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Flies for catching the big American Shad?


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#1 Blackwater Virgil

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 06:05 PM

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?



#2 Fisherboy0301

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 07:00 PM

Do you have any tips for fly fishing for them from shore? Don't have a boat... Lol
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#3 tidewaterfly

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 08:20 PM

Virgil, that's a great story! I've fished for them many times, and for the smaller Hickory Shad which show our in our rivers first. My first remembrance of seeing a Shad fly was likely one that C. Boyd Pfeiffer had tied that was tied with a sparse tail of what may have been calftail, a body of silver mylar tubing & a somewhat over sized red thread head. That style of fly is still popular here.

 

I'm not sure if he weighted it or not, but likely was & with lead wire along the shank. Since that time I've tied many type of flies for Shad, including variations on the Comet. I've also found that gold or nickel plated hooks often produced better than those with other finishes, but not always. 

 

I've read that here in MD, bright orange has been popular for both flies & jigs, and the older Huntington Drone & Tony Accetta spoons in the smaller sizes were very popular for Shad. 

 

Most Shad flies I've tied have been on stout size 4 or 6 hooks, with the smaller ones being used primarily to target the Hickories. I have caught the larger shad on bigger lures, but usually while fishing for other species. Last spring my one son & I caught them on small safety pin type spinners with 2" curltail grubs attached while fishing for Crappies & Perch. We had a blast!

 

We can no longer keep Shad here, so any that are caught have to be released. When we could keep them, they would usually be stuffed with crab or covered in bacon & baked in the oven. I agree with you about the roe being excellent too. 



#4 utyer

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 09:34 PM

I haven't fished for them that much, but they will hit small pink and chartreuse flies tied with crystal chenille bodies and marabou tails.  They will also hit fresh water shrimp patterns.  They will do some feeding, at least they do down here. When they are rolling and jumping during spawning, they can be caught on unweighted flies stripped through the pods. 

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#5 Philly

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 10:50 PM

  I tie them on Aberdeen light wire crappie hooks. That way when I get hung up on the bottom, I might get my fly back.   Colors to match the jigs the spin fishers are using.  Flashy tail, sparkle chenille or estaz body, red bucktail wing, weighted with silver or gold dumbbell eyes, tied in on the top of the shank so the fly rides hook point up.  Body colors..white, yellow, chartreuse, pink, sometimes silver or gold.

 Fisherboy0301, fishing from shore can be a pain.  Shad tend to swim up the channels in the river, resting in pools.  If you can reach a channel from shore, and then keep the fly bouncing on the bottom you might catch one.  I fished the middle Delaware River around and above New Hope/Lamberville below the wing dams, never did catch a shad there, bass, small stripers, perch.  Then I did a couple of trips to the Upper Delaware, East Branch to be exact, where you could wade without dropping into a channel.  We would cast upstream, using a 10 foot leader, let the fly drift downstream and just let it hang in the current.  Picked up a couple that way along with a lot of fallfish and one trout. Or a place like the Susquehanna Flats which is closer to me than the Upper Delaware.  If you do try to wade be careful and aware of the area you're wading. A guy I knew many years ago, stepped into the channel and didn't survive.


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#6 mikechell

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 11:06 PM

Blackwater ... do you have any pictures of your fly?

 

I've heard so much about the Shad ... but only caught a few when fishing for bream with a 1 inch Rapala many years ago.

I've heard they love shiny things ... which is why a revived and upgraded an old fly from way back.

 

I called mine the Soda Can minnow.

 

The Shad didn't run while I was home ... weather stayed too warm.  So I don't know if they'll be effective or not.


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#7 utyer

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 11:45 PM

Mike, If your still in FL now the Shad are running.


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#8 mikechell

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:28 AM

I will be coming home tomorrow night.  I'll be home for a  week before returning to hell this frozen place.

 

I hope to get out there Sunday ... maybe Monday.

 

Thanks for the heads up!


