LEWISBURG, Pa. — Josh Chrenko owns a brand of smallmouth bass gear, so it figures he would target brown fish when competing on one of America’s most-storied smallmouth rivers.
Chrenko, of Greenwood, Ind., measured five smallies totaling 96.25 inches Saturday on the Susquehanna River to take the Day 1 lead in the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX.
Chrenko measured a pair of bass that went 19.25 inches to go with singles of 19.75, 19.5 and 18.5 inches. It was enough to give him a slender 1/2-inch lead over local stalwart Jordan Welliver, who is in second place with five bass measuring 95.75. Welliver’s big bass stretched exactly 20 inches, as did that of third-place angler Mark Edwards, of West Virginia, who had a limit measuring 95 inches.
Rounding out the Top 5 in this two-day tournament are Pennsylvania’s Nick Audi, 94.25 inches, and current Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year leader RusSnyders, 94 inches.
A total of 146 anglers from across the U.S. are competing here on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, which eventually joins with the main flow and empties into the Chesapeake Bay between Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore, Md. The upper reaches of the river are considered havens for chunky smallmouth, which were expected to be chasing forage through the relatively shallow and clear Susquehanna.
That’s exactly what Chrenko, 38, found. He only had a dozen bites on Saturday, but they were feisty fish, much like his Achigan brand signifies.
“Achigan translates to ‘one which fights’ in Algonquin,” he said. “And I had some jumpers today just like every other time I’ve been out here.
“I really think this is the best smallmouth river not named St. Lawrence.”
Chrenko didn’t say much about which lures he’s using on the Susquehanna, but he noted the river is fully transitioning to a fall pattern. He indicated the smallies he boated were chasing bait, perhaps before a cold front expected to move through the area Saturday evening.
“The river was getting muddy as I was leaving and it’s supposed to be colder overnight and tomorrow,” he said. “That could churn things up some, but my fish will be there.”
Welliver, 27, lives about 45 minutes from Lewisburg and is intimately familiar with this stretch of the Susquehanna. He said knowing a fishery can be an advantage, but it also can cause anglers to overthink. He doesn’t plan on letting that happen on Sunday.
“No matter what happens with the cold front moving through, I’m 100% sticking with what I‘m doing,” he said. “I’m not chasing bait. I’m just waiting on bass to chase bait to where I am.”
The Susquehanna event is the final Bassmaster Kayak Series event of the 2023 season, with the Top 15 anglers splitting a $30,200 cash purse on Sunday. The angler who lands the longestbass in the derby will collect $500. Jeffrey Rabbitt, of Finleyville, Pa., grabbed the early lead in that race with the 21.25-inch bass he measured on Day 1.
The winner of the coveted 2023 Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year Award will be announced Sunday, as well, and so will the final berths in the 2024 Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship powered by TourneyX.
The championship will be held March 20-21 on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller, in conjunction with the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, which is scheduled for March 22-24 in Tulsa.
The second and final day on the Susquehanna begins Sunday with a 6 a.m. ET launch, and fishing can begin at 6:30. Fans can follow the action on Bassmaster.com throughout the day. Lines must be out of the water at 3:30 p.m. and a live awards ceremony will stream on the Bassmaster YouTube channel at 5:30.
The tournament is being hosted by the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau.