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Shuma family treats bass fishing with reverence

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

The opening of trout season is a timeless fishing tradition that has been enjoyed by many families in this area across multiple generations.

Although the opening day of bass season in Pennsylvania — which falls annually on the second Saturday each June — does not receive nearly as much fanfare as the trout season opener, the enjoyment of bass fishing is steeped in tradition for many families as well.

Brothers Bob Shuma, 74, and John Shuma, 70, who both live in Altoona, have been fishing for smallmouth bass on the Juniata River in Huntingdon County since they were very, very young.

Their late father, Andrew, got all four Shuma brothers interested in the pastime of bass fishing when the entire Shuma family – which numbered 10 children in all – took off for camping trips on the Juniata River nearly seven decades ago.

Now Bob and John Shuma regularly go out fishing for bass on kayaks on the Juniata with a party that includes Bob’s grown sons, Rob and Eric, along with Eric’s wife, Dawn.

John said that his grandkids also enjoy fishing for bass.

“I’ve been fishing for bass since I could walk,” Bob Shuma said. “We had a total of 10 brothers and sisters in our family, and those trips to the Juniata River were very important to us as a family. I even built my own rowboat when I was about 14 years old, and we took it down there and my dad, my bro-thers and I fished out of it.

“Mom went along,” Bob added, referencing his family’s late matriarch, Geraldine, who often relaxed streamside when she wasn’t cooking for the large clan. “We had an uncle who had property down on the Juniata River, and we went down there many Sundays in the summers. It was a weekend getaway.”

Visits to the Juniata River to fish for bass are still as much fun for the Shumas today.

“Now we fish out of kayaks,” Bob said. “Kayaks are wonderful. I love being outdoors, and I love being out on the river. It’s a seasonal thing. As soon as the water level in the river goes down and we can all get on it safely, we go bass fishing.”

Both Bob and John Shuma fish for trout as well, but there is much to be said about the allure of catching a bass with plastic rubber worms, spinning lures, or plastic jigs on a light rod and spinning reel.

“Bass fight and they jump, and we use lightweight rods, so when you do get (a bass on), it feels like you’ve got a monster,” Bob said.

John Shuma concurred that bass fishing is a special experience.

“I’m a big-time trout fisherman, and we have some fantastic trout fishing here,” John said. “But once the water warms in June, the trout fishing slows down and the bass fishing really picks up.

“I just love the way they fight,” John said of the bass. “When you hook them, they do aerodynamics – they come up out of the water and jump. They’re enjoyable fish to catch, and you can catch them pretty much any time of the day. If the water is decent, you’re pretty much guaranteed to catch fish, and I just like to catch fish.”

In this area, the Juniata River — with places to park vehicles and launch kayaks and other water vessels at Mount Union, Mapleton, and Newton Hamilton, among other sites — is a prime fishery for smallmouth bass.

Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County is also a great place to fish for primarily largemouth bass and trout, while Lake Glendale at Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County and Canoe Creek Lake at Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County are also excellent bass fishing locales.

“I have a camp down at Raystown and I used to have a boat, but I very rarely fish the lake,” Bob said. “I like the scenery of the river, and the experience of just floating down the river on a kayak. And then when you add the bass fishing to that, it’s really great.”

John, who uses a 4- to 6-pound test line when fishing for bass on the Juniata, owns a 22-foot runabout deck boat that he fishes out of on Raystown Lake in April and May.

“The lighter the tackle that you use for bass on the river, the better,” John said. “If you’re on the river for two or three hours, you want your outfit to be as light as possible, so your arms don’t get tired from just holding the rod.”

Both Bob and John agreed that the bass fishing on the Juniata has been outstanding, especially in recent years.

“The river is just completely full of bass right now,” John said. “In the last 10 years, the bass fishing has been just phenomenal in the river.”

Bob echoed that statement.

“Right now, it’s great,” Bob said of the bass yield on the Juniata. “One day last summer, my brother John caught 110, and I caught 90.”

The Shumas customarily practice catch-and-release with the fish that they fool, although from this year’s June 11 opener through Sept. 30, fishermen are permitted to keep a dailytotal of six bass of any species — largemouth, smallmouth, or spotted — that measure at least 12 inches in length.

“Bass is a real good eating fish,” John Shuma said. “But I release every bass that I catch, as well as every trout. I’m just not a big fan of having to clean them.”

Not keeping bass takes nothing away from the experience of catching them for the Shumas.

“The water is clear and clean on the Juniata, and I’m so glad that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is doing such a great job of keeping the launch sites and everything else down there up,” Bob said. “It’s just fantastic — especially having my two sons there fishing with me.”

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