Fishing at the Schuylkill River (Tidal - South Street to Fairmount Dam)

Hello, Blog Readers!

Today I'm bringing you folks an introductory post on the tidal Schuylkill River -- specifically from the South Street section up to the Fairmount Dam. For a better reference, I've attached a map below:

A section of the Schuylkill River in the heart of Philadelphia. The dark lines represent the boundary conditions for this post. In other words, all fishes portrayed below were caught between the promenade on South Street (lower line) and the Fairmount Dam below the Art Museum of Philadelphia (upper line).

The Schuylkill River is one of the best and most convenient places to fish in Philadelphia: it not only offers a huge variety of fish throughout all the seasons of the year, but also incorporates a walking trail that is neatly conserved by the SRDC (Schuylkill River Development Corporation) and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The River itself is located in Center City, Philadelphia; and it can be easily accessed by public transportation or car.

A gorgeous photo of the Schuylkill Banks at night time.

Any local angler in Philadelphia will tell you that the Schuykill River is one of the best fishing spots around the area! As mentioned previously, it offers not only a great aquatic biodiversity, but also good fishing all year round. As proof of my words, you may click here to check the fishing section of the SRDC website.

If you checked it, you should be amazed by the number of Species that can be found in the River: "The tidal Schuylkill River is home to more than 40 species of fish". Throughout my stay in the city, I have heard many people say that this information is not true; not reliable. Well...over the years, I've gathered enough
data to prove that this sentence is very true, but also very tricky! I must say that this is a "tricky" sentence because it's usually misinterpreted: after all, not all 40 species of fish are found in one section of the River. 

Here are a couple samples of my fishing sessions in the tidal Schuylkill River:

I nice video portraying Multi-Species Fishing in the tidal Schuylkill River, in an urban environment.

Fishing for Channel Catfish and other Species of fish between Chestnut and South Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Fishing for Channel Catfish on the Schuylkill River. The video also features a clean and healthy Striped Bass from the Schuylkill! 

Over a period of four years, my friends and I have fished a great variety of fishes between South Street and the Fairmount Dam. Thus, I present to you below what we have gathered so far:

White Perch: They are present in the tidal Schuylkill River from early Spring until early Fall (as soon as water temperatures hit 50 degrees). They travel in schools, meaning that they will bite constantly as far as you find a school swimming around. Once the school passes, the bite dies. They can bite at any time of the day; however, day time is preferred. Nightcrawlers will work best.

September 15th, 2012 - White Perch caught on a piece of nightcrawler during day time.

August 13th, 2011 - White Perch caught on a piece of nightcrawler during night time.

September 2nd, 2012 - Triple White Perch caught on a homemade high-low fishing rig.

Yellow Perch: They can be fished at this portion of the River all year round, including the Winter months. As a matter of fact, the best months for them are actually January through March. They prefer sandy bottoms (i.e. between Locust and Market), and they are caught mostly around the bridges. The best baits for them  are nightcrawlers and small live minnows, both placed close to the bottom. The best is to use a rig that leaves your bait suspended a couple inches above the ground. Small suspended minnows are highly recommended.

September 15th, 2012 - Yellow Perch caught on a piece of nightcrawler.

April 8th, 2012 - Yellow Perch caught on a piece of nightcrawler, between Walnut and Locust Bridges.

American/Hickory/Gizzard Shad: There's a Shad run on the Schuylkill River during every Spring. Basically, they come from saltwater to spawn. April-May are the best months to catch the American/Hickory Shads on shad darts and spoons. There are also tons of Gizzard Shad around; however, they are filter-feeders. In other words, they will not bite on any bait (Note: Micro-fishing may work on them).

Once the Shad spawn (after the Shad run), little guys (2-5 inches) appear in this section of the river. They are usually seem by naked-eye, just beneath the surface of the water. People can look for them by watching the presence of soft ripples on top of the water. They are hardly caught on hook, but they will bite on nightcrawlers and bread. I don't really see the point in catching these small fellas; however, I can say that the key to hook Shad Fingerlings is to use very small hooks (size 16-18). Notice that it's a VERY smart idea to throw lures close to Shad schools in hopes of catching some Striped Bass.

