As I slid my kayak off the bank and into the Juniata River last Wednesday morning, I realized this was the first time in nearly a month that I had fished alone. Smallmouth fishing on the river this summer has been wonderful, especially the average size of the bass we've been catching, so sharing those experiences with fishing friends has been most enjoyable. Yet spending a day on the river alone has its own special appeal.
Wading across a shallow, rocky flat while pulling my boat behind me, I marveled at all the crayfish and minnows that scattered about with each step I took. Some fat bullfrog tadpoles also wiggled away as I approached. The sheer volume of this forage base is one of the major reasons for the quality of the bass fishing in the river currently.
Farther up the riverbank, a great blue heron eyed me intently and then flew off, squawking in displeasure at my having rousted it from its shady perch. Herons have had to share their space on the river in recent weeks with other large wading birds. Great egrets are everywhere on the river right now. These pure white birds are slightly smaller than blue herons and generally inhabit the lower Susquehanna Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Egrets will move north during the summer, and I've never seen so many of them on the upper Juniata as there are this year.
The fishing got off to a great start when my first cast of the day produced a fat 13-inch smallmouth. Some of my fishing friends consider catching a fish on the first cast to be a bad omen, but I have never subscribed to that superstition. And I certainly didn't feel jinxed when I landed two 17-inchers on as many casts just a short time later. But as good as the fishing was, it was difficult not to pay attention to the natural theater being played out all around me.
A large shadow passed over the surface of the river. I looked skyward to see an osprey flying above me with a large fish clutch in its talons. Right behind the fish hawk was an immature bald eagle. Although not yet old enough to sport the characteristic white head and tail of an adult, the young eagle looked nearly twice the size of the osprey. I had already witnessed these two birds disputing the fishing rights for this section of the river one day last week, but this time they disappeared over the trees before I could the see outcome of their latest encounter.
An hour or two later, I had fished my way downriver to another favorite pool where I noticed a young mink swimming across the river a short distance away. At first, it seemed oblivious to my presence before finally departing downstream. I caught nine or ten nice bass from that spot before moving on.
As I approached the tail of the pool, I noticed the mink stretched out on a flat rock, apparently eating something. It let me get quite close before finally sliding into the water. Air trapped in its dense fur produced a telltale stream of bubbles that allowed me to track its course underwater until the mink surfaced again and disappeared into a patch of purple loosestrife at the water's edge.
Feeling a little hungry myself, I climbed out of the kayak and grabbed a hoagie and a cold drink from my cooler, which I ate while sitting on a rock with my feet dangling in the water. Five-star dining, Juniata style.
I even had some entertainment with my dinner as the mink reappeared and swam into a nearby riffle. There it dived after something, probably a crayfish or a small fish, and then returned to the weeds to eat its catch. I watched as the mink repeated this maneuver three times before finally disappearing for good.
Fishing was good throughout the evening, and I continued casting and catching bass until well after sunset. And even though my tally for the day was 71 bass landed and released, I almost hated to leave. But I had more than a half mile to paddle back upriver, so I pulled the anchor and began that trek.
Not far from my takeout point, the honking of a large number of Canada geese filled the twilight sky. I began laughing to myself, thinking that geese surely must be able to read the calendar. This was the first day of goose season, and these were the first geese I had seen or heard all day. I watched the flock of 50 or 60 wing high overhead, much too high for shotgun range, followed by another flock of 30 or 40 a few seconds later. I looked at my watch. It was 8:16.
I laughed again when I returned home and looked up the shooting hours for that day. Hunting ended on that part of the river at 8:05, just about 10 minutes before the geese started flying. Apparently geese can tell time as well.