Mile Island, Bets took a 21 pounder on a Mepps spinner. She was catching bass one after the other when she picked up the Muskie. From there on down you tried to pick the better waters and it was a lot of hopping from one side to the other. There was never a lack for  action even though most of it came from bass. Walleye ran a close second if you ran deep water lures or just jigged. The big surprise came while jigging for walleyes…you would connect with a Muskie to ten pounds.

We have fished the river all the way down to Safe Harbor and have caught Muskie all along its way and have seen fishermen wading or fishing from shore catching Muskie. While no records were broken, we did see a fisherman in a boat that showed us a 37 pound Muskie he had just caught. He told us he was on his way in the taxidermist to have it mounted. It was a well proportioned female, deep green in color.

On this river you can forget the Muskie size lures as you will catch them on any size lure you fish with. I tried big lures with negative results. Seems the half ounce lures worked best. Frog finish Jitterbugs worked great along the weed beds. The reason was the weed beds were alive with frogs. Open flats produced best on any type splashy lure you offered them. It was strictly in finding a Muskie on the cast rather then tempting them to strike. The river Muskie are aggressive and on one retrieve two Muskie just over ten pounds struck at Bets lure and neither caught the lure. Actually, Bets said she was sure the one Muskie had clapped his jaws over the other Muskie's jaws and she said they were thrashing a bit before the one let go of the other.

The Susquehanna River is a big river and has more varied water than any other river I have ever fished. You will find yourself locked at the end of a run when you will have to pull your boat over shallow rocks to continue to the next fishing waters. The river is hard on motors because of rock up-cropping in the middle of a flat. If you like to earn your Muskie and have a ball doing it, I would recommend it. It’s challenging, but rewarding. Muskie are over forty pounds in this river now and your next cast could just produce one. Rest assured you will earn it with the problems you will have to land it, but that’s what makes Muskie fishing interesting!