Ryan Alunni is the owner and operator of Alunni Guide Service. Ryan guides on the Susquehanna River’s North Branch. Ryan is a multi-species guide but we discuss with him Smallmouth Bass fishing on the North Branch. Here is what he had to say.
What sections of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River are you fishing?
About 90% of the time I am fishing the stretch water above Pittston, Pennsylvania and below Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. This stretch has a nice mix of fast water areas and slower deeper spots to provide year round fishing throughout the seasons.
What boat are you using to guide on these stretches?
I’m currently running a Triton JT17 with a 115/80 Optimax Jet. It’s a nice stable platform with a lot of space for casting, a good amount of storage, and the jet is a must when the river levels are down to navigate the skinny water.
It runs reasonably fast to get from spot to spot. The most important piece of equipment on the boat and real key to putting clients on fish is the 36 volt 112lb thrust Fortrex. Extremely powerful and allows me to maintain proper boat positioning all day.
How has the use of your Talon helped you be more successful on the Susquehanna?
The Talon has been excellent for holding the boat in specific sections of fast water. If I want to make repeated casts at a specific target in moving water it is a great tool. It also is very useful for anchoring for lunch in a nice shady spot or holding the boat on the ramp without the use of a rope. I currently have a single unit but I’m thinking of adding a second.
In doing my research for this interview, I read a post on a forum where you said that you will usually start the day with about 10 rods rigged up and ready to go. Can you give us a breakdown of your top 5 favorite baits you have tied on these rods for a typical summer day on the Susquehanna?
I’ll typically rig up 10 to 12 rods mainly to maximize the amount of time clients can be fishing. If a client loses a bait or the line gets tangled in the reel I will give them another set-up so they can keep fishing and I’ll re-rig to minimize down time. Additionally, having multiple rods with multiple lures allows me to switch quickly between different baits without retying when searching for fish.
In no particular order:
-A soft plastic rigged on a 1/8 jig – Swimbaits, tubes, stick worms
-Squarebill crankbait – 1.5 size
-Topwater – whopper ploppers, chug bug, buzzbait
-Spinnerbait – 3/8 oz double willow
-Weightless 4” stickbait
For the moving baits, crankbait, topwater, spinnerbait, I am a fan of burning these baits in the faster water. Fast and erratic is my favorite way to present these baits in the summer with as much contact with cover as possible.
For the 1/8oz jig and weightless stickbait, I will cast up stream and let the current move the bait while trying to maintain feel of the bait throughout the retrieve. I prefer to use braided line with a leader to maximize sensitivity. I’ll use the weighted rig for normal to higher flows and throw the weightless stickbait in the really shallow stuff.
Summertime on the Susquehanna is often more of a numbers game than a trophy fish time. What are your favorite baits when trying to catch a big bass even though the air and water temperatures are high?
Like you said it can be a challenge to put big ones in the boat during the dog days. The bait that comes to mind here is a 3/8 oz full size spinnerbait with double willows or sometimes a bigger floating jerkbait in the fast water. It is hard to switch away from the baits that are generating strikes, even if the strikes are from smaller fish, but upsizing can help generate big bites.
How does your approach to fishing baits change during the fall versus the summer on the North Branch?
Fall is probably my favorite time to fish, more specifically I love November fishing when the water really starts to cool and dip into the mid and low 40’s. They are really stacking up in specific spots of the river and feeding in preparation for the winter.
Typically the water clears up during the cold water period and my preference is to fish suspending jerkbaits. I’ll also have a subtle soft plastic rigged like a smaller tube or stickworm fished on a 1/16oz or 1/8oz jig head. Another great option during the cold water period are lipless crankbaits and Silver Buddy type lures bumped off the bottom.
Some people read about the Susquehanna and think the fish will just jump in the boat. What are the 5 biggest mistakes that you see North Branch Susquehanna River fisherman make?
I think the biggest mistake people make is not following the fish as they move on the river throughout the seasons. For example they might really have a great day somewhere in the early spring and they continue to fish that area in the summer with much less luck.
Staying in a spot too long without bites. In my experience if you are not generating bites in a certain area you shouldn’t waste too much time there. I’m not saying blow through spots without fishing thoroughly but river smallmouth will let you know pretty quickly if they are in the area.
Not ripping jerkbaits hard enough and not pausing them long enough between jerks. Sometimes people just work the bait with gentle pulls rather than really whacking that bait to get that hard flashing action. Then they don’t let it soak long enough between jerks.
Not ensuring bottom contact and resulting deflection when fishing crankbaits. The crank needs to be grinding along the bottom, preferably a hard rocky bottom, throughout the retrieve for best results.
Not fishing black crankbaits in dirty water – not a lot a manufacturers make an all black crankbait. Try coloring a squarebill with a sharpie and fishing it when the water is dirty.
You make and sell some of your own custom tackle. What are you making and which of these are “go to’s” for Susquehanna fishing?
Most of the tackle making I’m doing is pouring and tying jigs. My go to for jigs is the “sled” style jig. The mold I use is a modified ice fishing mold with 1/8oz, 1/4oz, and 3/8oz cavities and accepts a #2, 1/0, 2/0, or 3/0 Mustad 28 degree swimbait hook. I have found this style jig to generate the least snags of any style jig. I also make mushroom heads with a keeper to accommodate smaller soft plastics and hand-tie living rubber jigs and hair jigs.
How can someone connect with you for a guided trip on the North Branch?
Thank you Ryan for the great information. I know I will be putting some of your tips to good use.