The first few

Generally, the first week of March brings a change in Maryland. The rivers warm up a little from the winter and everything gets just a little bit green. The willows are the first to start as far as trees are concerned, but you notice the season more in the grass. If it had been a very cold winter, you might not notice it at all, everything will still be brown and gray. Nevertheless, changes in temperature, and the longer days will tip the scales ever-so-slightly away from winter enough to coax the first few hickory shad into running the Susquehanna river.

The mouth of Deer Creek, where it flows into the Susquehanna river has been widely held as the best place to catch hickory shad in the world. Invariably, that's where you'll find the first few fish (and the first few fisherman chasing them.) The fish will stage there, probably waiting for the Big School that will arrive sometime around the last few days of March to the first week of April. But what comes with numbers of fish are numbers of fisherman. Often, really great fishing can be had before the hordes of fisherman come swarming from various towns in Pennsylvania (it is in the spring that we Marylanders feel like out-of-staters on our own rivers). So I like the early bite.

You might fish for two or three hours for that many fish. On a good early day you might hook a half dozen or more in a few hours. When the masses come, you can expect to hook a shad every other cast, but again, that entails dealing with often shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and that "one guy" that messes everything up.

I'm lucky enough to know most of the regulars that fish this river. I can make a phone call and get a report with the kind of detail that a tourist fisherman would pay for. I grew up here, I paid my dues, and making good contacts with competent fisherman is part of the return on an investment that I had been making since I was old enough to drive.

This really is a great time of the year. It will often happen on one of those days, before the big crowds come that nice big pod of fish moves in. I'll have the river almost to myself, and will hook more than enough shad to convince myself that spring has finally sprung. This is the kind of feeling you get on the water that has to be experienced to be understood. You'll hook a nice hickory on the end of your drift your line goes tight, the drag will sing, and you can hear all around you the sounds of spring. Across the river the cormorants are moving in, black masses of evil birds that are here for the herring and generally mark the early river herring run. The ducks will be chasing each other around in their own version of "can I buy you a drink" -albeit a little less classy. Back at the parking lot you hear the ever present sound of the spring peepers . After a whole winter of lying low, fishing for trout, you know that the Susquehanna is finally waking up. Right now begins two months of a fishing frenzy. The Hickory shad will be running up into deer creek very soon, giving way to some of the best flyrodding imaginable. Big stripers will be cruising the flats, and the white shad (American shad to you non-Marylanders) will be up at the dam. White perch will infest the river by the beginning of May, and I'll usually dedicate a trip or two to them, (and a fish fry). No matter where I go, mid-March through mid-May I'll always wish I was in Maryland, fishing the mighty Susquehanna, my home river, and she'll be full of fish.


Facing the prospect of not being able to wade in moving water for nearly three months a look at things to come might be in order. Back in Maryland (and a long, LONG way from Minneapolis) I fish the upper reaches of the Chesapeake bay for pre-spawn stripers. These fish stage and feed along an area called the Susquehanna flats, gorging themselves on herring they push against the shorelines and points, feeding so aggressively you can hear them above the water.

At 2:30 am, sometime in the middle of
April, it will all come together. I fish before the sun comes up, and sometimes after the sun goes down, but when it comes together, the result is often a striper on the end of your line as big as a 4 year old. She will be fat and full of eggs, a perfect picture fish. Given that this is Maryland's catch and release season, I'll take a few pictures of her and send her back to do her duty.

We throw very large plugs and fish with heavy line. This is not finesse fishing, instead, it's tug-of-war combat on a grand scale. When the school moves in you might pull on 15 fish in a morning. Your hands will be chewed up from
lipping them, and if you aren't careful you might wind up in the emergency room with a Bomber 17j in your hand. (I've seen this first hand, but luckily have not suffered it myself).We wade out of the flats at that time of the morning when you switch from a headlamp to sunglasses. Spring peepers can be heard in the woods, and the dogwoods will be blooming soon. If I'm caffineated enough I'll drive the 15 minutes over to the Susquehanna river and fish for hickory shad. But usually, if the fishing is good, it's a McDonald's breakfast, and then back to bed.

NY 2007/2008

First post in a long time, but on the same token it's been a long time since I've had any meaningful time to spend on the water and write about it. I've returned recently from 9 days on the salmon river, my set-in-stone annual pilgrimage that comes after the fall semester. The fishing was more than good. This post will be more pictures than words, which is the best kind of post anyway.

Water conditions started off higher than average at 1150
cfs, and I fished a few days at 750. The last few days of the trip the water was lowered to the fabled 500cfs which many tout as the best flow for fishing the salmon river. Not too high, not too low. -and I'll agree with that. It's been said before, and I'll say it again, water flow is the most important factor in steelheading. Other fish are probably more affected by changes in water temperature (and yes, steelhead are) but water flow will dramatically effect where the fish lie, and whether or not new fish will enter the system.

Weather as well fluctuated, when I first arrived the temps were seasonal, highs in the 30's, and lows in the 20's. Then we were hit by an arctic cold blast that dropped temps down to single digit highs, and brought on a whole new kind of cold fishing. This was probably the average temperatures that I have to deal with in Minneapolis, but when you mix those temps with cold and flowing water, the combination generally results in cold feet that tend to swing the thoughts towards death, judgement, hell, and the like.
I usually don't to much "thinking" while I'm fishing (others would say during any other activity as well), but the freezing cold certainly does affect your abililty to simply concentrate on fishing (which, I'll admit, often requires little thought).

After the cold snap temperatures finally rose, so much so that I was fishing in 60 degree weather my last 2 days (and in 500
cfs too!). but these temperatures lead to another consequence when the Tug Hill plateau begins to melt: runoff and rising water.

My trip started with a perfect storm of good
steelheading: prior high water dropping = good fishing. rising water shuts them down, at least until they get used to it. and snowmelt completely shuts them off. I have no idea why a steelhead would shut off when the river is 33 degrees just like the meltwater, but it does, and I've seen it time and time again. It's just one of those weird "rules" that has yet to let me down. Towards the end of the trip the river rose, got colder (albeit ever so slightly), and the fish shut down. No better time to leave than when the river is high and the fish are off. Of course, for those lucky enough to have aces to this great fishery, the high water merely resets the chips, and when things stabalize, the madness begins all over again.
Sitting here and uploading the better pictures of the trip, I'm struck with the realization that trying to convey on a blog what one experiences on the water will always fall short. Right now I'm back in Minneapolis, making a blog post and refusing to pay attention in class. Fisherman probably don't make the best students, and if school were fishing, I'd have more letters after my name than words in a Russian novel. So the battle continues between future career and the immutable passion for the water. I suppose there are men with worse challenges in their lives.