Double your shad
Five Simple Techniques
By Brian M. Wiprud
The dynamics of fly fishing for shad are
different from most other freshwater species. Its all about the shad moving up
stream and you getting your fly to where a bunch of shad can take a whack at it. Some
days, shad move up river in a constant stream, and youll catch a mess of fish
swimming up a single channel. Chalk that up to good timing and a bit of luck on your part.
But much of the rest of the time, youll find the flow of shad slows to small pods of
fish following different paths up stream, and youll have to modify your tactics to
catch fish. What follows are five tried-and-true techniques used by some of the most
successful shad anglers that can easily double your catch. Theyre sure to put some
fast action into what might otherwise have been a slow day.
1. Work Your Range.
Lets say youre casting to the same seam of river where you caught a couple
fish an hour ago, but the fish have since disappeared. That may mean youre between
pods of fish - but not necessarily. When shad arent running at peak volumes, moving
bands of fish can deviate quite a bit form the preferred channels. To pick up on these
maverick fish, you need to methodically work the entire range of areas they might pass.
Now sometimes depending on the light conditions you can see them. But you
might be surprised how invisible they can be, even right at your feet on a sunny day, so
take nothing for granted. Start with short casts and gradually extend your casts farther
and farther, working not just the channels and seams, but some of the less likely looking
spots too. Repeat as necessary until you nail a passing pod of shad. Work this newly
productive spot until you stop getting hits, and then go back to working your range.
Youll be surprised how often eager fish are a mere roll cast away.
Change Flies Every Ten Casts.
There are days when different pods of fish seem to want a different fly. Sounds a little
crazy, but its not unlike trout in different parts of a stream feeding selectively
on different bugs. Except that with shad, the selective fish are moving up stream to you.
So when youve worked your range over thoroughly, and particularly if youve
seen shad pass by, it means a bunch of shad have refused your fly. Time to start changing
flies. But how? Since shad hit front-weighted brightly-colored attractor flies, it
isnt like you can use deductive match the hatch entomology.
|The trick is to
work with different fly sizes in certain color ranges. Size is pretty easy to gauge.
Generally, its best to use 1/16 (#6 hook) or smaller flies in shallow clear water,
and as large as 1/8 oz (#4 hook) in high or discolored water. Color depends largely on
water temperature. I try green, chartreuse and red/white darts in water under 60 degrees.
Above that, I move from red/white darts to pink, pearl and purple combinations. Once you
establish the color and size range you feel applies, start changing your fly every ten
Lets say, for example, the river is 63 degrees, its June 1st and the water is
low. Id start with a 1/16nd (#6) red and white, then switch to a pink and pearl
combination, then move to purple and pearl, then all purple, all the while covering my
full range of river. Still not working? Put on a split shot. Getting stuck on the bottom?
Go to smaller flies, with a split shot. And so on. Its astounding how often
youll get a hit on the first cast after changing flies. Even more amazing is how
often you have to keep changing flies to keep getting hook ups.
3. Change Your Leader.
Shad can be quite leader shy, and I would recommend sticking to clear six pound mono
tippets to be on the safe side. While Ive caught shad on brown tippets, I know that
there are times in sunlight when those opaque leaders spook them. And the same holds for
short leaders. What with all the fly changes, youre apt to find yourself with a
shorter and shorter leader. When in doubt, take the extra few minutes and pennies to tie
on a fresh 24" tippet. Better still, tie on a whole new 1X - 9' leader once in a
while. Ive put a boot to my own backside more than once for letting shad pass me by
because I was too lazy or cheap to tie on a new leader.
4. Do "The Dangle".
Now youre changing flies and casting all over the place. Its getting to be a
lot of work. So take a break, slow it down, and do The Dangle. At the end of each cast, as
the fly swings across current and your line straightens directly down stream from you,
just let it drift down there for ten, twenty, or even forty seconds. Meanwhile, take a
breather, straighten out your fly box, chew some gum. This technique targets resting shad
in an eddy, seam or pool, and it sometimes takes a while for the shad to strike
often violently. I could open a tackle shop if I had a fly for every time a shad nearly
snatched a rod from under my arm while I was both dangling and lighting a cigar. The
Dangle can be an immensely effective - and startling - technique.
Rest the Pool
Sometimes shad become aware of the angler and that danger blocks their path upstream. The
shad get so skittish that not only will they not hit your fly, but they wont move up
river. Even if they do move up, their spookiness is passed along to the other shad moving
up behind them. Or perhaps a canoe drifts over them, which almost always puts them down.
Thats the time to go to shore light up a pipe, have a sandwich, or look under rocks
for Ephemerella nymphs. Give the shad - and you - at least a half-hour to settle down.
Five will get you ten theres a hit in your first couple casts.
"Theyre not hitting" or "Theyre not coming up" are common
but often poor excuses for getting skunked in shad fishing. If its May and the water
is about 60 degrees, the shad are in the river wherever you go. Like any other fish, they
will hit something. You just have to work at it, turn these five tricks, and put a bend in
your rod and a smile on your face.
Shad are an anadromous fish that migrate from the ocean up many of the
larger rivers across the East and West Coast states. Male fish (bucks) weighting from two
to three pounds are the first to ascend the river followed by the females (roe) that can
weigh eight pounds or more. Generally, the best time for fly anglers is late May and early
June when a large number of fish have migrated sufficiently far up stream to where they
can caught in relatively narrow and shallow segments of the river. The migration is almost
always over by mid-June when water temperature top 75 degrees and the fish spawn. While
many angle for shad using spinning tackle and brightly colored jigs called
darts, fly fishing for shad has become increasingly popular using flashy
© Brian M.