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SmallMouth protection

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2009/12/2 19:56
From SE Pa
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I've read the recent posts about successful SM fishing, but I don't think the experience of a few people changes the overall picture.

I've been SM fishing for 50 years here in SE Pa, and it's never been anything like the last 3 or 4 years.

No matter where I go, the numbers of smallmouth are down very very significantly, I'm wondering if the measures taken for the Susquehana need to be extended in a broad way for the SE area of the state.

As it stands now, the state regulations are in essence not relevant, as catching a 12" smallmouth in a morning or evening trip in almost any SE Pa waterway is a very difficult undertaking.

My experience over the last 3 - 4 years is that waterways that once yielded SM along with other species for fly fishing are now limited to basically chubs and bluegill.

I don't know what the causes are; (flatheads, water quality, whatever) but why would the Susquehanna warrant a unique treatment when so many other SE Pa rivers and streams have the same SM decline?


Posted on: 2011/8/6 20:21


Re: SmallMouth protection

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Quote:

springer1 wrote:
I've read the recent posts about successful SM fishing, but I don't think the experience of a few people changes the overall picture.

I've been SM fishing for 50 years here in SE Pa, and it's never been anything like the last 3 or 4 years.

No matter where I go, the numbers of smallmouth are down very very significantly, I'm wondering if the measures taken for the Susquehana need to be extended in a broad way for the SE area of the state.

As it stands now, the state regulations are in essence not relevant, as catching a 12" smallmouth in a morning or evening trip in almost any SE Pa waterway is a very difficult undertaking.

My experience over the last 3 - 4 years is that waterways that once yielded SM along with other species for fly fishing are now limited to basically chubs and bluegill.

I don't know what the causes are; (flatheads, water quality, whatever) but why would the Susquehanna warrant a unique treatment when so many other SE Pa rivers and streams have the same SM decline?



I haven't fished for smallies much but where I fish there seems to be alot of them.....I just can't catch them once it gets warm and early summer gives way to hot weather. I have caught a few in the 3 + lb size range. The ones I do catch seem to be healthy.I wish I had the time to have you up to NW pa and I go down to where you fish and compare. I do think all in all there should be more of a focus on C and R fishing regs .

Posted on: 2011/8/6 20:50


Re: SmallMouth protection

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2009/3/28 1:27
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I would agree with you on the number of smallmouth bass in SEPA. A few years ago catching a smallmouth 12-18 inches was fairly common (especially the 12 inch fish), but now I am lucky to pull in one over 10 inches.

These are the average size
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This is the biggest this year.
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This is what I was catching a few years ago in the same stream and the same time of year.

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One thing I have noticed in the stream I fish that where these guys came from there is a growing number of largemouth bass. I was actually going to post about this tonight as ask if the growing number of largemouth bass are effecting the number of smallmouth. I still catch the same number of bluegill, but the number of rock bass are declining to in this stream

Posted on: 2011/8/6 20:55
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Re: SmallMouth protection

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Agreed... I haven't been able to buy a smallmouth over 15" this year, and i think last year i only caught maybe 7 that have broken that mark. I have caught many small ones anywhere between 6- 12 inches this year, but the dinks are getting a little annoying. I fished the swatara in Dauphin Co. this morning after fishing clarks for trout. Caught about half dozen fallfish, a few rock bass, and maybe 4 or 5 smallies between 6-10 inches. I did however lose a brute on a clouser, but as luck would have it my knot slipped lol. But thats fishing... I feel that it may be the whole watershed that is seeing the decline. Susky, Juniata, and seemingly based on alot of reports, most of the tribs to these rivers. Until the state finds a solution to the issue, C & R is the only way to go.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 21:17
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Re: SmallMouth protection

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2011/5/3 12:22
From South Lebanon Township, PA
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Quote:

springer1 wrote:

I don't know what the causes are; (flatheads, water quality, whatever) but why would the Susquehanna warrant a unique treatment when so many other SE Pa rivers and streams have the same SM decline?



