Striped bass

Mike Sholley shows the 35-inch striped bass he caught in the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg.

photo courtesy of Mike Sholley

Just when a fisherman thinks he’s got it figured out ...

Mike Sholley has caught striped bass in the spring on the Susquehanna Flats. The Flats make up the delta at the mouth of the river and are a jewel of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

The last thing Sholley and his buddies expected two weeks ago was to hook up with monster stripers just a few casts from downtown Harrisburg.

The Palmyra angler and his friends have focused a lot on the smallmouth bass population throughout the Susquehanna. Sholley has even helped establish the Susquehanna River Bassmasters club.

On the day rockfish rocked their world, the guys were throwing bigger top water smallmouth baits at the lowhead Dock Street Dam, just down-river from the state capital. That’s when the first fish, of what would be a catch-and-release rockfish roundup, couldn’t resist.

“I was basically fishing for big smallmouths because they like to hang out in that area near the dam,” Sholley says. “The first one caught was a hybrid, and I thought it was fluke. Then we caught the first one that was 30 inches and it was game-on for 45 minutes to an hour.”

The stripers had held at the foot of the dam where the water rolls over. Sholley and Heddon Spook baits lured them out. The stripers destroyed the torpedo-like baits. Two fish came to the surface at once, the bigger one “winning” the bait. “Quite an exhilarating rush,” Sholley says.

Sholley’s experience with stripers had been with catching hybrids. Those big stripers are put into and taken from lakes like Raystown.

Sholley thinks the stripers that found their way to Harrisburg were true Bay specimens.

How the rockfish got to Harrisburg is anybody’s guess. To migrate that far north out of the Flats, the stripers would have had to negotiate four dams.

Speculation is the rockfish came from Maryland on the recent high water, following the shad that were coming northward.

Striped bass move from the sea to rivers to spawn, usually in the spring and primarily in the tidal freshwater segments of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers in Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna has no tidal influence.

Sholley grew up on the Loyalsock Creek in Williamsport where it meets the river. His father took him fishing early as a youngster. Now he is a service technician for a window and door, shower and bath company.

Sholley also markets fishing apparel under the “Susquehanna Native” brand. He says the line of clothing sets fisherfolks apart from others.

Sholley’s trip to the Dock Street Dam set him apart from other smallmouth bass anglers. His striper measured 35 inches. The group caught three others of at least 30 inches.

To Kris Kuhn, a biologist and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission fisheries manager for this area, the white coloration of Sholley’s fish suggests it could be a Bay striper. He said it’s not uncommon to get an occasional report of someone catching a striper at the Dock Street Dam.

Kuhn said one of his crews boated seven stripers of 21 to 32 inches in the vicinity of the Dock Street Dam last week while electrofishing to check on young of the year muskies.

“Striped bass stacked up at the dam because it is an impediment,” Kuhn said. “It’s also an impediment to other prey fish, so there is a lot of forage there.”

As for how they got to Harrisburg, the stripers could have made the 115-mile trip down-river from Raystown Lake, Kuhn said. The commission stocks the Chesapeake strain of stripers at Raystown each year and they could get through the pass-through and into the branch of the Juniata River in high water years like this one.

It seems likely that Sholley’s rockfish came from the ocean.

Kuhn said the report of fish passage through the dams on the lower Susquehanna is incomplete, but four stripers are confirmed to have made it through the Holtwood Dam and two through the York Haven Dam. The Dock Street Dam is 70 miles upriver from the Conowingo Dam. “Not a long way for a striper to go,” Kuhn added.

Elk drawing

The next class of elk hunters in Pennsylvania will be determined Saturday when the drawing for permits is held at the Great Outdoors Elk Expo in Benezette.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has allocated 25 antlered elk licenses and 93 antlerless elk permits for this year’s hunt to be staged Oct. 30-Nov. 4. The extended season would be Nov. 6-11.

While the commission has no plans to live-stream the drawing, those selected will learn quickly of their luck. Winners will be notified by phone on the day of the drawing, and they often begin getting calls from outfitters sooner than that.

They walk, she naps

Bekah and Derrick Quirin figure now is the best time to show their 18-month-old daughter the great outdoors, and get her into the record books as the youngest person ever to navigate the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

The hike started in March and makes its way southward, reverse of the traditional Georgia to Maine trek.

Baby Ellie reportedly is content to ride in the child backpack and take long naps. Both parents are former trail guides and know they can make it work. They plan to take a full year to finish the piecemeal hike.

Tweet of the week

“Student waiting to interview for a paramedic internship saves choking man. And, he got the internship.” – Associated Press

Contact B.J. Small at bjsmall@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter @Arrows2010.

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