August 13th, 2011 - An American Shad fingerling caught on a piece of nightcrawler.

May 18th, 2012 - Mike H. with an American Shad.

May 17th, 2013 - American Shad caught on a spoon (Johnson Minnow) at the Fairmount Dam. 

April 29th, 2013 - A Hickory Shad caught on a shad dart at the Fairmount Dam.

April 29th, 2013 - A Gizzard Shad caught at the Fairmount Dam.

Common Carp: In the tidal section of the River, they are mostly active during Spring time (once water temperatures hit 50F). Note that they can get extremely big in this portion of the Schuylkill River, some of them reaching the range of 30lbs+! From my experiences, their favorite food is kernel corn. Pre-chumming is definitely a pre-requisite for catching these beasts!

July 26th, 2011 - Common Carp caught on a piece of Kernel Corn.

September 16th, 2014 - Moni C. with a massive Common Carp from the tidal Schuylkill River.

May 18th, 2012 - Mike H. with a Common Carp caught on a crankbait (seriously).

Channel Catfish: This is the most common fish that a person will ever find in the Schuylkill River. In other words, the Channel Catfish is the dominant species in this portion of the River. They will eat almost anything when it comes down to baits. Peak times are early Summer and early Fall, but they can be caught at all times of the year. Use the D&D (Dawn and Dusk) rule to get better results.

February 17th, 2013 - Channel Catfish caught on a piece of American Eel.

June 23rd, 2013 - Ronald J. with a nice 5lbs+ Channel Catfish. It was caught under the Walnut Street Bridge.

January 14th, 2013 - Three Channel Catfish -- one caught after another. The bite was so good during that day that they were hitting my rods while I was unhooking their brothers. The fish above were all released safely.

November 7th, 2014 - Matt M. with a Channel Catfish, right next to the South Street Bridge.

As a bonus, here's a video of my friend Jay D. catching a Channel Catfish on a float rig. P.s.: They don't always bite on the bottom! :)

White Catfish: They are mostly in the Delaware River, but there are a few of them in the Schuylkill! Somehow, they are often mistaken to be Channel Cats. So, in order to properly identify them, keep in mind that (1) they don't get very big; (2) they have big heads and are in the Bullhead Catfish family (Ameiurus spp.); and (3) they have short bodies compared to their heads. Also, they will often swallow a hook if the angler is not fast on the hook-set!!! :)

June 16th, 2013 -- Here's my biggest White Catfish from the Schuylkill River: a 4lbs+. As a matter of fact, this fish was only a little bit shy of being a state record for the PA Ameiurus spp.. This fella was caught on a piece of cut Eel.

Here's a photo of the same fish. Notice the big wide head and the length of its body. 

Finally, here's the same fish in comparison to my pliers. The shape of the head is clearly different than a Channel's.

Flathead Catfish: Other than the Common Carp, these are the beasts of this River. They are not very abundant on the tidal portion of the River yet, probably because they prefer "calmer territories" (i.e. non-tidal portion of the Schuylkill River). They were first seen in the Schuylkill River through the Fairmount Fish Ladder Cam, back in 2002. As a matter of fact, they were considered to be an Invasive Species at the time. After a decade or so, they became a loved game-fish by most of the local fishing community. On the tidal Schuylkill River, they bite better after rainy days, when the river is turbulent and murky. A big piece of cutbait or a whole live fish will do the job!

August 8th, 2011 - Flathead Catfish caught on a piece of American Eel.

June 23rd, 2013 -- My friend Kevin W. with his smallest Flathead Catfish of all times. That is to show how greedy this type of fish can be: Kevin only uses BIG hooks and bait for his fishes (usually 5/0+ hooks with live fish)

May 12th, 2012 - Mike H. with a Flathead Catfish caught at the Fairmount Dam.

