Comparing Bass Fishing on the Shenandoah and Susquehanna Rivers

Matthew Chapman Kayak Bass Fishing

Matthew Chapman loves fishing the Shenandoah River and the Susquehanna River. I had a chance to get his thoughts on how these rivers compare for bass fishing. This is what he had to say.

What kayak are you riding out of?

I am currently in a 2017 Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 120. I’ve been on the Shenandoah in this boat quite a few times, and I must say that it paddles like my former boat, the Ride 115x. When I sat in the boat for the first time I instantly noticed how much more legroom I had. When you spend over 8 hours in a boat you have to be comfortable.

The tracking is great and for a wide boat. It paddles really well. The ability to stand up and fish or simply to get the blood flowing on a cold day is a major benefit when you’re on the water for 8 plus hours. Another great thing about this boat is the freeboard, or lack of, I should say. The wind doesn’t push this boat around as much. It can get frustrating, especially with the wind blowing up river.

You added the Torqeedo this winter. Why did you decide to make this investment?

When I started out fishing tournaments, I had it in my mind that I was always going to be a paddler. I liked the challenge of trying to outbfish the pedal drives and motors. But slowly my mind began to change. There were many days I wished I had one, especially when no one was available to float with me.

I think the biggest factor in deciding to put the Torqeedo Ultralight 403c on my kayak was that I wanted to be able to go farther during single access trips. It allows you to reach areas quicker and that means more time with a line in the water. Last weekend, I was able to go upriver about 2 miles and fish an area that I would have had to float down to reach. The 403c is a huge advantage for attaining pools up river.

If you plan on putting a Torqeedo on your boat you will want to check out www.theplastichull.net. There are some great modifications that make the motor even better. My favorite for the river is the addition of a Yakima Windjammer to act as a rudder even when I’m paddling. Another addition that I’m working on is a rock guard to protect the prop and motor pylon.

Matthew Chapman with a Shenandoah River Smallmouth BassWhich do you get to fish more between the Susquehanna and Shenandoah?

I fish the Shenandoah more because it is closer. Although I usually make a trip every weekend from August to late September up to the Susquehanna due to a couple of tournaments during that time. On the Shenandoah I split my time between the Main Stem and the South Fork. While I’m on the Susquehanna, we usually fish north of Harrisburg.

I think there are a couple similarities between the Shenandoah and Susquehanna. The obvious one is that they are both moving water. Fish can be found in pools, eddies, current seams, and below ledges. If you fish the typical smallmouth presentations in both rivers you will catch fish. On both rivers you have to think about boat position and what path you are going to take to get to a spot without spooking fish in the clear water.

How are these two rivers different?

I think the two rivers are generally the same. The Susquehanna is just much larger in size. The Susquehanna is wide and definitely has better structure for holding fish. There are numerous islands, grass beds, ledges, bridges and boulders throughout the river.

As far as the number of quality fish, it’s hands down the Susquehanna. The Shenandoah has been plagued by fish kills that have hurt the numbers of larger fish over 15 inches. There are still some big fish in there though. Just a few weeks ago there was a 6 plus pound fish caught. My favorite is the Susquehanna, but I’ll have the chance to fish the New River in a few weeks. So we will see if I have a new favorite after that.

Are you generally using the same baits for river smallmouth bass on both waters?

I throw pretty much the same baits for both rivers. The exception to that is I will throw larger baits on the Susquehanna as those fish seem to be more aggressive. My favorite bait to throw on both rivers would have to be a 3 or 5-inch paddle tail swimbait. I generally rig it on a weighted Owner swimbait hook. You can fish this lure almost anywhere. Thru grass beds, bouncing it off wood and rocks, or even dead sticking it. I’ve done well skipping it up under over hanging trees also.

I also love to throw the Whopper Plopper in the 90, 110, and 130 sizes. There is nothing like an angry Smallmouth smashing that bait. I throw it mostly in the morning or late evening, but under the right conditions it can produce all day long.

I can’t leave without the Ned Rig, I always have one tied on. It has worked awesome on both rivers.

Are there any baits in your arsenal that bass on one river seem to react to better than on the other?

The Whopper Plopper by far gets more of a reaction on the Susquehanna than it does on the Shenandoah. But that may be due to the fact that the Susquehanna has a greater number of larger fish willing to hit such an aggressive lure. Buzzbaits and Tiny Torpedos seem to do better on the Shenandoah. The great thing about all three of these lures is that they allow you to cover water quickly. A combination of blind casting and targeting cover will allow you to quickly find the fish.

Matthew Chapman with a Susquehanna River Smallmouth BassWhat is your typical rod and reel arsenal on these rivers?

I usually carry a minimum of five rods on the kayak with me. That usually includes my spinning rod for the Ned Rig or drop shotting. I will also take at least two or three Medium power spinning combos to throw swimbaits, tubes, or jerk baits. Also onboard is a MH bait caster for throwing heavier lures such as jigs or bigger swimbaits up to an ounce.

I also have a bait casting combo I use to throw the heavier Whopper Plopper or maybe an S-waver swimbait. I do have a dedicated Crankbait rod that I use with the bigger crankbaits like the Rapala DT-16. Most of my rods are the Lew’s TP1 ranging from medium power up to a heavy power rod. My reels are Lew’s also, but I do have a couple of Penn Battle II’s that I love.

The Shenandoah adds the component of largemouth fishing. How often do you target Shenandoah largemouth?

I don’t think I have ever went out, and said I’m going after largemouth. I primarily catch them in the colder months because the smallmouth and largemouth are sharing the same pools that time of year. During the spring, summer and fall my concentration goes to moving water with my mind on finding smallmouth. I probably should target them more. I pulled a 6 plus pound largemouth out last September, and I have witnessed a 7 pound 13 ounce one caught by a friend. One thing I have learned when fishing for largemouth during the colder months is to downsize your bait. Most of my largemouth this winter have come on small jigs.

Beside these rivers, what are some of your other places to fish?

I love chasing smallmouth so that keeps me close to the rivers. I live 10 minutes away from one of the best rated largemouth lakes in the Shenandoah Valley. When you ask most anglers, they despise the place because it is so tough to get bites. The water is super clear and there is a lot of pressure which makes it extremely tough. I like to go at night during the summer and throw topwater.

I also like to fish the Upper Potomac River from time to time. I don’t get to fish it very often though. I don’t necessarily have a favorite lake.

Fishing in tournaments allows me to go to water that I wouldn’t even have considered or known about. There is a special feeling you get when you launch on water that you have never been on before. Last year I fished tournaments on Stonecoal Reservoir in West Virginia, Lake Redman in Pennsylvania, ponds in Delaware, Rocky Gorge in Maryland, Sandy River Reservoir in Virginia, and Aquia Creek in Virginia.

Great stuff Matthew. Thank you so much. Look forward to seeing all of your success on both the Shenandoah and Susquehanna this year on Instagram @back40tj.