Searching for Shad – Take 1

I love this time of year: when Winter wraps up and Spring comes into full bloom. The longer days, warmer weather, and ridiculous amount of upcoming outdoor activities/events all contribute to a happier Bram. It’s kind of like Sound & Color (the song and album), by Alabama Shakes … Pretty awesome!

Won’t lie, the extremities were pretty chilly on this cloudy, drizzling afternoon.

Another reason I love Spring? The fishing picks up a good deal. Additionally, I no longer freeze my fingertips off while attempting to look tough wading through a mountain stream with frozen knee joints. The first big fishing fest of the Spring is the shad run. It’s a great time for my buddies and me to catch up either on the river, or post fishing, over 1 or 12 pints at any of the local watering holes. The anadromous, Alosa mediocris and its larger family member, the Alosa sapidissima come upstream to spawn around the March/April time period.  Not only do these fish offer a fun fight in the fast moving water, they also coax the stripers into the rivers. So, you get slammed by the shad run, then the stripers come in right behind them, providing the chance at a monster fish.

Scouting the river. This section was still too high to wade safely, but it made for a nice bike ride.

This year, due to the warmer weather, the run seems to be kicking off a few days/weeks early. The basic rule of thumb being, once the cherry blossoms bloom, the shad are here.  Well, down in Richmond, the blooms appeared soon after the first of March . So…

Tied up a few of these the other night. For shad, you want something relatively small (hook size 4-8), bright, and heavy. These look so tasty, I could eat them!

Dan Dutton (@flyfishfxbg) spey casting just downstream.

Shad do not come into these rivers to feed. They’re here to spawn and therefore, some find it hard to entice them into taking a fly. From what I’ve studied, you need to find the shad; they will not come find your fly. This means not only do you  need to know where they are in a general sense. i.e. at the fall line. You need to know if they are hugging the bank, sitting near an overhanging tree, or hunkered down deep in a channel. I can’t speak in absolutes, but generally, on the Rapp, shad hunker down in a channel. So, you need a fly, and often, a fly line that gets down deep. Put that sucker right in front of their eyes. These guys strike out of aggression and annoyance. So, you have to put it right in front of their faces and piss them off!

New setup I acquired over the Winter months. I’m looking forward to using this one for years to come.

The fall lines on the James, Rappahannock, and Potomac rivers all offer great places to chase the poor man’s tarpon. Since I live a few blocks from the fall line on the Rapp, I fish it the most. With work in the mornings, I tend to hit the river in the afternoon. However, as with a lot of fish, avoid midday if possible.




So far this Spring I’ve hit the fall line on three different occasions… with no luck. However, I think my luck will soon change. I feel it in my still-thawing bones.

The Fall Line on the Rapp. The route 1 bridge marking the transition to the tidal section.

Warning: The Rapp is deadly. Like, people die in it every year. So, be careful! Like most rivers in the Spring, it runs high and fast, due to the melting snow and heavy Spring rains. Additionally, even if you’re familiar with a certain body of water, be cautious where you step. The bottom of a river is ever-changing, especially after a good flood.  Wear a PFD, tell someone where you’re fishing, and use a wading staff. Can’t afford a wading staff? Nature provides, amigos. I’m referring to sticks. Use them!

If you’re in fast moving water and your waders fill up, things could get pretty tricky, pretty fast. My brother and I (@cormander88 #rainbros – warning: #rainbros gets a lot of nonrelated post, but I love the name) hit the river the other day with the water up to our chests. Any higher and we would have had to call it a day before our first casts. The only thing worse than not hitting the river would be never coming out of it.

Be on the lookout for a follow up post in the next few days. I promise to have a few fish pics and a little more info about fly fishing for shad, the Rapp, and things to do in Fred.



3 thoughts on “Searching for Shad – Take 1

  1. Pingback: Searching for Shad – Take 2 | Adventures of Sims

  2. Pingback: Searching for Shad – Take 4 | Adventures of Sims

  3. Pingback: Searching for Shad – Take 5 | The James River Mermaid

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