Striped Bass: The big ones can be caught during the Spring run, when they come from the Jersey shore to spawn. They will bite mainly on pieces of shrimp, Shad and Herring (which are now illegal to use), clams, and different types of artificial lures (i.e. Bombers, bucktails, etc). There are smaller Stripes Bass up to 5lbs -- those are the ones that have adapted to fresh water and are around all year!

September 9th, 2012 -- My friend Linda Z. with a Striped Bass, caught on between Locust and Walnut.

April 28th, 2015 - A small Striped Bass caught on a piece of bloodworm around Spring Garden.

July 26th, 2012 -- My friend Jay D. cast a spinner right behind a school of American Shad fingerlings, and bang!! Striped Bass came up. :)

December 2nd, 2011 - Mike H. with a nice Striped Bass caught at the Fairmount Dam.

September 22nd, 2012 - My friend Chris E. with a nice Striped Bass from the Schuylkill River.

Hybrid Striped Bass: The Hybrids stay all year long at the Fairmount Dam portion of the tidal Schuylkill River. They are not a natural occurrence and they were released by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, back in the 1900's. As a matter of fact, they were part of a cross breed program between the Striped Bass and the White Bass (Morone saxatilis X Morone chrysops). I've seen people catch them with all different types of lures -- from top water (popper) to mid-water (bucktail) to bottom ones (Zoom fluke on jig). After dusk is usually best for them.

December 2nd, 2011 - Mike H. with a nice Hybrid Bass.

May 7th, 2013 -- Chris E. with a nice sized Hybrid Bass from the Schuylkill River.

Bluegill: The Bluegills are along the walls of the Banks during the beginning of the Spring until the end of Fall. If you have kids and you want to bring them out for some outdoor activities, give them a rod and some nightcrawlers! The Bluegill can be fished with a small hook and they can even be seen under the top of the water during Summer time! Suspending your bait usually works best. During Fall, the big ones can be caught in the middle of the River, on the bottom (6 inches+).

August 13th, 2011 -- A nice sized Bluegill. It was caught on a piece of nightcrawler between Walnut and Chestnut bridges.

May 19th, 2013 -- A Bluegill decided to bite on my "1/64oz. jig+Gulp! Minnow" float rig. This fella was caught at the Fairmount Dam.

Pumpkinseed: The Pumpkinseed behave just like the Bluegills. Suspending a piece of nightcrawler along the wall is the best place to target them, and kids will love its colors. Notice that the best time to fish for them (and other Species that live along the wall) is during the day and when the tide is either going out or coming in (in other words, not during slack tide). Also, you may want to fish for them around the bridges.

August 11th, 2011 -- A Pumpkinseed with faded colors. It was caught between Locust and Walnut streets. 

September 12th, 2012 -- I caught this beautiful Pumpkinseed right along the wall, on a piece of nightcrawler.

Smallmouth Bass: The small ones tag along the walls after spawning season, just like the Sunfish (Lepomis spp.). Spinners and crankbaits will work best. Soft plastics will work as well (i.e. jigs, senkos, etc). Bigger ones are closer to the Fairmount Dam. The Smallmouth Bass population in the River has been decreasing along the years; therefore, nowadays, it's quite rare to see one of them coming out of this portion of the Schuylkill...

May 13th, 2013 -- An average sized Smallmouth Bass from the Schuylkill River. This particular one was caught at the Fairmount Dam on a whacky-rigged Senko.

March 16th, 2012 -- My friend Mike H. with a nice Skuke Smallie.

May 21st, 2012 -- My dad with a smaller Smallmouth Bass. This one was also caught at the Fairmount Dam.

Largemouth Bass: The Largemouth Bass population in the Schuylkill River is more common after the Spring Garden bridge. In other words, they are more abundant around the Fairmount Dam and the Fisherman Statue. Their numbers are still low compared to the Catfish and Carp population; however, they are still more abundant than the Smallmouth Bass. Artificial lures work best for them: jigs with trailers, Senkos and other soft plastics, jerkbaits and crankbaits, etc.

