Last weekend the North Branch went a little berserk. On Sunday, you could watch the water level rise, which is amazing considering the volume needed for that to happen.
The North Branch was pushing so hard that at the confluence with the West Branch at Northumberland, it mixed with the clear water to create a dirty river all the way across, something which rarely happens. When it comes up that fast, it goes down fast too. After a few days, the clear water reasserted itself along the west shore. As I write this, the North Branch is still ugly looking. This summer it seems that every time the North Branch gets to looking good and the fishing gets hot, we get more rain and it blows out.
We are starting to see more flathead catfish in our area of the river. South of Harrisburg, where the river is wider and deeper, flathead catches of 20 or more fish a night are common, with fish now ranging to the upper 40-pound class. The flatheads I've seen around here are mostly on the small side, but the potential for a 40-pounder exists. I get a fairly constant flow of stories about the big one that heads the other way and can't be stopped, especially below the Adam T. Bower Dam. Most anglers aren't equipped to handle 40-pound flatheads, but the culprits could also be carp or muskies. I've been there and it's a pretty helpless feeling when you get hooked up with an unstoppable force. You look at your rod and reel as the line zips away and feel kind of like the guy who brought a knife to a gunfight.
What is the biggest fish in the river? I would say it is between the carp and the musky. Length would probably go to the musky, while carp would be right up there as far as weight goes. I doubt that there is a 60-inch musky in the river, but I sure wouldn't take any bets against a 55-incher. I've seen a few that might have been in that class, including one that was on the end of my line, which of course I lost. I still lay in bed at night and think about that one.
The real heavyweight bruisers are the carp. I've seen a few of them that looked like small submarines. If you hook up with one of them, something is going to give, unless you are in a boat and can follow them around for while. The biggest carp I've ever caught was 36 inches long, probably in the high 20-pound class. I've seen carp that made that one look small, and it took half of forever to land that one. They'll find the weak link, be it a knot, line, hook, rod or whatever. I have a feeling some of the Bower dam stories are a result of carp, but with big muskies, flatheads and even stripers caught now and then, unless you see it, you don't know for sure what you're hooked up with.
That's what makes the river interesting. Of course there are the usual bass, channel cats, walleyes, etc., but I've also seen flathead catfish, stripers, hybrid stripers, eels, gar, bowfins, most species of trout (including a lake trout) and pacu (a piranha-looking critter) caught out of the river.
You never know what might end up on the end of your line, and in the case of hellbenders, water snakes and snapping turtles, it might not even have fins. And then there are stories. I don't mind a guy catching a lantern, but when he gets it in and it's still lit.....
n Ken Maurer, Herndon, is a licensed fishing guide and a regular contributor to the Outdoor Section. Email comments to email@example.com.