Fishing the Susquehanna River: The Ultimate Guide
Feb 7, 2020 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes
A stunning view of the sunset over Susquehanna River, with surrounding woods and slightly cloudy skies

With an incredible number of fishing spots at their disposal, East Coast anglers have it good, and a Susquehanna River fishing experience shows it. The longest river on the East Coast, “the Susky” has over 400 miles of fishable water to explore.

The river has two parts which join together in Northumberland, PA. From there, it flows in unison to the Chesapeake Bay. The North Branch flows from Otsego Lake in New York, while the West Branch starts in the Allegheny Mountains. As it makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean, the depth and width of the river fluctuate – but you can count on a steady stream of fish throughout!

Top Catches in the Susquehanna River

An infographic showing the most popular catches on Susquehanna River

Not only is the Susquehanna among the 20 longest rivers in the US, but it’s one of the oldest rivers on the planet. With its unpredictable waters and productive fisheries, the river is considered to be older than the Appalachian Mountains.

Although its unusual name means “Oyster River” in the language of Lenape, these vast waters are a true fishing oasis. Some of the species you can target include Smallmouth Bass, Musky, Catfish, Sunfish, Carp, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and even Trout. Let’s take a look at some favorite catches along the river.

The Comeback of Smallmouth Bass

A smiling angler in a hat and glasses holding a big Smallmouth Bass with Susquehanna River in the background

Smallies are the superstars of the Susquehanna River, both because they’re abundant and because you can easily hook a lunker. Fishing is open year-round, but different seasons dictate different setups and techniques to get the Smallmouth to bite.

In spring, Bronzebacks are voracious and will blindly jump on anything that resembles food. While the water is colder (in the 40s), using hair jigs slowly could easily award you with a massive fish.

As the water warms up, Smallies move to deeper waters, so sunrise and sunset usually offer the best fishing. After Smallmouth Bass spawn in mid-June, drift fishing around big rocks can land you a fish pushing 18 inches long. Summer fishing on the Susquehanna requires local angling experience, so hiring a guide is highly recommended.

Come fall, Smallies will start preparing for colder days, so they’ll be aggressive in their feeding. Crankbaits and swimbaits work like a charm, and you can often see fly anglers going after their next big catch. Colder water can draw out “hogs,” and while you can catch a trophy here year-round, the fall seems most promising.

Even after being hit by a virus from 2005–2012, the Smallmouth Bass population has bounced back wonderfully. Some local guides would even argue that Bass fishing is better now than it’s been in decades. The only way to know for sure is to hit the water and see for yourself!

The Trout Bite Keeps Getting Better

A closeup shot of beautiful Brook Trout being hooked on a fly

While most anglers come to the Susquehanna to target Bass, the river’s superb Trout fishing is all the rage, too. In the upper reaches of the Endless Mountains, the views are breathtaking, the water is clear, and Trout live and thrive. And it’s not just your regular Trout: some impressive-sized fish call these waters home.

The winding West Branch is shallower here, with a rocky bottom that keeps the water oxygenated, making it a perfect habitat for Trout. Brook and Rainbow are the most popular catches, along with Brownies. They can come in a variety of sizes, and 20″ fish are a pretty common sight. The best time to cast your line is in the spring months, though late fall also offers an outstanding bite.

Fly fishing for Trout on the West Branch is an incredible experience. This area boasts secluded locations, some stunning nature as a backdrop, clear waters, and beautiful fish. Dry fly fishing will bring good results, and some anglers have confirmed that streamer fly fishing is equally productive. For traditional fishermen, this section of the river offers an excellent bite, especially if you use mealworms or earthworms as bait.

Probably the best spots to go after Trout on the Susquehanna River include Boiling Springs Run, Curwensville Dam, and Shryock Run. There are plenty of access points to fish from shore, and if you’re driving, fishing from bridges is always good.

This Trout fishery has flourished in the past few years thanks to the extensive government cleanup projects. There’s even a part of the West Branch that is now protected by law, and catch and release is mandatory. Wherever you decide to fish for Trout on the West Branch, remember to get a Trout stamp before you head out.

