Casselman River little known smallmouth gem

Confluence, Pa. — The question brought a smile to Rick Lorson’s face.

The Area 8 fisheries manager for the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, with responsibilities for waters across the southwestern corner of the state, was a panelist at a symposium focusing on the Youghiogheny River. One angler had a question on a different water, though.

What, the angler asked, is the health of the Casselman River, a tributary to the Yough?

“Don’t fish it. It’s terrible. There are no fish in it,” Lorson said.

Then he confessed.

He jokingly tells people that when they ask only because he lives close to the Casselman, fishes it often, and has found the fishing to be getting better all the time.

The river – at least in places – is supporting a growing smallmouth bass population, he said.

That’s not true throughout its length, he admitted. The stretch from Salisbury to Meyersdale has started to recover from past acid mine drainage pollution events, but not to the point he’d send anyone there to fish, Lorson said. The section from Meyersdale to Garrett is worse off yet.

But the 29 miles from Garrett to the river’s mouth at Confluence? That’s definitely worth casting a line.

“There are good numbers of fish over 12 inches throughout,” Lorson said. “There’s lots of water to fish. And lots of fish there.”

Dale Kotowski can attest to that. He guides fly-anglers on the Yough and Casselman alike. The latter gets a fraction of the pressure, yet holds nice fish, he said.

That wasn’t always the case. For a long while, the Casselman was known as a place where you could catch a fair number of smallmouths, but they’d all be short, Kotowski said.

Not anymore, though.

Kotowski said he’s caught smallmouths up to nearly 20 inches on the river. Fifteen inchers aren’t uncommon. And he’s seen fish up to 4 pounds taken.

His favorite way to get them is on a version of a hexagenia mayfly that’s more common to the Midwest.

“It seems that as you start to fish it early in the evening, you catch a lot of smaller fish. But as it gets darker, you catch bigger and bigger fish, and it’s all on dry flies. It’s just amazing,” Kotowski said.

Bait anglers take fish on minnows, nightcrawlers and crayfish. Spin anglers get their share on floating minnow plugs, crayfish-style plugs and soft plastics, and Senko-type baits.

Big fish still aren’t the norm necessarily, Lorson said. Most often, a day on the Casselman won’t rival a day on the Yough for big fish.

“But I’ve had 30- and 40- fish days,” Lorson said. “Most of those fish are going to be between 8 and 13 inches. But you can certainly count on catching some bigger ones.”

Located in southern Somerset County, the Casselman can be hard to access. There are bridge crossings at a handful of towns along the river: at Meyersdale, Garrett, Rockwood, Markleton, Fort Hill and Confluence, going downstream.

Kayakers and, to a lesser extent canoers, can float it at times, mostly in spring. Throughout summer and fall, the river is generally too shallow. Boaters can check the Casselman River Watershed Association’s Facebook page for details on floating the river.

The best, most reliable year-round access then is typically the Great Allegheny Passage, the rail trail that parallels the river. Flat, paved with crushed limestone, it’s a pathway to exploring. Lorson, Kotowski and others ride their bikes along the trail, stopping at likely-looking spots to fish.

The Great Allegheny Passage — on the web at — offers plenty of access points. Visitors to the website can find a map identifying them, along with information on amenities along the trail, things to pack on a trip and more.

Once on the trail, there’s one habitat type in particular worth stopping for, Lorson said.

“You have to find deep pools to get fish over 15 inches,” he said.

Getting from the trail to the water isn’t always easy. The bank is usually rocky, often marked by mountain laurel and rhododendron, and sometimes steep.

But making the effort to reach the water is worth it, Kotowski said. “It’s a first-class fishery, no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful river.”

Staff Report

Harrisburg — The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is calling on Pennsylvania and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to focus additional investments in five south-central counties to accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture.

The Bay Foundation analyzed federal agency data to identify these five priority counties that Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Blueprint is counting on to reduce the most agricultural pollution. Not surprisingly, the counties that emerged as top priorities also generate the most nitrogen pollution in the Susquehanna Basin.

“While other Bay states are making progress in achieving their Clean Water Blueprint pollution reduction goals, Pennsylvania is far behind in meeting its commitments,” said foundation President William Baker.

“By increasing efforts in these five counties and using the most effective conservation practices, the commonwealth can efficiently and cost effectively jumpstart its lagging cleanup efforts.”

The list is topped by Lancaster County, which is home to the most productive agricultural land in the commonwealth but also delivers by far the most nitrogen pollution from agriculture. Next are York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams.

These counties contribute more than 30 million pounds per year of nitrogen pollution from agriculture to the Chesapeake Bay annually.

“Pennsylvania has identified more than 1,400 miles of rivers and streams in these five priority counties as being damaged by agricultural pollution,” said the foundation’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.

“While efforts need to continue in all Pennsylvania watershed counties, by prioritizing new resources in these five counties the commonwealth can greatly accelerate its restoration efforts.”

The Bay Foundation is calling on federal partners, particularly USDA, to provide an initial, immediate commitment of $20 million in new restoration funds, with a particular focus on the priority counties. The group also urges state and local governments to provide additional outreach, technical assistance, and funding.

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