The Susquehanna gets that kind of attention because of what it once was...and probably still is in some locations - a legit world class, large scale Smallmouth fishery. And because in the opinion of many, something needs to be done to keep it that way...although there is great debate as to whether the new regs will actually help. The real issue is figuring out what is causing the bad spawns in seemingly decent spawning conditions, and correcting it...whether it is farm runoff, pollution, algae, etc. Bottom line, the Susky just needs a couple good spawns to get some higher number YOY (Young of the Year) classes working their way up before too many of the adult spawning fish die off, or are caught and harvested, hence the regs. It is my opinion that the Susky will be able to rebound with or without the regs though.

Even on a river as big as the Susky, but even more so on smaller SM streams, there can be a ton of fish of a certain size (age class) and another size range that is almost completely void. This all goes back to the spawn of that particular year. I doubt the SE streams you are fishing have issues to the magnitude the Susky does...more than likely just a turnover in the older fish population. This is a normal, natural occurrence...so unless there is something else going on as you mentioned (pollution, invasive species, etc) I'd argue the special regs aren't warranted. Those big Smallies you guys were catching were the older fish that have now died, and there likely was a bad spawn (for whatever reason - high water, hot summer temps, etc) a few years back that created a void in the population. The fact that you are catching a lot of the little ones is a good thing...they will be bigger next year. What would be alarming to me is if next year you're not catching lots of fish that are slightly bigger than this year.

In 2008 and 2009 on my home SM stream, I don't recall ever catching a YOY SM. Then last year in 2010, I caught dozens of them in August and September...about 2" long or so. This year I'm catching good numbers of 5-6" fish...they're those same 2010 YOY. Next year they should be 8-10" and so on.

I wouldn't get too worried yet. Enjoy the little ones for now...they still pull hard and generally have even more color than the big ones. The fact that there's a lot of them there in my mind means the stream's pretty healthy. I'd be more nervous if there were only big ones...as is the case in the Susky.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 21:35

Edited by Swattie87 on 2011/8/6 21:57:19


Re: SmallMouth protection

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2011/5/3 12:22
From South Lebanon Township, PA
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Quote:

odizz17 wrote:
I feel that it may be the whole watershed that is seeing the decline. Susky, Juniata, and seemingly based on alot of reports, most of the tribs to these rivers.


I'm not sure there's been a whole lot of study done on the main tribs to the middle Susquehanna (Penns, Juniata, Sherman's, Conodoguinet, Swatara, Conewago, etc) to see if the poor spawns are occurring there too. It was my understanding the C&R was extended up the tribs because it was thought that many of the Susky's SM migrate into the lower reaches of those tribs to spawn, and they wanted to give them that additional protection. Each of those tribs has it's own unique and in some cases vastly different watershed, so I doubt the poor spawns are occurring in all of them.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 21:53


Re: SmallMouth protection

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Quote:

thebassman wrote:
One thing I have noticed in the stream I fish that where these guys came from there is a growing number of largemouth bass. I was actually going to post about this tonight as ask if the growing number of largemouth bass are effecting the number of smallmouth. I still catch the same number of bluegill, but the number of rock bass are declining to in this stream


^Didn't see this underneath all those great Smallie pics! I doubt that has anything to do with it...most likely high water may have washed a bunch of LM fry out of an impoundment somewhere in the watershed that year. That same high water in the spring could have resulted in a poorer than average SM spawn. Or when an impoundment is drained, they often release many of its fish into the stream that feeds it. That's more than likely where the LM are coming from...they may be reproducing in a limited capacity in the stream but LM aren't built for moving water and in the long run they won't be able to out-compete SM from a habitat standpoint in streams and non-impounded rivers.

