on Susquehanna Flats
By Keith Kaufman
A triple A rockfish caught on the Susquehanna Flats.
My favorite fishing season on Susquehanna Flats has just opened (June 1). I know, I know, many anglers would say the best time to fish Susquehanna Flats is during the springtime catch-and-release season, which this year was March 1 to May 3. That's when it's possible to catch huge stripers of 25 to 40 pounds as they make their way to the spawning grounds in the Susquehanna River and other locations on the upper Chesapeake Bay. However, fishing on the flats has been spotty, at best, during the past several spring seasons, mostly due to heavy rains and poor water conditions. My experiences have convinced me that far more productive fishing on the flats is available beginning in June and continuing right through the summer and into the fall.
While the stripers caught on the flats during the summer and fall are usually measured in inches, instead of pounds like the springtime cows, they are more abundant than the bigger early-season fish, and they provide their own brand of exciting light-tackle, shallow-water action. These 16 to 35-inch stripers are often caught in water that's not much more than knee deep, and in addition to attacking soft plastics and plugs, they will explode through the surface to smash poppers, treating anglers to thrilling topwater action. And during this second season, you're allowed to take two rockfish home for dinner (2 fish per day of 18 to 28 inches, or 1 fish of 18 to 28 inches, and 1 fish over 28 inches).
Susquehanna Flats is at the very northern end of Chesapeake Bay. Launch ramps and access to the flats are available in Havre de Grace, Port Deposit, and North East, Maryland. I use the ramp at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace. The ramp fee is $5, and there is ample parking. However, only two boats can be put in or taken out at a time, so I make it a point to avoid this ramp altogether when it's hosting an upper bay largemouth bass fishing tournament.
The flats is a large area of very shallow water that begins at mouths of the Susquehanna River and North East River, and continues south to Turkey Point and Sandy Point. Follow the buoys and use the deeper-water channels on the northern, western and eastern sides of the flats for most of your navigation, because water on the flats is skinny, with depths ranging from 1 to 4 feet, depending on wind speed and direction, tidal conditions, and the phase of the moon.
Figure out where you want to fish on the flats, use the channels to get in position, then slowly and carefully motor up on the flats. It's a good idea to tilt up your motor some, and have someone in the bow keeping an eye out for submerged stumps or other debris that you'll want to avoid. My boat is a 19-foot aluminum deep-vee Starcraft with a 125-horsepower Mercury, and I am able to get around on the flats while moving slowly and carefully. However, I usually motor off the flats and fish the edges of the deeper channels during low tide. Before venturing out onto the flats, especially for the first time, be sure to carefully study a chart of the flats to get an idea of how to safely get around.
Last summer, most of our action on the flats came in the mornings, and around areas of submerged weeds and vegetation, which are easily seen in the one- to four-foot depths. We enjoyed jolting strikes while casting around pods of vegetation with Storm Shads, Bass Assassins and other soft plastic lures on one-half-ounce to three-quarter-ounce leadhead jigs. This summer, I'm looking forward to fishing the flats with the new Stanley WedgeTail 5-inch shad and WedgeTail 7-inch herring. The movement and action of these soft plastic baits are incredible, and I'm sure stripers are going to jump all over them.
For topwater action, two plugs in particular stand out: the Smack-It Jr. by Stillwater Lures, and the Chug Bug by Storm. The feisty 16 to 30-inch stripers are a lot of fun on spinning reels loaded with Power Pro Spectra Braid, Stren Super Braid, and SpiderLine Fusion (14 to 20-pound test).
Stripers aren't the only predators that patrol the flats and hang out in the weeds. I was kicking up a fuss on the surface last June with a Chug Bug when the water erupted and the popper disappeared. When I felt the jolt I lifted the rod tip and applied pressure. Suddenly, the hooked fish cleared the water again, this time shaking its head in an attempt to spit the hook. Hooked stripers don't usually jump, so I knew instantly I was into a nice fish that was not a rockfish. Soon I boated and then released a hefty 4-1/2-pound largemouth bass.
It's a good idea to use pliers to mash down the barbs on all hooks, and some sort of fish lip gribber is strongly recommended when using topwater plugs, because it's important to keep your hands well clear of dangerous swinging treble hooks dangling from a hooked, thrashing fish.
Outstanding summertime striper action on Susquehanna Flats is in sharp contrast to the springtime catch-and-release season, when bites are often few and far between. Make plans now to visit the flats in the days and weeks ahead, so you can enjoy the most consistent, most exciting striper fishing the flats has to offer.
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