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#9 sandflyx

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 01:41 PM

 I wrote an article on fly fishing for shad on the Delaware;

 

 

 

http://www.bigmeadow...lawareRiver.pdf


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#10 JayWirth

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:12 PM

Shad dart jig 1/4 1/8 1/32 white with a red tip and red calf tail, yellow with red tip and yellow calf tail. Though I never tried to catch one on a fly I would try a bucktail streamer of similar basic colors


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#11 Blackwater Virgil

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:29 PM

Sandflyx, that was a good article, and pretty much mirrors my own experience, except that I prefer to use larger hooks than most I read about.  Maybe that's due to the difference in the rivers we take them from?  Here, you HAVE to keep them under more control than would be necessary in a wider, more open river setting.  It sure gets exciting, though, as a result.  You never know if you're going to get one to the boat or not.  In my experience, many we release don't seem to live long, so we keep them and eat them and the roe.  One of the more exciting experiences is when, in ou rlittle river that's often if not typically less than 50 ft. wide, a big striper chases a shad to the surface and hits it with a big splash and crash.  VERY moving!  Never got a striper to bite after eating a shad, though, but you know we have to try, when we can.  

 

Tidewaterfly, those recipes sound GOOOOODDDD!!!  I may have to try one.  Shad have a rather strong taste compared to our common fare in this area, unless you go to the salt, and most folks are happy with one or two "messes" a year, but surely love those annual feasts.  TAHNKS!  I've occasionally wondered about just such combinations, but have never gotten my round tuit to try them.  Your temptation makes it more likely.  

 

Fisherboy, I've never fished for them from shore, but I don't see any reason they wouldn't hit from there.  If limited to that, I think I'd most likely try an area, if you can find one (and it's probable you can) where you have a relatively shallow spot for wading, with a channel of somewhat deeper water to cast to.  The wading would give you a backcast - not much room on the 'Geech' for that, with its banks lined with all manner of brush and stuff.  From what I've seen and have guessed, the majority of shad will tend to follow the deeper channels, even if it's only one foot deeper than the rest.  They can show up anywhere, though, and from what I've seen, they're one of the most unpredictable fish I've ever dealt with.  That frustration just focuses me on them more, though.  They're certainly a challenge for anybody and everybody I've ever met, and most folks locally just tend to wait them out.  Sooner or later, they usually start biting, and whatever  the signal for that is, I've never discovered it.  When they start, it's always a surprise, and a very welcome one too.  I guess that's why they call it "fishing" instead of "catching?"  ;^)  Oh, and BTW, if you ever happen to get a chance to go to the Lock and Dam up below Augusta, give it a try.  The shad stack up like chord wood below it, and many people love to fish there.  I've only been once.  Too much in love with the Ogeechee, I guess?  Anyway, that turned out to be the very WORST shad fishing experience of my life.  Took a buddy from Ohio and one from Brunswick, and on that particular day, they just absolutely and consistently refused to even think about hitting anything.  We didn't even get a bump.  Now my buddies are soured on shad fishing, and I can't ge them back for a 2nd try.  Truly, Mr. Murphy's Law applies to shad fishing, and I suspect particularly so.  They're a very moody and unpredictable quarry.  I guess that's part of the attraction, though, not unlike our attraction to women?  (my apologies in advance again to any women here)  The only thing I can tell you for sure, is that if you don't give it a try, that's the only way to guarantee you won't catch any.  I've seen them caught by all manner of methods, and the rule of thumb for us all, and particularly the young among us who we too used to be like, and labor against the odds with what we have to work with, is just to go try it.  Send me your snail mail address and I'll send you some of my flies, just to be sure you're using something that's known to get them now and again.  This little tidbit of advice is a lot like the old question, "When's the best time to go fishing?"  The answer of course, is "Whenever you get the chance to go!"  Mr. Murphy's Law, being what it is, means that if you wait until you hear they're biting, you'll likely hear "You should have been here yesterday!"  NOT something that's pleasurable to hear.  So just go when you can and do what I used to do, and just experiment, observe the results, and modify your techniques accordingly.  Much about catching fish is just about merely really WANTING to catch them.  Given time, observation and evaluation, it's just human to find a way to succeed, no matter what the conditions, lackings or problems involved.  Simple desire overcomes just about anything in my experience.  If I could, I'd come up and try to show you around, or at least what I know, but the surgery is limiting me in all sorts of ways.  Hopefully, Monday I'll do well, and recuperate ASAP.  I'm sure as heck tired of not being able to get "out there!"  So, compared to me right now, you're lucky!  Never forget that.  I suspect we're going to have to get together at some point this summer, and compare notes and  give those fish a try.  I surely hope so.

