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Outdoors

Survey, guides say Yough River is haven for smallmouth bass

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
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The Yough River has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for its often fantastic trout fishing.

But don't forget about its smallmouths.

A recent survey of the river and the experiences of local guides show its bass fishery is topnotch, too.

That's especially true in what's known as sections 5 and 6 of the river, which stretch from Indiana Head to South Connellsville and from South Connellsville to the mouth, respectively.

Biologists from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's area 8 office in Somerset surveyed those stretches this fall. Their final report won't be done until later this winter, biologist Mike Depew said.

But he offered early insights. The news was mostly good and sometimes really good.

Biologists were able to survey just one section 5 site, about one mile upriver of the dam in South Connellsville, because of the difficulty of getting an electrofishing boat onto the river there. But it was “loaded with smallmouth bass,” Depew said.

State standards for a quality fishery are 35 bass captured per hour of surveying, with seven of those longer than 12 inches and two longer than 15.

In section 5, biologists found 78 bass per hour, with 23 longer than 12 inches and eight longer than 15.

“One of the things we noticed is the habitat in that section is pretty much fantastic,” Depew said. “There are pretty deep pools with a lot of boulders on the bottom. There are boulders all along the shore. And there are some riffles at the heads of the pools to provide oxygenated water.

“It's just fantastic for smallmouth bass.”

The smallmouths collected ranged from 4 to 17 inches, though biologists saw but missed capturing a few as big or bigger.

Many of the larger fish were found in similar places.

“It seems whenever we were shocking, if we came across one of those car-sized boulders, we found at least one if not a couple of 12-inchers,” Depew said.

Biologists surveyed four sites in section 6: at Dawson near River's Edge campground; at Layton near Hazelbaker's Canoe Rental; at Cedar Creek Park; and by the Boston boat launch.

At Dawson, Layton and Boston, crews found fish around boulders, bridge abutments and downed timber. There just isn't a lot of that, Depew said.

The result was fewer big bass.

“We got high catch rates of fish, but there were a lot of 8- to 10-inchers. The big fish just weren't there in the same numbers,” Depew said.

Things were better at Cedar Creek. Oddly enough, more so along one river bank than the other.

When biologists surveyed the left bank, looking upstream, they caught only a few bass. They uncovered “a bonanza” along the right bank.

“It was nothing having five to six fish in the net at a time. And that was both netters,” Depew said.

That included smallmouths up to 19 inches, he said.

None of what biologists found surprised Mike Schiffbauer or Ryan McCauley. Both guide smallmouth trips on the river, Schiffbauer as co-owner of Smallies on the Yough (smalliesontheyough.com) and McCauley as manager of fly fishing operations with Wilderness Voyageurs (wilderness-voyageurs.com).

The biologists agree the Yough's smallmouth fishery is the best in southwestern Pennsylvania and comparable to what can be found in a lot of more well-known places in- and out-of- state.

The survey's results probably won't reflect just how good the fishing is, Schiffbauer said. It's consistent and can be incredible, he said.

As proof, he pointed to what he called the best day's smallmouth fishing he ehad, enjoyed with his dad this past summer.

“In three hours, we put 55 or 56 fish in the boat. And in the last 20 minutes that we fished, we put 10 fish over 17 inches in the boat,” Schiffbauer said. “They were just piled up in certain areas.”

His personal-best smallmouth also came from the Yough a few years ago. It was a 22-inch fish.

People are realizing the river's smallmouth potential, said McCauley. It's becoming a “destination” water, with good reason.

“It's not unrealistic to expect to catch 20 fish a day, with a lot of those in the 12- to 16-inch range. Of course, you'll always catch some smaller fish, but there's a very realistic opportunity at one or two much larger fish, too,” McCauley said.

The key is being willing to move, the guides agreed.

Schiffbauer catches his fish on spinning tackle, using spinnerbaits and Rooster tails to locate them, then slowing down to fish tube jigs and Senkos.

He moves around using a jetboat, fishing islands in spring, shallower, faster water in summer and pools with big boulders in fall and winter.

McCauley catches his smallmouths on flies, with streamers a good all-around choice, crayfish patterns a go-to when the fishing gets tough, and poppers in the heat of summer. He uses the bike trail that parallels the river to get to “fishy” spots.

That can sometimes involve 20 to 30 yards of “bushwhacking” to get to the water, but it's worth it, he said.

“If you're willing to walk or get on a bicycle, there are endless opportunities to fish water that is, for all intents and purposes, largely untouched,” McCauley said. “That's the beauty of it.”

Depew isn't surprised.

“Overall, the fishery looks good,” Depew said. “There are good numbers of bass throughout the river. The fish are there. People just have to go out and catch them.”

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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