A tree frames a calm river.
Susquehanna River The Suquehanna River flows past Harrisburg, the state capitol of Pennsylvania. © The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Pennsylvania

Mainstreaming Micro-fishing

Bigger isn't always better when it comes to fishing along Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.

by Brad Maurer, hydrologist with The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania

It’s 6 a.m. at the edge of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. A gentle mist rises off the water, obscuring the island in the middle of the channel. After a final sip of coffee, I bait my hook with a piece of worm, adjust the line and make my first cast. My heart jumps as I feel a tug on my line…..I carefully set the hook and soon land my first trophy of the day—a three-inch shiner!

A man fishes along the banks of a river.
River Micro-fishing A Nature Conservancy scientist goes micro-fishing along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. © The Nature Conservancy

My colleague in The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter, Shawn Hickey, has written about the Susquehanna River from the perspective of a kayaker. Shawn and I have shared several trips on the river, sometimes just paddling and sometimes fishing for smallmouth bass. Though I like nothing better than fishing for smallmouth bass, I think this hard-fighting sport fish has gotten its share of publicity.

Believe it or not, the Susquehanna is home to approximately 60 species of fish. However, only a handful of these regularly show up on the end of a fishing line.

A couple of years ago, I learned about an approach to fishing that gives you the chance to pull in many of the non-game fish that inhabit our streams, lakes and rivers. It’s called micro-fishing.

Getting Close to the Fish
Getting Close to the Fish The Pennsylvania Chapter's hydrologist, Bradley Maurer, gives micro-fishing a try along the Susquehanna River. © The Nature Conservancy

Micro-fishing is just what you’d expect from the term; it’s fishing with fine line, tiny hooks and an almost imperceptible piece of bait. The results can be fascinating if you enjoy the variety and beauty of small non-game fish.

I’ve caught fish smaller than my little finger--shiners, killifish, chubs, dace, minnows, sunfish and other fish that I, frankly, could not identify. Micro-fishing gives you a chance to develop a life-list like a birder. If you’re interested in identifying what you catch, The Fishes of Pennsylvania is an excellent reference.

Micro-fishing may not be for everyone, or for every time you go out. For most people who fish, bigger is better, and I’ll admit to chasing big fish most of my life. But let me tell you, after you’ve caught several 2 to 3-inch fish and then hook an 8-inch chub, you feel like you have a 15 pound salmon on the line!

A man holds a small fish caught in a river.
Susquehanna Micro Fish Nature Conservancy scientist, Brad Maurer, holds a "micro" fish caught in the Susquehanna River. © The Nature Conservancy

I don’t ever expect to see folks in high-end bass boats cruising the shallows for tiny fish. But I do think micro-fishing will become more popular as more people learn about it.

If you’ve ever wondered about those “bait” fish you see swimming in the shallows, micro-fishing provides the chance to take a look at them and appreciate their beauty and variety up close. And doing it at a place as special as the Susquehanna River, or at one of the other many exceptional streams that we have in Pennsylvania, allows you to combine two experiences into one great excursion.


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