 

Anybody who can figure these fish out could also probably understand women (apologies to any who read this), and for me at lest, this ain't likely! But, that's part, at least of what keeps it intriguing.  I've always been a sucker for a good mystery.   

 

One other thing, here in my area, "shad season" usually runs from the last wk. of Jan. to the end of March, so it's basically a month long season.  Around April Fool's Day, we start seeing the dead and dying carcasses floating down river after the spawn.  In most of the other stories I read about shad, or what there is of them in the magazines, most rivers run later than that, but we're down in deep southern Ga., and that seems logical due to the temp differences as one goes north.  

 

They're an amazing and sometimes frustrating fish, and a worthy quarry for any fisherman.  I love 'em.



#12 Blackwater Virgil

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:30 PM

Oh!  l



#13 Blackwater Virgil

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:32 PM

Oh!  Almost forgot!  I've been trying to learn to post pics.  Have the camera charging and will post a few pics ASAP.  They're not nearly as nicely tied as many I see here, but they've worked in spite of that.  I've resisted learning how to do this long enough, so .... give me a day or two and I'll try to get them here.  



#14 Blackwater Virgil

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Posted 20 February 2015 - 03:31 PM

Fisherboy, I'm out of the hospital now and back home recuperating, so I've got the time now to try and give you some info on how to catch shad with or without a boat.  My season's shot now, but maybe I can at least help you catch some?  

 

The first thing you have to know about shad are that they're "anadramous."  That's just a 50 cent word meaning they are born in fresh water rivers, migrate to the ocean where they live out most of their lives, and then, when the urge to spawn hits them, they return to the fresh water rivers.  Some say they come back to the very same rivers that gave birth to them, and that they can tell by "smell."  I'm not sure of all that, but they surely do come up the rivers in early spring on their final run to spawn, after which they die.  There's something gallant, in my mind at least, about their spawning runs ending up in thier deaths.  They give it all to keep the species alive.  Not unlike what Christ did for us.  Anyway, it's easy for me to imagine their constant state of swinging emotions along their way.  They tend to like currrents, it seems, and often will follow the deep side of any channels you can find.  Here is where they can often be tempted to hit a bait.  The outsides of bends in the river usually wash out deeper than the insides of the curves, so that's often where you'll find them.  Like most things having to do with shad, however, this isn't always true.  If you don't get bit on one side of the river, try the other.  That's how we learn, ya' know?  Experience is always the best teacher, and sometimes this means you HAVE to try something that, at the moment anyway, seems counterintuitive.  Certain spots seem to do very well year after year, and I think these are often just upstream from areas where they congregate.  They will, sometimes during their journey, seem to "school up" in what is often large holes that may not be much deeper than the surrounding areas, but being large holes, they simply ALLOW them the room to school up, and it seems they like to do this occasionally on their migration runs upriver.  When they're just aggregating like this, they don't seem to hit baits very well, other than maybe to occasionally bump them with their noses or tails, and that's no way to catch one.  However, when  you find one of these places, there'll often be a point a bit upstream, like maybe 50-100 yds. up from the congregating hole, where they'll resume their upstream search, and this is when they seem to begin to resume "feeding" on our baits.  The Ogeechee is a pretty hazardous place to try to wade, and I'd be very leery of it unless I could find a good place to do it, and I'm not that familiar with your section of it so can't offer any suggestions.  I will say this, however:  DO be VERY respectful of its currents.  This time of year, they're usually at or near the top of their power, and you CAN, I guarantee you, get swept downstream and under some of the brush.  If that happens, it's very unlikely that you'll ever get another breath of air.  It's how many die in the Ogeechee - getting swept up under the overhanging brush that lines its banks.  If you can find a spot that's not much over knee deep, with a deeper channel that offers room for your back casts, this is the ONLY places I'd try it.  Respect the river.  Those wno don't sometimes don't live to get old!  