June 1st, 2013 -- This fella is my only ever Largemouth Bass between Locust and Market streets. In other words, this is to show that they are definitely more abundant after the Spring Garden bridge on the Schuylkill River.

May 9th, 2013 -- Up to date (2015), this is my biggest Largemouth Bass from the Schuylkill River, approaching the 4lbs range. This photo makes no justice, unfortunately. It was caught at the Fairmount Dam on a whacky-rigged Senko.

October 4th, 2013 -- I caught this Largemouth close to the Spring Garden Bridge, under the shades of a big tree. Beautiful background, eh? Always nice to be outdoors. :)

American Eel: They are active in the River mostly at night time or after rain. Most anglers don't like catching them because they are theoretically the "knot masters." They are slimy, very flexible, and they tend to swallow the hook and tangle your lines! Thus; not an angler's favorite target. On the other hand, they can be used in the Schuylkill as bait, and it turns out that they are awesome for bait.

August 4th, 2012 -- This one is probably one of my bigger American Eels from the Schuylkill River. It ended up swallowing the hook; however, I still released it.

July 20th, 2012 -- Here we have my friend Stephen OT with a prime example of American Eel damage. Heh. Notice all the slime and knots on the rig. Absurdly tough to undo that...

July 13th, 2013 -- Another nice American Eel from the Schuylkill River.

Spot Croaker: They migrate to the Schuylkill River during September, and they spend very little time there. In other words, the window for catching them is very short; therefore, not many anglers realize that they are even present there at a certain time of the year. Nightcrawlers on the bottom work best. Make sure you use a small hook for them!

September 15th, 2012 -- A Spot Croaker from the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, PA! Yes -- as hard as it's to believe, this saltwater fish can be found in the Schuylkill River around September of every year. Not only that, the water quality is actually good enough for them to be around.

September 15th, 2012 -- This is about the maximum size for them in the Schuylkill River: 6 inches. Still, it's a joy to catch them so far away from the Jersey shore. Heh.

Mosquitofish: This Species of fish is seriously everywhere around Philly, including the tidal Schuylkill River! Unfortunately, I wasn't really into Micro-Fishing when I first spotted them swimming around; therefore, I have never pulled a Mosquitofish from the Schuylkill River. However, if you are interested in Micro-Fishing, look for them around rocky areas and under the shadows of the bridges. You will very likely find them during slack tide. By the favorite hook for Micro-Fishing is the Daiichi, size #26. I highly recommend it!

July 20th, 2012 -- I captured this magnified photo of a small school of Mosquitofish swimming around the Walnut Street Bridge.

Walleye: Once the weather starts to get chilly and water temperatures start to drop, it's time for some "Walleying" on the tidal Schuylkill. If you can stand the cold, then you are good to go. Heh. The best time of the year to target them is November--January. It's recommended to fish for them from Dusk to Dawn. Anything that resembles a fish works; however, I had better success with Zoom Flukes on heavy jigs.

December 6th, 2011 -- My first ever Walleye from the Schuylkill River. Not very big, but a nice fish regardless! It was caught at the Fairmount Dam on a 1/2oz. jig+white Zoom fluke setup.

December 5th, 2011 -- Here's my friend Rob Z. with his shiny-eyed Walleye. Heh. Nice catch, Rob! This one is for the old days.

May 15th, 2014 -- This fish was certainly an anomaly, but very welcomed! My father caught this Walleye during day time, on a live American Eel. The fish was caught between the Chestnut and Walnut bridges. Way to go, Dad!

Northern Snakehead: Yes -- they already made their way to the Schuylkill River! The Channa argus -- an invasive Species of fish in Philadelphia -- was once found only in Meadow Lake (South Philly). Nowadays, they can be found in the Delaware River and its tributaries, which includes the Schuylkill River, Darby Creek at Tinicum (John Heinz), etc. Their numbers in the Schuylkill River are still low, but we should expect them to rise! Anything that resembles a fish should work. Top waters work as well!

July 3rd, 2012 -- My friend Mike H. holding a Schuylkill Northern Snakehead!