Edit: I should add...I often catch LM in small streams for a couple miles below an impoundment...the further you get from the dam the more Smallies and less LM you see.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 22:05


Re: SmallMouth protection

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Quote:
The Susquehanna gets that kind of attention because of what it once was...and probably still is in some locations - a legit world class, large scale Smallmouth fishery. And because in the opinion of many, something needs to be done to keep it that way

Doesn't matter what the cause is; the SM fishery is a shadow of what it was in the SEPA area. Regardless of the cause, having a C&R will help & cannot hurt the situation untill the causalities are known.

I'm thinking that the Susquehanna got treatment because there are guides, shops, and politically connected people effected by it in that area that got it appropriate attention.

I'm hoping that in some small way, maybe this thread will do the same in SEPA. If it doesn't - well there is nothing lost in trying.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 22:24


Re: SmallMouth protection
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While I don't claim to have first hand knowledge of SMBs in the SEPA - here in the SC it's a mixed bag but, broadly speaking, I do think some waterways (besides the obvious lower Susky and Juniata) don't seem to have as many bass as a few years ago. Others, like the Potomac, are just loaded. I fish a lot on smaller rivers and creeks and most of these have healthy fish pops although last year, I think due to low water, the fish were not there in the numbers I'm used to.

While I'm sympathetic to the concept of expanded C&R for bass, I'm not sure it would make as much difference as I'd like to believe. Most bassers practice C&R now anyway and a generation ago when folks harvested most bass at 12" (and 9" before that), there were still good pops of fish. There also are fewer fishermen on the waters I fish than 20 years ago as far as I can see (true for trout streams too).

It will be interesting to see if the new C&R regs on the Susky, after a couple years, shows some correlation with increasing bass population. If this is confirmed, I think you'll see a growing appreciation for C&R bass regs in the PFBC much as they came to embrace "Big Bass" regulations back in the 90s when studies revealed bigger fish in these areas and increased angler satisfaction. It never hurts to tell the PFBC what you think. When enough anglers vocally support C&R and/or tell the agency that they support the new C&R regs on the Susky....they do take notice.

Posted on: 2011/8/6 23:08


Re: SmallMouth protection
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I agree, the SMB fishing in SEPA HAS gone downhill in the last 5 to 10 years. Some ES surveys by the F&BC have confirmed this fact.

In the last 10 years the SMB fishing in the SE has gone from "Decent" to "Fair" and now to "Poor."

Some theories as to why:

Unchecked development in the watershed over the years leaving water treatment plants inadequate to handle more sewage than it was designed for, and more runoff from a greater number of impervious surfaces. Also possible chemicals/pharmaceuticals in the water.

For the lower Schuykill, a new species of predator fish introduced into the system (flatheads). Overall Poor SMB fishing on the Skuke in the entire system below Reading (where the FHs are found).

Bad luck with the weather in the last few years. High water at the time of the spawn followed by record hot weather and low flows during the summer. I lean towards the weather being the main factor since SMB fishing seems to be down in nearly every stream and river in the region.

IMO, C&R rules will have little impact on the population in most cases.

No plan or easy solution to any of these problems...cross the bridge and fish in Jersey!?!


Posted on: 2011/8/7 6:55

Edited by afishinado on 2011/8/7 7:30:15


Re: SmallMouth protection

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2011/5/9 15:37
From Ohio
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I noticed on one of the rivers I fish for smallies I'm catching about the same numbers of fish that I did in the past, but the average size has been much lower in the past 2 years. Did get a few nice ones, but the average is much lower. I was thinking it was because of high water in the spring effecting the spawn, but I'm a seeing a bunch of small fish, just not as many decent sized fish.

Posted on: 2011/8/7 17:07


Re: SmallMouth protection

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2006/9/9 17:18
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Quote:
I noticed on one of the rivers I fish for smallies I'm catching about the same numbers of fish that I did in the past, but the average size has been much lower in the past 2 years. Did get a few nice ones, but the average is much lower. I was thinking it was because of high water in the spring effecting the spawn, but I'm a seeing a bunch of small fish, just not as many decent sized fish.