 

On the other hand, if you can find an old canoe, or maybe even a kayak that you can swing into play, you'll have all you really need to catch plenty of shad.  Just take what you know and apply it.  Don't be afraid to retie to a different spot on a limb.  Sometimes one foot makes all the difference in whether you get bit or not, and the only way to really find the best tie up spot is to try a number of them and see what happens.  Shad fishing is an adventure, NOT a destination, and it'll progress from wherever you start and continue for the rest of your life.  Towards the end of it, you'll probably realize that you don't really know much more than you did at first, but you'll have a lot more experience to draw on from which to make your best guesses as to what you need to do on any given day.  And it's THEN that you'll finally realize that if you COULD figure them out better, they wouldn't be nearly as attractive to you as they are already.  It's funny how that works, but it's true.  I think a lot of fishing is like that, though, if we can just be honest about it.  

 

Fish just don't have big brains with which to make their decisions.  It's always much simpler and more elemental for them than we often tend to think.  The less we anthromorphize them, and try to make them into calculating quarry, the less we understand them, and often, the less we catch of them.  Just keep it simple and elemental, and you'll get your share, and maybe then some.  Sure hope you get to have one bend your rod this year, but even if not this year, maybe next.  Shad fishing is like that for a lot of us sometimes.  My season was jinxed this year by the surgery, etc., but I'll be back, Good Lord willing, and THEN I will REALLY appreciate the experience.  If it's the same for you, I certainly won't be crying for you.  I'll be glad you're getting into it, and overcoming challenges along the way.  Everything we want in life is a challenge.  I wanted to get rid of the debilitating back pain, and have to pay the price for that, and take the risks involved.  It'll be the same for you every step along the way of your life, so just get in there and start thinking, planning and looking for opportunities, chiefly some sort of boat you can paddle at first.  That current makes paddling a jon boat a real challenge and it ain't fun, so I'd look for a canoe or kayak.  MUCH more efficient paddle boats, but as always, they have their dangers, and RESPECT that river or it CAN get you, permanently!  It's learning how to handle its dangers and twists that it throws at you that makes a real river rat, and that ain't no small thing.  You seem to be coming along very well.  You have the desire and curiosity and inclination.  All you need now is opportunity and a little equipment, and some foreknowledge about the dangers involved, and how to handle them, and especially how to avoid them.  I think you're gonna' do very well, given only a little time.  I wish you all good luck.



#15 mikechell

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Posted 20 February 2015 - 04:35 PM

(1) ... I'm out of the hospital now and back home recuperating ...

 

(2)   Some say they come back to the very same rivers that gave birth to them, and that they can tell by "smell."  I'm not sure of all that, but they surely do come up the rivers in early spring on their final run to spawn, after which they die.  

 

(3)   There's something gallant, in my mind at least, about their spawning runs ending up in thier deaths.  They give it all to keep the species alive.  

 

(4)   Anyway, it's easy for me to imagine their constant state of swinging emotions along their way.  

 

(5)   They will, sometimes during their journey, seem to "school up" in what is often large holes that may not be much deeper than the surrounding areas, but being large holes, they simply ALLOW them the room to school up, and it seems they like to do this occasionally on their migration runs upriver.  

 

(6)   Fish just don't have big brains with which to make their decisions.  It's always much simpler and more elemental for them than we often tend to think.  The less we anthromorphize them, and try to make them into calculating quarry, the less we understand them, and often, the less we catch of them.  

 

(1)  Glad to see you are doing okay.  Keep up the work and you'll be up and around just like new.

 

(2)  Radio tracking and genetic studies have proven that they do, indeed travel back to their origins.  But I also agree with you ... very likely, more than a few swim up whatever fresh water flow they get to first.  I would think there's some genetic crossover from one batch to the next, or there'd be a much wider range of evolutionary changes among the anadromous species.

 

Number (6) is exactly what you're doing on numbers (3) and (4) ... and a little bit on (5).  They don't really "like" to school up, but they do tend to rest in schools, just like they do all their lives.

 

I am not criticizing ... just agreeing with you in that we all do this.  Fish get conditioned to habits that produce food or "comfort".  Everything else they do is instinct.  There is NO reasoning or conscious thought involved.


Barbed hooks rule!
My definition of work: Doing something in which effort exceeds gain.
Ex-Marine ... quondam fidelis