The Juniata River in Huntingdon County has long been one of my favorite fishing spots here in our region.
Of course, I'm not alone in that opinion, as many area anglers also enjoy fishing the river, especially for its smallmouth bass. Having pursued bass there for more than 40 years, I continue to find the smallmouth fishery in the upper Juniata as good as I've ever seen it. And with the ongoing problems that have beset the smallmouth fishery in the Susquehanna River in recent years, having such wonderful river bass fishing so close to home makes this resource even more special.
When I'm out and about during the summertime, it seems as if I run into folks several times a week who either want to know what the river fishing has been like or desire to share a recent experience there of their own. For the past couple of months, my personal river fishing reports have been practically identical: good numbers of average river bass, but bigger fish have been somewhat scarce. Now I'm certainly not complaining about catching 40 or 50 10- to 13-inchers on a given outing because even in that size range Juniata smallmouths are fat and strong and fight like tigers. But hooking a bass or two from 16 to 18 inches long really turns any day on the river into a great one.
In spite of encountering fewer big bass than usual so far this season, I remained hopeful that situation would change as we approached late summer and early fall, which are typically good times for catching bigger bass on the river. Crayfish, baitfish and other bass forage continue to be abundant just about everywhere I've fished on the river. During the past few weeks I've also noticed good numbers of young of the year smallmouths darting about the shallows. Those baby bass are always a welcome sight and one that bodes well for the quality of the fishing in future years.
Last Thursday, my friend Mike Hoover and I finally caught some of the bigger bass that had proved to be so elusive in recent weeks. This was the first time we had been able to fish for bass this summer, and I decided from the start of the day that I would forego catching numbers of fish in favor of targeting larger bass. I suggested we try a stretch of river that often produced nice fish this time of year, especially since the river was a tad discolored from a rain shower two nights before. Big bass tend to be most active during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk during the summer, but I've often found them on the prowl during the middle of the day in off-colored water.
Mike made my choice of fishing locations look spot-on when he landed and released a beautiful 18-inch smallmouth within our first hour on the water. We continued to catch bass regularly throughout the afternoon, with most of the fish measuring between 12 and 15 inches. Our total for the day was 46 smallmouths, including eight bass from 17 to 19 inches. Overall, it was a fine way to break the big-bass drought I had experienced.
Late summer through early fall is always a good time to catch big river smallmouths as the bass go on somewhat of a feeding binge to put on weight to tide them over the winter months. Fishing pressure also tends to taper off dramatically as well, so we die-hard smallmouth anglers often enjoy long stretches of river all to ourselves most of the time. I typically do well with lures that imitate minnows or baitfish, such as soft-plastic stickbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits and crankbaits. As the days get cooler and water temperatures begin to drop somewhat, tubes and other jigs fished slowly and methodically on the bottom will also begin to produce well.
While we still have several weeks of summer left, some of the best smallmouth fishing is still to come, so take advantage of the opportunity and possibly catch some of the best bass of the year.