It’s not normal for the Susquehanna River to get down to fly fishing levels and good wading in April. The last time this happened in conjunction with warm weather was in 2012 and that produced an incredible pre-spawn bite for fly anglers. The Susquehanna watershed is some 4,000 square miles, so spring fly fishing is often off limits to wading anglers. But after a mild and relatively snow-free winter, April 2016 could provide another opportunity for pre-spawn smallmouth bass fly fishing.
Pre-spawn feeding is triggered by warming river temps. Smallmouth bass will normally prepare for spawning when water temperatures approach a range of 46 to 55 degrees (F). And in order to spawn successfully, they must feed up in advance. During the spawn bass will stop feeding while making spawning beds and competing for mates.
For wading fly anglers, the other necessity is lower-than-normal spring river levels. Flows of less than 4,000 CFS on the main river are where limited wading is possible. Below that level, wading is safer and many good areas of the river become more accessible. It’s rare when pre-spawn and low river levels occur simultaneously. Normally, pre-spawn fishing is only available to boat anglers on the bigger lakes and on rivers.
Bass are not fussy during the pre-spawn period. Weighted streamers fished with a sink tip line and a 7 or 8 weight outfit work well. Colors depend on water clarity, but olive, brown and black are sure bets. The technique is as simple as a cast up and across current, allowing the fly to get deep and swing. The take can be subtle and may often feel like sudden weight on the line. Dead drifting very large nymphs can also work well. It pays to experiment with retrieves.
Pre-spawn bass will stage near shallower water where there is protection from heavy current. Bays, feeder streams, and cuts in river banks provide great spawning habitat. The fish will start to stage as water temperatures climb into the mid-40’s. As water temperatures advance into the 50’s, spawning will start to take place. Although it’s legal to fish for bass on spawning beds, the practice is discouraged in the interest of conservation.
Anglers interested in taking this great game fish on the fly should seriously consider trying one of the local rivers such as the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and Susquehanna. Watch the USGS gauge and if possible, get temp readings for the waters of interest. The current temp for the main stem of the Susquehanna is already in the mid-to-upper 40’s.
Be aware however, that the season is only open to anglers using artificial lures and practicing catch-and-release.