Before modern plastics, cranks, and topwater baits, there was time when most anglers would drift bait while fishing the Susquehanna River. Fisherman would catch a meal for the family and freeze some for another time. Stone cats and clippers (helgramites) would be hand picked before fishing and it was often just as much fun as the bass fishing itself. The truck would be left downstream 5-8 miles from the starting location. Then with the excitement building at the start location, the relaxing drift in the rowboat would start. It was a simpler time that few still practice today!
The times have changed. Bass size limit went up to 12 inches ( 15 inches in the cold water months) in the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. Most bass anglers now practice Catch and Release! If they want a meal or two they target perch or crappie. Jet boats now have access to areas previously only accessible during a drift and the days of spending hours picking bait have been replaced with hours on a cell phone. Many Local tackle shops like Hunters Gallery in Hamlin Pa. are well stocked with the most used artificial baits, and the larger chain stores such as Cabelas have everything you can think of.
The drift starts and the excitement builds with the first bend of the rod. Just below the rift as the current starts to slow and right where the big boulders are poking to the surface. The first bass strikes a clipper and is promptly netted. Then, while the fish is still in the net. the second anglers rod bends and the battle is on. Another smallmouth this time on the precious stone cat. This fish is larger, much larger about 18 inches. This vision sometimes makes me want to go back to that simpler time!
The rigging was simple. A hook with a split shot. That’s it! Simply let enough line out to keep the bait down, but not to much as you will snag. This is how my grandfather John Grala from Old Forge taught me over 40 years ago. It was super productive. Generally it was best to hold the rod. When a fish would hit. you would give it a second or two then set the hook, similar to fishing a texas rigged worm. The use of 2 rods each was forbidden back then due the cluster #$%# when one snaged. After the drift was completed, the fish were filleted, the other vehicle was picked up, and away we went with some fond memories and dinner.
Now this style of fishing is productive and fun, but the harvest part combined with the 10 inch size limit hurt the fishery. Nowadays most anglers enjoy Catch and Release. The fishing is overall better. The main causes of a year class or two of bad recruitment is high water during and just after the spawn. Not catch and keep. Time will tell how the Flatheads will impact the North Branch of the Susquehanna River fishery as they move north.
I am looking to set a week aside in September if anyone is interested in this style of fishing. Maybe the second week. Of course it will be Catch and Release. We will simply drift with bait and enjoy the awesome views, listen to the sounds of nature, and enjoy an often overlooked method of bass fishing.
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