Upper Juniata full of smallmouth bass


Editor’s note: This is the last in a five-part series of central Pennsylvania’s top fishing streams.

Over the past four weeks, we have showcased some of central Pennsylvania’s finest trout streams.

In this fifth and final installment of the series, we will feature another remarkable waterway of our region: the upper Juniata River.

The Juniata River begins at the junction of the Little Juniata River and the Frankstown Branch near the village of Alexandria in Huntingdon County, and 10 miles downstream, the Raystown Branch meets the Juniata main stem at the village of Ardenheim.

From there, the Juniata River winds its way another 90 miles through Mifflin and Juniata counties to its confluence with the Susquehanna River at Duncannon in Perry County.

Throughout its length, the Juniata River offers some exceptional angling opportunities for a number of popular species of fish, including muskies, walleyes, rock bass, catfish and carp.

But far and away the gamefish that attracts more fishermen to the Juniata than all the others combined is the smallmouth bass.

The entire Juniata River has been a well-known smallmouth hotspot for generations.

The quality of the bass fishing in the upper river, however, is currently better than ever, specifically the section that flows through Huntingdon County.

Here, most of the river offers excellent smallmouth habitat in the form of long pools separated by stretches of shallow riffles. The riverbed is mostly rocky and offers plenty of structure that smallmouths prefer.

The most consistent bass fishing on the upper Juniata typically begins around the town of Mill Creek.

Route 22 parallels and provides access to the river from Mill Creek to Mount Union, including the two-mile-long pool in Jacks Narrows.

Route 522 follows the Juniata after it makes a sharp bend to the south at Mount Union for a mile or so to the intersection of Route 103, which then follows the Juniata for several miles to McVeytown in Mifflin County and beyond.

The area of the Juniata River along Route 103 is also one of the most scenic and peaceful stretches of the river.

Because of its shallow, rocky nature, the use of motor boats on the upper Juniata is extremely limited other than during the higher flows of springtime.

Many anglers float sections of the river in small, flat-bottom boats, but even those types of craft might have trouble negotiating some shallower spots in the low flows of summer.

Small, lightweight kayaks have become extremely popular for Juniata anglers in recent years, and my personal choice for river bass fishing for the past 13 seasons.

Because a kayak can easily be paddled upriver in the flat currents of the Juniata, an angler can cover an ample section of river and still take out at the same place he put, which is an ideal situation for a solo fisherman.

Wading is also a viable option for fishing most spots on the upper Juniata River.

Smallmouth bass have the well-deserved reputation of being the hardest fighting fish for their size of any freshwater gamefish, and Juniata smallmouths fight as hard as any smallmouth I’ve ever caught.

These sporty gamefish also can be caught a variety of methods, baits and lures, which further adds to their popularity. Crayfish, hellgrammites and minnows are among the most effective baits for Juniata smallmouths.

Soft-plastic tube jigs and jerkbaits, shallow and medium diving crankbaits, spinnerbaits and small topwater lures are some of the best artificial lures for river smallmouths.

Fly-fisherman will want to try large streamers, crayfish patterns and surface poppers.

The season for smallmouth bass opens on June 16 with a daily limit of six bass with a minimum size of 12 inches; from Oct. 1 through Dec. 1, the daily limit of bass is four fish with a minimum size of 15 inches.

The standard statewide fishing regulations and seasons apply to all other fish species on the upper Juniata River with the exception of rock bass, which have a daily limit of 10.

Award-winning outdoor writer and photographer Walt Young, 66, is a lifelong resident of Blair County. Young began fishing and fly tying at the age of 12, and his passion for all things outdoors shaped a career path that has provided him the opportunity to fish throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. He has written and supplied photos for hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper columns about fishing, hunting and nature. Young was selected to participate in the first Fly Fishing Masters Tournament on the Outdoor Life Network. He is a highly skilled professional fly tier who won both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Flytying Championships multiple times.