I can't weigh in on this too much in depth because I am new to the smallie game. I will say that in my short experience I have noticed a good number of little fish (YOY). They make up about 70% of my total catch but I have been able to bring to hand a fair amount of fish a few years old or more, maybe 15% the total catch and the other 15% are large older fish.

It reminds me of wild trout fishing because in many PA wild trout streams this is what you have. It makes catching a larger one a bit more special when you finally locate them.

Because of all the low water we have had this year, many of the big bass I have taken have been in slow deep water. Many of the riffles are just too dangerous for a larger fish during the mid-day. I have witnessed many herons on the warm-water streams. Also the larger bass have been hunkered down low and wont take on a normal fast/med speed twitch or retrieve with a bugger or crayfish. They want it down barely moving and just "wiggled". The line goes tight very fast and strike on them. Every large bass I have caught this year have been on that type of retrieve. A few took the second it hit the water. I have not even thrown a single popper at smallies yet, but I hear and Im willing to bet the larger ones are taken underneath.

If the fisheries in SEPA are suffering in its larger smallie population that sucks. Sucks bigtime. Those fish fight to no end and react in many ways like trout. They even take the same kind of lies. Only difference I have noticed is the become less spooked and get out of it faster than trout. Smallie fishing is a blast and its nice to hear other people wishing for some C&R smallie waters. I dont see the harm in making a few but some here don't think its worthwhile.

All this said I would be willing to bet high spring water is also the reason for less bigger fish. I do see tons of YOY everytime I have gone but the larger ones are just harder to find.

Only option is to go more, fish longer and fish more stream than in the past. Putting in OT isn't always bad

Posted on: 2011/8/7 18:05
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Re: SmallMouth protection

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2011/5/9 15:37
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Quote:
All this said I would be willing to bet high spring water is also the reason for less bigger fish. I do see tons of YOY everytime I have gone but the larger ones are just harder to find.


I'm not an expert on this, but wouldn't all the high water in the spring mean less YOY fish because of unsucessfull spawning due to the high water?

Posted on: 2011/8/7 19:27


Re: SmallMouth protection
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Quote:

I'm not an expert on this, but wouldn't all the high water in the spring mean less YOY fish because of unsucessfull spawning due to the high water?


This is usually considered to be correct.
Generally speaking, there is well documented correlation between high flows in spring/early summer and low YOY classes (and vice versa).

Many of the good sized bass you're catching this year, fish in the 10-12," range are likely from the 2007 year class which was strong across many of the mid Atlantic watersheds (esp the Potomac).
The explanation for a lack of bigger fish in this size range from streams where one had caught them in recent past years is tougher to explain. Very large SMBs, fish in the 16-19" range, are very old fish - often over a decade. Some of the very large fish in the larger rivers are likely from the 1998 year class which was essentially the last strong class in the lower Susky. Keep in mind, SMB populations in small streams are mainly transient and, if you're not seeing big fish in a creek where you caught them a year or two ago, they simply may not have returned. Although this is rare in my experience - last year in particular I did not see bass in stream sections where I had always seen them in the past. This year, they're back but not in the numbers I saw in 2009 and earlier.

Posted on: 2011/8/7 20:40


Re: SmallMouth protection

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Keep in mind, SMB populations in small streams are mainly transient and, if you're not seeing big fish in a creek where you caught them a year or two ago, they simply may not have returned


I should have tried to explain my thoughts better.

Yes your right that YOY is often hurt by high spring flows. Bear in mind the streams I have been fishing, besides the Conestoga River, are all small watersheds and flow into that river. High spring flows would have more of an affect on the SM YOY in the Conestoga River as opposed to the tributaries, since these are smaller watersheds. Being transient as FI has suggested, and migratory to some degree, the YOY have been great in the small streams but poor in the River. Where large fish are the only thing I've turned up in the River.
Also I would imagine that high spring flows has effect their migratory habits and some of the larger fish.

Just MO which counts for little given my experience.

Posted on: 2011/8/7 21:07
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