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‘More eagles than people!’

August 27, 2014

Talk to anyone who targets smallmouth on the Delaware River and you will know that now is the time. Just after I suggested that we were in the “dog days of summer” and that fishing could be dull, Rich Roth of Eldred did a Delaware float with two buddies and they caught 105 smallies. That’s hardly dull.

Smallmouth have always been part of our fishing heritage. Find an old photo of Zane Grey, and he’s apt to be holding a smallmouth dubbed “Grandpa” or perhaps “King of the Lackawaxen.”

I suspect however, that even Hall of Fame angler Zane Grey wasn’t likely to have a 105-fish day very often. Today, however, a six- to eight-mile float may produce epic catches. Two factors contribute to the spectacular fishing: water conditions and shad.

While the 70-degree water temperature mark indicates the time for trout fishers to pack the fly rods away for awhile, it also triggers smallmouth activity. Veteran river guide Tony Ritter suggests that the 70- to 76-degree temperature range makes for a very active smallmouth fishery.

What do shad have to do with it? We’re not talking about the shad we delight in catching in May. Those shad are then migrating upriver from the salt to spawning areas upriver. It is the product of that spawn, the next generation, that impacts the bass fishing.

It is at this time of year that the shadlings begin their migration back to the salt. These tender little beauties migrate en masse and become the primary food source for the smallie. Imitate a shadling heading for tidewater and you have a first-rate smallmouth bait.

Kurt Hagemann has been meeting fishers’ needs since 1979 at his Tackle & Variety Shop in Shohola, PA. Back in the day, prime baits were hellgrammites and shiners. Today any silver/blue baby shad imitation will work, if fished on a light spinning rig with four- to six-pound test line. Lures include Heddon Torpedos, the silver/blue #9 Rapala and white or silver finished Yamamato Sinkos or Venom soft baits. When the smallies are on the feed, “it’s hard not to catch them,” according to Kurt.

The right conditions are also necessary. In addition to the correct temperature range, Ritter looks for clear water at normal levels and the shadling migration.