As a bonus, here's a video of my friend Mike H. catching some Striped Bass AND snagging a Northern Snakehead at the end of the video. Enjoy!

Alright. Now that I went through the "common" Species of fish in the tidal Schuylkill, here's the section of the rare catches. And by rare catches, I mean a "once in a life time" type of catch! Enjoy:

Needlefish: Believe it or not, there are Atlantic Needlefish in the Schuylkill River! They are rare; however, they are present around the Fairmount Dam area. Often, I've seen them swimming close to the water surface. My friend Mike H.  -- a.k.a. Snag King -- even accidentally snagged one of them! He usually does the impossible, seriously... 

May 12th, 2012 -- My friend Mike H. snagged a Needlefish at the Fairmount Dam. How exactly does a person snag a fish of this shape? Don't ask me...Lol.

Rock Bass: They are super rare in the tidal Schuylkill River! Therefore, if you catch one, consider yourself lucky. They will bite mainly on nightcrawlers. The problem lies in finding them - it seems that their numbers are very very limited in the tidal Schuylkill River.

September 7th, 2012 -- My friend Jay D. caught a nice Rock Bass during the FishAThon 2012. That was certainly our rare catch for the night. The fish bit on a suspending nightcrawler.

May 17th, 2013 -- This is my one and only Rock Bass from the Schuylkill River. It was caught on the West side of the Fairmount Dam, among the rocky area.

Brook Trout: Remember that incredible catch that you had somewhen in your life? Well...if you catch a Brook Trout in the tidal Schuylkill River, that will certainly be an incredible catch. There have been only a couple occurrences of Brook Trout in the tidal Schuylkill River, and it's known that they are very very rare! Therefore, don't ever expect to catch one of these; however, the chances of catching one aren't zero!
April 2nd, 2012 -- My friend Mike H. strikes again. This time, he caught a NICE Brook Trout on a soft plastic. Amazing, isn't it? What a beauty...
Eastern Silvery Minnow: They travel in schools, and they are pretty hard to find in the tidal portion of the River. I found them to be present during the months of January-March, between Locust and Market brisged. I would recommend a small piece of nightcrawler on a very small hook (size #12+).

March 10th, 2013 -- My first ever Eastern Silvery Minnow, and I was very very surprised that they were present in the River at that time of the year.

These alone are already 24 species of fish that can be found in one section of the river (South street to Fairmount Dam), at different seasons of the year. Of course most of the Species of fish portrayed here are the only ones that my friends and I have personally caught. In other words, it's certain that there are other Species of fish in the Pennypack Creek watershed! It's during moments like these that I like to quote Robert Altman: "You put that line in the water and you don't know what's on the other end. Your imagination is under there."

As an example, here's an article of a Shortnose Sturgeon that was caught in the tidal Schuylkill River. Also, there are Black Crappie in the tidal Schuylkill River; however, it just happens that I have never attempted for them. I did see plenty of people catching Crappies around the Fairmount Dam! 

As an another example, here's the photo of a rare Spotted Muskellunge from the Schuylkill River:

Note: for the person in this photo: I remember getting the photo, but I don't remember your name! If you want your name here, please send me an e-mail! I can send you the photo as well.

Blog Reader CJ with a White Sucker from the Schuylkill River:

This fish was actually caught on a piece of chicken, right next to the Fisherman Statue!

Former local Philly angler Aki M. with a Tiger Muskellunge from the tidal Schuylkill River:

So, there ya go -- plenty of Species left for us to catch! Heh.

I hope you folks enjoyed this introductory post, and I hope you catch A LOT if you decide to fish the Tidal Schuylkill River one of these days! However, please keep in mind that conscious fishing always boils down to S.A.F.E. angling! In order to maintain the sustainability of our waters for ourselves and for future generations to come, please practice Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) and selective-harvest (i.e. take only what you need and what you will consume; release endangered, spawning, and rare Species of fish), Also, please avoid practicing non-point source pollution (i.e. littering)! 

Stay tuned for the next update. =)

Best of luck for all of us!

Long days and pleasant nights,


Leo S.