Catfish Galore

A happy angler holding a monster Catfish with the Susquehanna River and woods in the background

If you’re in the mood to hunt for the ultimate predators of the Susquehanna River, then Catfish should be your prey of choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for your next fish dinner or a new personal trophy – these whiskery devils come in all shapes and sizes, and they love to eat.

Many seasoned anglers explore the middle section of the river in search of these monsters, and they’re likely to find them. The latest Pennsylvania record was hooked here in 2019, right next to Lower Bear Island. The Flathead beast weighed over 50 pounds and was just over 45 inches long. The fish was released back to the river, which means it’s still out there – it may be just one cast away!

Channel Catfish are another popular catch, and they’re also native to the Susquehanna. If you choose to go fishing anywhere from Sunbury to Harrisburg, you could stumble upon a decent Channel Cat ranging from 15–35 inches. If you’re going after something big, you should use something big to get its attention – live sunfish and bluegill usually do a very good job.

Night catfishing is very popular in this area, so much so that there are charter captains offering specialized night trips. Under the cover of darkness, you’ll find big Cats hiding around rock ledges and drop-offs, waiting to ambush.

The best advice is to use strong lines and leaders for monster Cats, because they hide around big, sharp rocks. In the winter, choose your catfishing spot carefully, because these big guys get quite apathetic in cold water. Your best shot is Brunner’s Island, where a nearby power plant regularly discharges warm water. Both Flatheads and Channels come here to feed.

Musky on the Susky

A proud fisherman holding a big Musky with the Susquehanna River in the background

When you’re in the mood for a bit of sportfishing, the Musky action on the Susquehanna River will not disappoint! You can target this hard-fighting fish any time of the year and come back to land with awesome results. Muskies are native to Pennsylvania, and their size plus fighting abilities are what keep sport anglers coming back for more.

While these acrobatic fellas are active all year, the best time to chase them is usually from November to February. Around this period, they’re preparing for winter and will gulp down just about anything that comes their way. You’re looking at the possibility of catching a specimen that can be up to 45 inches long, sometimes even more. Having a lunker like that on your line promises an excellent, adrenaline-pumping fight.

Muskies like to hang out in deep waters, so you’ll have the best chance of hooking something good if you fish from a boat. In general, you’ll want to hit your prey with larger setups. Jigs are the way to go in winter. In warmer months, the fast movement produced by spinnerbaits will get their attention. When going after Muskies, remember to prepare a strong wire leader, because these toothy critters boast a super strong bite.

Owego Creek, Murphy’s Island, and Hiawatha Island are just a few renowned fishing spots on the river where the Musky bite is consistent and nothing short of thrilling.

Where to Go Fishing on the Susquehanna River

A beautiful view of Susquehanna River from Harrisburg riverfront

The Susquehanna boasts hundreds of miles of fishable waters, so choosing a place to cast your line can be intimidating. The best way to pick your sweet spot is to decide which species you’d like to target. That will help you narrow down your search to a section of the river that has your fish of choice.

As we mentioned, the West Branch is the place to be if you’re going after Trout. The western section of Penn’s Creek has a superb Trout population and it’s the number-one location for passionate fly anglers. Want a change of pace? Head out further east and you’ll be welcomed by the excellent Smallmouth Bass bite.

Trout anglers will also have success fishing Rapid Run and Halfway Lake in the R.B. Winter State Park, as well as Roaring Creek Tract in the Weiser State Forest. Another noteworthy suggestion is to keep your eye on the river’s tributaries. These streams have a good Brook Trout population that very often find their way to the river.

A map that clearly shows different parts of the Susquehanna River

The river’s North Branch fishing opportunities are mostly dominated by Smallmouth Bass and Walleye, and this trend continues throughout New York State. After the river passes Great Bend in Pennsylvania, more species enter the scene, including Catfish, Musky, and Perch. Duncannon and Harrisburg are among the most productive fishing spots. Here, you can find excellent fish and knowledgeable guides that’ll take you to them.

As we come to the lower portion of the river, Catfish take center stage. The stretch between York Haven Dam all the way to Columbia is teeming with all sizes of Flatheads and Channels.

