"No Respect"       The underrated and awesome Hickory Shad.  Part 1

"I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio." Poor Rodney Dangerfield never got any respect, and sometimes I wonder if the Hickory Shad feels the same way. Only weighing in at a couple pounds and too bony for most folks to consider worthy of eating, they don't get the love and respect they deserve. Most conventional anglers only consider them worth chasing for their roe, or to use them as bait for larger fish. There's nothing worse than telling someone that you are "really into shad fishing", and then they reply that "they sure do make fantastic catfish bait". If they only knew... If they only knew how spunky these guys are, especially on a light weight fly rod. For their size they put forth a really good show, usually ending their battle with a few aerial stunts, earning the name "The Poor Man's Tarpon".

Even though they look like they should be cousins, Hickory Shad aren't related to Tarpon or Ladyfish.  They are actually in the Herring family, and like Herring, they are anadromous meaning that they spend most of their life in saltwater, but return to their birthplace up freshwater rivers to spawn.  Some of these fish travel hundreds of miles upstream to spawn, so that their eggs are laid in just the right location to tumble down stream as they develop.  Each female can carry up to half a million eggs on her journey upstream.  See...there's the marine biologist in me coming out again.  Moving on...

Hickory Shad are found during the Spring runs as far north as the Patuxent River in Maryland and as far south as the St. John's River in Florida.  The largest concentrations are found in the coastal rivers of Virginia and North Carolina.  I have several friends who target them on the Rappahannock and James Rivers in Virginia.  Here in North Carolina, we focus our attention on the Cape Fear, Neuse, Roanoke and Tar Rivers, along with a few lesser known spots like the Cashie River.  Depending on the late winter and spring water temps, the shad arrive in their spawning locations anywhere from early February to mid March and most of the action is ending around the second half of April.  If you follow the local fishing reports you can usually track the movement of the fish as they are caught farther and farther up river each week. 


As these fish move upriver against the flow, they look for breaks and seams in the current where they can take a break.  These fish can end up in some huge schools in those resting spots, and the fly angler can quickly go from fishing to catching, and catching, and catching. 

Hickory Shad are a blast and a half to fight on a light fly rod similar to what you would use on a bream pond or a trout stream.  Other than the fly rod, pretty much everything else about fishing for shad is different...the lines, leaders, flies, and techniques are all different.  Hang tight for part 2, and I'll be back with some info on the gear and techniques for catching these little silver bullets.

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