Who here fishes for these? They're the big (roes 4.5-6 lb. & bucks 2-3 lb. typically) ones that run up our southeastern seaboard rivers in early spring. Some say they're "gamy" tasting and oily, but they're darn good, and the roe is a real Southern delicacy when scrambled up with some regular chicken eggs. Some like them just fried like the fish. A fish fry here in the Southland is a sacrament, and if you've never been to one, you've missed a real pleasure.
Anyway, I've fished for them for over 50 years now, and for many years, the chief producer was a bait called the "Cripple Shrimp (CS)." It was made by a disabled vet, and was all he had to supplement his pension with, IIRC (or so the story went), and it was just a #1 salt water tinned type like the Mustad 3407. On this he threaded a bead head of close to 1/4" or so, and a small and proportional bullet shaped oval inline spinner body as a thorax. The tail was yellow hair. Before that, the Barracuda spoon was the order of the day, but it wiggled so much they'd often get the hook in the outer parts of their very soft mouths, and it was near impossible to get them to the boat, what with their strength and all, if you "horsed" them any at all, and sometimes, even if you didn't. The CS tended to hook them much better, and the hook rode point up, and got them deeper, in the harder roof of their mouths. This helped a great deal in keeping them pinned to your line and even let you "horse" them at least a little ... at least sometimes.
Then that old disabled vet alegedly died, and there were no more CS to buy. People went back to the Barracuda spoon, and tried all manner of colorful little jigs, mostly crappie types. They caught fish, but that larger wire hook of the old CS held them MUCH better than the little Aberdeens of the little crappie type jigs, and shad darts. Nobody was quite satisfied, and some just quit fishing for them. That's when I read an article in F&S by Larry Green, a west coast angler who loved to fish for steelhead. Among the flies he used for them was the Comet pattern. A simple deal with bead chain eyes, floss or tinsel body, and a tail and hackle collar. It dawned on me that if I tied one without the collar of hackle, it just MIGHT look at least a little like that old CS bait. Dad was an old Marine, and liked to do things "by the book" in the prescribed manner, but his lack of encouragement didn't deter me. I got some of Mom's red sewing thread, found some mylar piping in the 5 & dime, and some sort of yellow feathers. Found some largish bead chain, and found some hooks of about size 1, IIRC, they were O'Shaunessy's??? Anyway, I put my first one together and tried it the first chance I got. I had several tied up, using only my hands back then because I didn't even have a vise, or much of anything else to work with. Only had those few flies, and I tied one on. Dad wasn't complimentary and asked why I didn't use the then prescribed bait. I told him I just wanted to try something different, since I hadn't heard of anyone quite raving over the little jigs' effectiveness. He let me, and BANG! Not long afterward, I got a hit - a big roe. Got that one in and BANG! Got another not long after. Dad hadn't had a nibble, and was starting to pay attention. It took a while for the 3rd one to hit,but it did, and when I got that one to the boat, Dad said, "Gimme one'a them dang flies, boy! I'm tired of not gettin' bit!" Now THAT was about as close to great praise as Dad ever got, so I was truly satisfied and proud, and he told lots of folks about that day and how I'd "beaten" him with "some danged little feathery fly that he tied up himself." That kinda' talk is good for a young man's ego, folks! And I've been tying that fly, and variations on it for nearly 50 years now, maybe slightly more.
It's about as simple as a pattern can be, but from the experience I've had, it does seem to call for some specific requirements for best results. My experience indicated that they'll hit a nickel or gold hook significantly better than a bronze one. Why? Heck if I know! If I could figure that out, I'd be able to figure women out, and that just ain't in the cards either! Anyway, I've come to use the Eagle Claw 455, a cheap (always good) spinnerbait hook in sizes 1, 2 and 4. Have some 6's, but have never gone down that small. The deeper gap of the bigger sizes penetrates deeper and helps keep them pinned to your line MUCH better. No joke. The 455's heavier wire also helps keep it from pulling out or through, and everything you can get on your side when trying to keep shad on your line is a big plus. If the bead chain eyes are big enough, or if you have a bent down eye hook, the bait will ride point up, and being light, it'll be sucked further back into their mouths when they hit, and that will help hook them in the tougher cartilege of their mouths, and with the bigger hook there, you're very likely to get them to the boat. I've found that bead chain eyes of 3/16" dia. will make even the #1 hooks turn over and ride point up, but sometimes, I had to turn the eyes down to get them to do so reliably and consistently, and they're not very good hookers if they don't.
The tail was almost always yellow. Marabou, feather fibers or hair didn't seem to matter much, though I always liked the wiggliness of the marabout best, when I could get it. Silver mylar tubing and red thread to tie off the front and rear of the fly, and some of Mom's clear fingernail polish to finish it, and I was loaded for bear .... errr ... for shad at least. Since those great old days, I've varied the body and tail materials and colors, mostly white, yellow, chart. or fl. yellow, often with pearl if I could get it. Tried tying in a "collar" of chenile or other stuff behind the bc eyes. Tried it with the original Comet collar of hackle of various colors, and with Krystal Flash "legs" or wings (they're legs when the fly turns over in the water to ride point up) and almost every variation caught fish, at least of the ones I got tot try. Gave many to friends, and they still come to me when they run out and I give them more.
I have no earthly idea if it's the "best" shad fly out there, but if it isn't, I haven't found its equal yet .... though I keep looking. My most recent variation is using opalescent tubing for the body and some krystal flash for tail and legs. They look really good, but I'm not sure I'll get to try them this season. I'll be giving some to friends and relatives to try out, though. Frankly, I don't expect much difference in the fish's reactions, based on all the stuff I've tried in the past, but they sure do "purdy" as Justin Wilson used to say.
If you try the shad, you may want to tie some up and give them a try. I know there's probably something better out there somewhere. I just wish I could find it. FWIW?