This Month with a Susquehanna River Guide (March 2015)

By Lance Dunham


As I sit here at my computer in early March, typing, or at least pecking away, I’m thinking with this frigid weather, when am I ever going to get to fish open water again! The river is covered with ice, and it’s colder than penguin crap outside. So what is a full time fishing guide to do? My wife has suggested that I pick up my man cave and organize it, which I did. Well sort of… I did clear a floor path to my computer. Hey now, it’s a start!

Now, before I ever get to my “Honey Never Done List,” or do the yearly wood working for her at her floral factory, I need to get ready for the next fishing season. Of course, my boat gets the first attention, by sending it up to Snake Creek Marine in Montrose, Pa. There they will go over everything, from the boat to the motor and trailer, to make sure it is all in the best condition. I ask them to replace anything that even might wear out by July. Why July? Because of all the use my boat gets, I also schedule a mid-season check over! If it’s still in good shape at that time, I’ll ask them to install something new on the boat to improve my customers’ charter experience. Well that, and I’ll admit I’m a gadget junkie, always looking for something new.

I’ve already renewed my boat insurance and obtained my new fishing license and guide permit, and the boat registration is still current, so what’s next? Well, to start, with I need to refurbish and organize all my fishing tackle, and I mean all of it. The tackle I use every day and the complete set of back up tackle ready when something breaks that I keep at the house. You see, I want everything to either look like new or be new, not only at the start the season, but all year long. Most folks have no idea how much fishing tackle it takes to properly run a daily professional guiding service smoothly for the year, (I’ll tell ya, when I go to that big river in the sky, my wife is going to have one really big yard sale!).

When you are on the water 6 to 7 days a week, and most times sun-up to sun-down, there isn’t enough time to repair tackle, so as something gets worn out, broken or lost over board, you just replace it with your spare and repair the broken one in your “off-season,” when you have time. I start with cleaning all 27 of my “All Pro Rods”. Yep, 27, and I’m still a few short. I start by cleaning the cork handles with a Brillow-style soap pad to get all that dark dirt and grime off, until it looks new again. Once that is done and they are dry, I apply a cork sealant, to once again protect the cork from the elements. You can get cork sealant from any rod building supply store off the internet. The rod blanks are then wiped down with a clean damp rag, and the rod eyes are cleaned with a q-tip. If the cotton on the q-tip catches inside any of the line eyes, that means that you have a cut, crack, or groove in the eye and it needs to be replaced, or you will weaken your line and it will break, most of the time, when you finally have that big fish on.

Next thing is to clean and lubricate my reels. I like to have at least 9 customer spinning reels ready, with spares to match, along with 2 spinning and 8 baitcaster reels, that I use myself, and also the spares to match. The spinning reels, I take apart, clean, and lubricate by myself, however, I send my most expensive baitcaster reels to a professional reel service, because they will also polish all the working parts so they come back casting better than new. I will wait to just before I use the reel to put new line on. There are many excellent lines out there, and all anglers have their favorites, so I’ll just say, that make sure you put the line on correctly and don’t over fill or under fill your reel spool. Both will give you troubles.

Next, are my lures and tackle box, and by the end of the season it’s quite a mess. They all need to be sorted again, as to style and make. New hooks are put on where needed and placed in new tackle boxes, because the sun and ultraviolet rays have weakened, and in some cases, cracked the old ones. The fun part is ordering replacement lures, so I have enough of each color and size for myself and my clients. I’ll need a minimum of 4 of each size, style, and color, because if one lure works, I’ll need enough to give to my clients also, plus a spare. There isn’t enough room in my tackle bag to fit all the different styles and sizes of lures that I use during the whole season, so I just carry what I’ve learned is traditionally going to work for that month and the next. And just what lures are those? It’s too much to get into here, and since a good guide never holds his secrets, I have created a cheat sheet, so to speak, that I give away when people ask for it, that shows the style of lures I use for each month of the year with water temperatures and conditions. If anyone wants a copy, just request it by e-mail and I’ll send it to you or I keep copies in my truck to hand out. These suggestive lures are by no means the only ones that will work, they are just the ones that I use during the season. Presentation would be the key factor in making any lure work. The fish must see the lure and it needs to be in their strike zone to consistently catch fish.

I’ve got a little room left here, so I’ll just tell you what I’m going to start with. When the ice finally leaves the river and the level is safe to boat on, the water temperature will most likely be cold, in the 34 to 37 degree range to start. The fish will be very lethargic and the bite super light. A 20” smallie might feel like you just got hooked on a couple of wet leaves! I’ll have just 3 bass/walleye rods on board, and my musky rod, for the big toothy critters like the cold water. As to the bass rods, I’ll have a hair jig on one, like a JJ’s Jig Woolybugger or Bear jig, a good vibrating plastic jig, like a Rage Baby Craw on a Moaner Predator hook on another, and last, a drop shot with both a bear hair fly and a drop shot worm on a #2/0 drop shot hook with a 1/4oz weight on the bottom. All three are presented as slow as possible, just out of the heavy current. Patience is the key to very cold water.

Well, that’s all I have for now, and I’m hoping that I’m on the water soon. Until then, remember to practice catch and immediate release for the future of our great fishery, boat safe, and I’ll see you “On The Water.”

For further reports, photos, and charter information, visit me on my website at or Facebook.