Finally, one of the most productive spots on the river is Lake Augusta, located just south of Sunbury. A wide variety of species calls these waters home, with Smallmouth Bass, Musky, Catfish, Walleye, and Carp all there for the taking.

The Susquehanna River has ample fishing opportunities, and it’s up to you to pick your turf and enjoy the river’s potential to the max.

How to Fish the Susquehanna River

The beauty and advantage of fishing a vast body of water is that you’ve got your fishing options open. Whether you decide to head into the unknown on your own or book a trip with a knowledgeable local captain who knows his way around, chances are, you’re going to have a good time. Of course, it’s always good to have a guide by your side to help you with choosing the right spots to cast your line. Here are some tips if you’re not sure where to go.

Fishing on Your Own

A fisherman standing on a shore of the river, holding a rod

Nothing beats the tranquility of being alone on the water, surrounded by nature and the sound of your screaming reel. Thankfully, the Susquehanna winds through many national parks and some gorgeous nature, where both the bite and scenery are nothing short of fantastic.

Most of the West Branch’s angling action is well-suited to solo anglers looking for a great Trout catch. This part of the river is more narrow and remote, which fits perfectly with the fly angler’s notion of heaven! Whether you’re wading or fishing from shore, you can cast your line practically anywhere.

Two branches of the river come together to form the Susquehanna River Valley, where you’ll find plenty of piers and state parks to fish from. Local fishermen love going to Shikellamy State Park, as well as Milton State Park, where you can admire the wildlife and scenic views when you’re not fighting your catch.

Another good spot for anglers who prefer fishing on their own is the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam, right next to Lake Augusta. It’s accessible through the Shikellamy State Park, both by boat and on foot. The fishing action is solid throughout the year, there are plenty of species to choose from, and to top it all off, this spot is picture-perfect.

On a Charter

An angler fishing from a boat with blue skies and sunset in the background

If fishing the Susquehanna is new to you and you don’t really know where to begin, an experienced fishing guide is a life-saver. Harrisburg and Dunncannon are by far the most popular launching spots. If fishing one of the Branches sounds better, you can find a local fisherman ready to show you the ropes.

Most captains on the river offer both half day and full day trips, and the main difference between the two is how much time you’ll have on the water and how many different spots you’ll fish. Some guides have specialized trips on offer, where you can dedicate anywhere from 4–8 hours targeting a specific species. When you book a charter, all the necessary gear and bait will usually be included in the price, so you don’t have to bring your equipment. Dress well, bring plenty of food and drinks, and you’re ready for action.

One thing to bear in mind is your fishing license. Seeing as the Susquehanna flows through three states (New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland), license requirements change from state to state. In some locations, you’ll be in charge of getting your own license, and in others, the captain will provide it for you. The best way to know for sure is to check local regulations with your guide before your trip, so you’ll be prepared.

Rules and Regulations to Keep in Mind

One of the main things to cover before you start exploring the Susquehanna River is local fishing laws and regulations. These will change from one state to another and some parts of the river (like the upper Western Branch) have special regulations you need to be aware of. Again, it’s very useful to get the advice of a local. They’ll keep you in the loop and prevent you from inadvertently breaking the law.

In general, everyone who is 16 and older should have a valid fishing license. You can buy the license online or in a tackle shop. Bear in mind that, in Pennsylvania, you should have your license visibly displayed at all times while fishing. Another important thing to note is that if you plan on targeting Trout, you’ll need a Trout Stamp to do so legally.

The Promised Waters of the Susquehanna River

An elevated view of Susquehanna River just after sunset

Whether you’re just starting your fishing career or you’re a seasoned angler, fishing the Susquehanna River will surprise you in all the right ways. With its diversity of scenery, species, and opportunities, this ancient body of water seems to have it all.

Eastern Seaboard angling isn’t just about incredible saltwater adventures, its freshwater world is just as rich and exciting. But don’t just listen to us! Test out the waters of the Susquehanna River and let yourself be amazed by what you find.

Have you ever been fishing on the Susquehanna River? What are your experiences? Do you have any advice you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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