The Big One that Got Away – I Didn’t Land the Fish, But What a Memory! (Part 1 of 2)

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II


I don’t know about your family, but we have a reunion on my dad’s side each year in July. The Berrier clan gathers on property my great-grandfather, Joseph Berrier, acquired in the early 1900’s on the Susquehanna River. Situated about 8-miles upstream from Harrisburg along the West Shore between Marysville and Duncannon, we’ve been getting together there for over 100-years. Since my dad is the youngest of nine children, and his dad, my grandfather, had multiple brothers, I have a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins who I typically only get to see at our reunions. Based on the 4-hour drive and the fact that life is so busy with our own adult children, I typically only make it out to the Berrier reunion every other year, and since I couldn’t get out last year, I definitely wanted to make the jaunt this year to spend time with extended family. I arrived around 11:25 PM on Friday, July 12, 2019, and not seeing any signs of folks being awake in the motorhomes and trailer parked there, I crawled into the cap on the bed of my truck and called it a night just before midnight. It had been a long day, so I thought I’d sleep in some and set the alarm for 6:20 AM. Situated along the main east-west rail lines that parallel the Susquehanna River at that point, I was awakened by no less than 11 passing trains in the darkness. (The first night I’m there, I typically hear every train and on subsequent nights, I start to be able to sleep through them.) When I awoke, I was surprised that no one else was up yet, so I walked down over the bank and started fishing. This stretch of the Susquehanna River is literally one-mile wide and in the Summer months, there are times you can walk across without getting your shorts wet. It is here that I learned to paddle a canoe, pole a jon boat, and cut my teeth catching the abundant smallmouth bass. Shockingly, several years ago smallmouths in that stretch of the Susquehanna River started developing mysterious black splotches on their sides. This prompted extensive research by the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PF&BC) into its cause, the effects on mature fish, and its impact on smallie reproduction. As a precaution, the PF&BC has made significant portions of the Susquehanna River drainage catch-and-release only for bass. I hit the water by 6:45 AM on Saturday morning, July 13, and started out with one of my favorite smallmouth bass lures, a smoky gray-colored 3.5” Gitzit tube lure worked along the rocky bottom. I caught multiple smallmouths ranging from 14 to 17-inches and was very pleased to see they appeared healthy and free of any black marks. Out of curiosity, I also tossed a small Panther Martin spinner in hopes of catching some young smallmouths. I landed several ranging from 5 to 9-inches, and their vigor and appearance confirmed for me that healthy reproduction is occurring in that stretch of the river. I fished until 8:15 AM before my uncle invited me up to his trailer to have breakfast. Over breakfast, he shared the fact that the PF&BC had recently stocked 2,400 one-year-old muskies measuring 12-14 inches in the Susquehanna River above Harrisburg. Grown at the Linesville Hatchery in Crawford County, these fish were trucked to Fort Hunter in Dauphin County and released about 4-miles downstream from where we were situated on the river. I assured my uncle that past muskie stomach content analyses have revealed that they seldom prey on smallmouth bass; instead, preferring to ingest a large percentage of “rough fish”, such as suckers, young carp, chubs, shiners, dace, and in the Susquehanna River drainage, the ubiquitous fallfish. (This large member of the minnow family can reach up to 20-inches, will hit smaller lures, and is not found in the Ohio River drainage, so you may not be familiar with them.) The family reunion on Saturday was a great time with good food, time to catch up on where life has taken extended family members, and the opportunity to play horseshoes and toss some cornhole bags. The highlight of the weekend though was fishing with my dad on Sunday morning, and the opportunity to hook something big! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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