Last week, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission posted on its website results of recent surveys for young-of-the-year smallmouth bass in the West Branch of the Susquehanna, upper Susquehanna (North Branch), lower Susquehanna and middle Susquehanna River.
These surveys are conducted annually on major rivers throughout the state as an index of reproductive success.
The upper Susquehanna River yielded the third highest catch rate since 1986, indicating very strong smallmouth bass reproduction for that part of the river in 2010. YOY catch rates on the West Branch and middle and lower Susquehanna River were all below the historic average, but better than those in 2009. The complete biologist report on these surveys can be viewed on the Fish and Boat Commission's Web site, www.fish.state.pa.us.
Unfortunately, those survey results seem to reflect the ongoing situation of the smallmouth fishery over the length of the Susquehanna for the past several seasons as observed by both anglers and fisheries managers. The North Branch seems to be doing well, while the middle and lower sections of the river continue to experience below average reproductive rates and recruitment of younger year classes of bass into the overall population. The Fish and Boat Commission is working diligently to find the causes for these problems and ultimately return the bass fishery on the Susquehanna back into balance.
On a more positive note, the smallmouth fishing on the upper Juniata has been extremely productive this summer. The average size of the bass being caught in recent weeks has also been impressive. I base that assessment not only on my own experiences and those of my fishing partners but also the reports of a few other anglers I know who fish the river regularly.
Except immediately after a rain shower, water conditions in the river have been low and clear, and that has made the bass about as spooky as I've ever seen them in the summertime. Go with 6-pound-test line, preferably clear and not green or fluorescent blue. Those colored lines look like fiber-optic cable in the clear water right now. If you want to pay the extra bucks for pricey fluorocarbon line, it probably won't hurt anything, but personally, I think it's a waste of money.
Subtle, soft-plastic baits in smaller sizes have been the most consistent producers day in and day out. Lures like soft stickbaits, jerkbaits and swimbaits in drab colors such as green pumpkin, watermelon seed or smoke work well. Make long casts and stay back from potential holding water. The bass often stack up in certain areas in these low-water conditions, so once you find fish, it can pay to fish that spot carefully. And most important, to maintain the quality of the bass fishing in the river, always practice catch and release.
I've been an avid reader of hunting and fishing stories for well over 40 years. I think if I had a dollar for every time some writer waxed poetic about the smell Hoppe's No. 9 gun solvent, I could probably buy a pricey new 20-gauge over-under that otherwise isn't in my current equipment budget. Even my fellow columnist here, Shirley Grenoble, sometimes mentions her fondness for the smell of Hoppe's and the memories it evokes.
When Frank Hoppe produced the first batch of his original gun-cleaning solvent back in 1903, he probably had no idea that it would become such an iconic product for hunters and shooters. But for more than a century, generations of folks in the shooting sports have come to associate the smell of this cleaning fluid with the pleasures of their favorite hobby.
This Pavlovian response has not gone unnoticed by the current manufacturer of Hoppe's No. 9. In response, they are making an air freshener that smells like the famous cleaning solvent. The Hoppe's No. 9 Air Freshener will be available at sporting goods or hunting stores with a suggested retail price of $3.99. So Hoppe's fans can now treat their olfactory sense to the unique fragrance of good old No. 9 just about anywhere.
While I don't find the smell of Hoppe's No. 9 to be objectionable, I personally don't find it compelling enough to use as an air freshener either. Now if someone could bottle the aroma of fresh venison backstraps simmering along with some portabella mushrooms, onions and a dash of red wine, that might be something I would be interested in. On the other hand, I think I would much prefer to generate that savory smell myself with a skillet full of the real thing.