Bad bamboo: Japanese knotweed clogs riverbanks

Expect to encounter Japanese knotweed along riverbanks.

I’m already looking ahead to spring and, obviously, turkey hunting, but also to the open-water fishing season. Paula and I didn’t get a lot of fishing in last year and I can’t remember why, but I know some of it was due to high water conditions on the nearby Susquehanna River. That eliminated our typical quick after-dinner outings for smallmouths on the river, where we can easily be casting to bronzebacks within 15 minutes of leaving the driveway.

When we did make it out, we didn’t have any of those memorable evenings when the smallies are on the feed and you can’t help but catch them. We did okay at times, but never one of those “wow” sessions where nearly every cast produces a fish.

One particular summer evening was one of those ho-hum outings; a few fish, a couple decent ones, but nothing that sent either of us scrambling for the camera. We decided to make a move downriver and hit a little backwater that often holds smallmouths, maybe even the occasional walleye.

I decided to take a shortcut across the large island, leading the way while Paula followed a few steps behind.

It was a bad idea. The brush became thicker, and pretty soon we were busting through seven-foot high bamboo shoots that made the slog progressively more difficult. I cursed the “bamboo.”

“Japanese knotweed,” Paula corrected.

I should have known Paula would know the true name for this relentless invasive species; she’s a product of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program and seems to know everything when it comes to plants and gardening.

All I knew was I was in a bit of trouble for leading us through the stuff. And after we finally broke through and found the backwater, it was all for naught: the low water levels were unfishable.

We called it a night, but I remembered the term Japanese knotweed every since. Labeled by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s worst invasive species, it seems to be present everywhere, but most notably along water flows like the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers, and even small, nameless, intermittent creeks.

And it spreads like wildfire and is almost impossible to eradicate. Its roots can go nearly 10 feet underground, making excavation a huge challenge. And it survives temperatures down to 30-below zero.

Yes, it looks like Fallopia japonica is here to stay. Herbicides can work, but only if the roots of the plant are killed. It takes several years of control of the above-ground portions of Japanese knotweed to weaken and kill an entire patch. Meanwhile, the plant just keeps spreading.

So if you’re fishing, expect to encounter the “bamboo” along the riverbank. You can – and will – likely call it something beside its actual name, which is understandable.

But it’s Japanese knotweed.

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