OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Top-flight kayak anglers planning to fish the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Susquehanna River event in Liverpool, Penn., early this August are in for a real treat. That’s because the famed stretch of river they’ll be probing boasts one of the most productive smallmouth fisheries in the country. Featuring iconic hills and bronzebacks that have been known to feed all day long, the 40-mile section within the tournament boundaries offers a mix of challenges to test the skills of any kayak bass fan.
“You’ve got pretty much everything you could want here in terms of bass-fishing habitat and a smallmouth population that provides both quantity and quality catches,” says Hobie B.O.S. Tournament Director, A.J. McWhorter. “There are ledges and shoals, deep cuts and shallow flats, fast currents and quiet pockets. With the smallies in this river having a reputation for smashing topwater baits, this should be an epic competition in the Mid-Atlantic Region. In addition to battling for substantial cash prizes, the top three non-qualified anglers for this November’s Tournament of Champions (TOC) in Knoxville, Tennessee will make the cut, plus we’ll be distributing valuable points for Angler of The Year (AOY) throughout the field.”
Make no mistake about it, the smallmouth bass action here is first class. With a substantial segment of the population measuring between 15 inches and 18 inches long, and some considerably larger, these fish can be quite aggressive given the right conditions. Chunky and heavy, they look very much like Great Lakes smallies, and some anglers believe they battle even harder given their river upbringing.
“Bring it on! I can’t wait to get started,” says Jody Queen of Bluefield, W.V. “I love this stretch of river and always seem to do well here in competition. The strain of bronzebacks in this part of the ‘Susky’ are very similar to the ones that roam Lake Erie and the waters of Lake St. Claire, Michigan. They have a real wide-bodied look and are well represented at the larger end of the size scale with some brutes pushing past 19 inches. It might take 170 inches to win this event. That’s very impressive river fishing.”
Queen, 55, knows of what he speaks. On top of his game, the winner of last year’s Hobie TOC in Ouachita, Ark., member of the Hobie Team, and a full-time tournament pro, Queen has already qualified for this year’s TOC and has been racking up A.O.Y. points. In June, he finished first out of 129 B.O.S. competitors at the Kentucky Lake event, walking away with a cool $7,000.
Jake Harshman, 35, of Harrisburg, Penn., echoes Queen when assessing the Susquehanna’s superior smallmouth bass fishery. The winner of this year’s B.O.S. event at Lake Seminole, Florida, Harshman, who lives minutes from the river, say’s he’s exited to get out on his home waters.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to compete without having to drive for several hours to reach the tourney destination,” he revealed, “but it’s always a blast to fish on this river. There’s a ton of solid, Great Lakes-style smallmouth here. When they feel that hook and dig into the current, it’s a thrill every time. I think this tourney is going to be something special.”
For those new to these waters, Queen suggests basing your approach on current water levels, which can fluctuate. “If the water is up, moving a little bit, and shows some color, hit the grass beds. If the water is really high, creek mouths and tributaries are a solid bet,” he advises.
“The most likely scenario for August is low water,” says Queen. “In that case, look for islands encircled by a little bit of depth. The shade in those areas can draw in a lot of bass. You can throw jigs or swimbaits but my favorite summertime lure here is a giant, Whopper Plopper 130. You won’t catch as many fish on this big surface plug as you might on something smaller, but you will catch some nice ones.”
Harshman, who tends to throw spinnerbaits, also notes that kayak fans hitting this river should leave nothing to chance when it comes to equipment and redundancy. “Bring plenty of spare lures and replacement gear," he cautions. “Things can break when you mix shallow water and varied current with plenty of rocks and shoals. Don’t leave yourself short. An extra paddle, drive and fins are good to carry along if you have spares.”
To that end, Queen believes his Hobie PA14 with Mirage Drive and Kick-Up Fins offers a significant edge when river fishing. “I like to work in areas where obstructions impede waterflow and create seams,” he explains, “My Hobie holds those seams really well. Because I can pedal and steer with my legs, I don’t need to put my rod down to reposition, and I can get through 5 or 6 inches of water when necessary. With the Kick-Up Fins, I can even slide over the top of small logs or brush without changing course. I’m planning to put those advantages to full use for this competition.”
No matter what kayak you choose to fish during the Susquehanna B.O.S. event, Harshman reminds competitors to wear comfortable wading shoes with some good grip on the bottom. “This river tends to run shallow so the ‘no wading rule’ has been lifted for this event,” he states. “That means there’ll be places where you’ll want to step out of your ‘yak to make a few casts. The rocks, however, can be slippery, so wearing good shoes is vital. You’ll also want to bring along a tether for your kayak. Leave it connected to the boat all the time and hook it to your life vest if you get out. That way, the kayak will simply follow along as you wade.”
While they are serious about the competition, both Queen and Harshman also very much enjoy the camaraderie between Hobie B.O.S. participants and appreciate how seamlessly these events are run.
“Hobie does a terrific job organizing these tournaments,” concludes Queen. “Things run smoothly all the time, the contests are well attended, the competition is tough but friendly, and everyone seems to play by the rules. I also appreciate that the staff is very much in tune with currents events. Masks are worn when appropriate, you can check in from your vehicle, and the entire experience is tailored to comply with any rules in effect where competition is taking place. All of that adds to the safe, enjoyable and competitive atmosphere we’ve all come to expect from these Hobie events.”