Christopher Smith

Stories Of The Collapse Of Susquehanna Smallmouth Bass

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Chris with bassWe have frequently written about the decrease in smallmouth bass populations in Central Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River.  Here are some excerpts from stories submitted to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Stories of the collapse of the Susquehanna smallmouth bass

…Unfortunately, now my main motivation for writing is to comment on how much has changed. While I personally still fish the Susquehanna regularly after moving back to Lancaster in 2007, the river is a shell of what it once was. While I still have the patience and skill enough to land fish, I struggle to get my son and his friends interested in fishing. In some ways I don’t blame them.

When I was a kid a few minnows guaranteed an afternoon of catching smallmouth and red-eye bass. Of course, the latter are completely gone and smallmouth are a challenge to find. Too much work for kids even with a helping hand!

…I fished in the heat of summer, the cool of autumn, during high water and low, in darkness and light. Wading from west shore to east I caught smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish, largemouth and walleye; I even chased a few carp and just couldn’t get enough but then it happened. Around 2005-2006 despite my best efforts, catch rates started to drop precipitously. The 90-100 fish – all day outings and the 20-30 fish after work specials, became 10 fish days, later 5 fish days and finally outright skunkings. I was devastated! Even the infamous White Fly hatch was a fishing bust.

…When I got my first jet boat in 2005, I was already noticing a change in the river especially after the large fish kill in June of 2005. I saw thousands of adult smallmouth floating down the river around New Cumberland, rotting in the early summer sun. It was a sad day for someone who just found the passion of Susquehanna smallmouth fishing. Over the next couple of years, I begin to stage my fishing out of Duncannon at Riverfront Campground, the fish below Harrisburg were just not there like above. In 2007, I begin to keep a camper there every Spring and Fall, clearing out when the Summer campers moved in, coming back when they left. To me river smallmouth fishing is best in the cold and we have enough water to run comfortably. This was when I began meeting more people whose passion was the same.

Four to five years ago, I began to notice the sores and a couple different fungi on the fish even above Harrisburg and then last year the fish begin to get the black spots. By 2010, I was solely fishing above Harrisburg because the fishery, while there are still some fish in some areas, was so unproductive it was not worth wasting my time. I went lake fishing when the water was too low up north. Even with the problems on the river, it is still one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world that is why I am investing in it, but for how long.  Please take the time to read the stories here

The decline in smallmouth bass population is a real problem in the Susquehanna.

There are increasing numbers of diseased fish as well as intersex fish: fish with both male and female tissue in their reproductive organs.

The concern about the intersex fish is twofold.

The first issue is the obvious impact on breeding.  These bass become less able to produce egss and sperm for fertilization.  This obviously reduces the amount of young smallmouth bass.

The second issue should be a concern to all of us.  If there are endocrine system (hormonal system) disruptors in the water causing these changes, are they present in our ground water and are these having effects on the people living in these regions.  This is an unanswered question.

These endocrine disrupters come from a variety of pollutants including pesticides, flame-retardant chemicals, personal-care products, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural products.  Many products dumped into our streams often mimic or act like estrogen compounds in the water. Examples of Substances Known or Suspected to be Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).  Source

The same thing is happening to the Potomac River as can be seen in this study: click here

The problems there will extend into the Chesapeake Bay as well.  Please sign the petition encouraging action on this River and write to your Congressman ASAP.

Thank you

4 Responses to Stories Of The Collapse Of Susquehanna Smallmouth Bass

  1. Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper February 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    We appreciate your online petition, but we need to do more to get EPA to overturn the DEP’s decision not to list the lower Susquehanna River as impaired.

    I’m the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and I’ve been studying the decline of the Smallmouth since 2005. Everybody knows the river should be declared impaired, EXCEPT the PA DEP. So we have to go over their heads to the EPA. PLEASE, if you have experienced this decline and can take a quick survey and write a letter, email me at


    I know some people need deadlines, so here it is. If you have experienced the decline in the Smallmouth fishing, if you don’t take your kids fishing on the Susquehanna because all of the Redeyes, Bluegills, and Sunfish have virtually disappeared, if you own a business that has suffered due to the decline of recreational fishing tourism- IT”S YOUR TIME TO SPEAK UP.

    We need you to do 2 things – fill out a survey and send a letter. We already have over 1,000 years of fishermen’s experiences in our survey, but more is better. We don’t have nearly enough letters yet. Please message me or email me now to get the survey:

    Please let us help you outline your letter to EPA to give it the most impact. Again, email me for instructions.

    • Christopher Smith February 18, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      I have written to the DEP as well and encouraged others to write their legislators.
      Thank you for all you do.

  2. Ken Maurer April 30, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I almost hate to tell y’all this, but in the fall of 2012, I had some of the best smallmouth fishing of my life on the Susquehanna, and I’ve been fishing the Lady since the 60’s.

    • Christopher Smith May 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      Ken, I’m glad you posted because I hope that is a trend we keep seeing. If there is a true environmental problem, it would be nice to address it before it’s too late but if there is a cyclical ebb and flow of bass populations, maybe with time it will resolve.
      I’m curious where you are fishing and if you are seeing many small bass. I think many are experiencing the problem around Harrisburg and south. We are seeing larger bass but not many young ones there.
      What has been your experience.


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