‘Research and development’ on Juniata a success

MILLERSTOWN — To a recreational angler an evening on the Juniata River is likely viewed as a time for relaxation and escaping the daily grind.

For two outdoors writers, however, their outing was all business (wink, wink). They were on a mission of “research and development” — as in researching how many smallmouth bass could be boated and developing an appearance of “working” for any onlookers.

Serving as guide and captain of his Fisher 1700 18-foot aluminum river boat powered by a Honda jet 40 hp outboard was Jeff Woleslagle. In the 9-to-5 world, on most days he makes the roundtrip commute from his home in Perry County to Harrisburg, where he serves as Bureau of Forestry communications section chief for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Readers of “Pennsylvania Boater and Angler,” the official publication of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, will recognize Woleslagle’s byline. An award-winning member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, he is a regular contributor to the magazine as a feature writer.

While disseminating information for the DCNR is Woleslagle’s job and part of a day’s work, he is always ready to spend an evening on the Juniata. In addition to the recreational aspect of fishing for smallmouth and other species, he appreciates being able to write about various techniques and field testing different lures and tackle for his magazine articles, which are a labor of love.

Because his deadline at the magazine is between 5-6 months in advance, the bass fishing Woleslagle will be doing the rest of the summer and into the fall will be used for articles next year. On one such recent trip the goal was to see if tube jigs in different colors were equally effective hooking smallmouth.

Woleslagle has the advantage of having a private boat dock along the banks of the Juniata less than 50 yards off the patio in the backyard of his parent’s home. Within five minutes of leaving the dock and heading up river, the motor was turned off and the pre-rigged medium-action spinning rods were in action.

A general rule when river fishing using tube jigs for smallmouth is that any color works — as long as the color is green. And sure enough, Woleslagle’s companion began getting hookups shortly after they began a downstream drift using a YUM Tube in dark green.

“Yes, that’s the color to start with,” Woleslagle said. “Now, let’s see how aggressive they are with some other colors.”

There is nothing like when a plan comes together, and Woleslagle’s plan to present tubes in a variety of colors was effective on this evening. It mattered not if brown tubes that resembled crayfish, black with green trailers, pumpkin seed, chartreuse or white was used — the bass were willing and able to strike.

Fortunately the Juniata — like the Susquehanna — is having a positive recovery to its bass fishery. Several years ago bacteria was the source of an infection among the bass population on both rivers, with the greatest area of concern in the Juniata located downstream from Lewistown, through the Millerstown area and on to Duncannon, where the river flows into the Susquehanna.

Evidence that the river, which is rated second only to the Susquehanna for bass in Pennsylvania, is rebounding was seen in the healthy bass boated by Woleslagle and his companion. Every fish — from dunks to keeper-size — had a deep, dark green coloration and not so much as a mark or sore.

It was also evident that the Big Bass Program Regulations on the 32-mile stretch from Port Royal to Duncannon is having a positive effective on the opportunity to catch sizeable bass. This was one trip that size was not a concern, as every bass was released — and some photographed.

After less than 90 minutes fishing enough bass had been caught that Woleslagle made a suggestion that turned a good trip into a great trip. Stowing the bass rods, he broke out some catfish river rods, live bait and cut bait.

“I don’t know about you, but I have more than enough smallmouth photos for what I need,” Woleslagle said. “Even though the water is stained, I thought we would hit them, so I packed some catfish tackle if you want to play around with them.

“Both channel catties and flatheads have been hitting pretty steady for the last few weeks, and the action should only get better with hotter weather. Maybe we’ll have some luck,” he said.

During the next hour Woleslagle and his companion joked there was no way they could have that much luck. They must be good; really, really good.

As Woleslagle hoped, both channel and flathead catfish began to hit, creating just enough havoc for the need to cut off only three other lines that became tangled. That, indeed, was a small price to pay for two anglers having success doing “research and development” on the Juniata River.

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Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.

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