The Serviceberry is the first shrub to flower in spring. In this and other areas the Serviceberry is also called the Shadbush, perhaps because of the folk tale that it flowers at the time shad run. I’ve read that Indians told settlers about a mystical connection between the Shadbush and the fish; this shad legend may have originated with our native people.
While flowering of Serviceberries and shad runs may not be related, you can be sure that by the time the plant blossoms the fish will be running. Since early January, in fact, shad have been running up rivers feeding into the Atlantic Ocean. Anglers here are among the last to enjoy the angling the shad runs offer. The runs begin in waters off Florida early in the year and move up the Atlantic coast to our rivers. I looked into shad fishing on the Internet recently and discovered that anglers already were fishing the shad runs in Florida in late December.
I caught my first shad – on a fly rod using a small spinning lure – almost 30 years ago. Since that time, I’ve learned a few things about shad fishing I’d like to mention. The following observations and tips will be old hat to experienced shadders but anglers new to the game may find them helpful.
May and June are the prime periods for shad angling here. Shad can be found in our rivers in July but are inedible this late. However, if you enjoy catch and release, try July shad angling.
You can catch shad any time of day in any kind of weather. However, shad fishing is usually more productive from mid-to-late-afternoon and on low-light, overcast days. I’ve had my best days when I fished in rainstorms.
Shad are taken with spinning lures and wet flies. Trolling is popular on some waters, but few anglers use this method here. The most effective angling method? Spin fishing beyond a doubt and the majority of anglers use this method. Taking shad with flies is more thrilling and more challenging, however. A quote from an Internet source about shad: “The strongest fish you’ll ever catch on a fly rod in freshwater.”
Shad darts on a fly rod: Darts used with a fly rod are awkward to cast but they’re worth a try since there’s a bonus. You use the most effective shad lure ever made and the joy of taking fish with fly fishing tackle.
Most spin fishermen use swivels with shad darts. However, some anglers forgo swivels and tie the spinning line directly to the dart. One angler told me the dart “rides better” and is more effective when fished without a swivel. Can’t say I’ve tried it or will, but I wonder if lack of a swivel will kink and twist your spinning line.
Tired of the crowds that haunt the popular shad pools on the Annapolis River near Middleton? You’ll find the banks of the Annapolis River less crowded if you fish upriver and downriver from Middleton. On the Annapolis, shad run upriver at least as far as Aylesford. Try some of the Annapolis River tributaries as well. Streams such as the Nictaux are excellent. Locally the Gaspereau River has a small run of shad.
When you catch a female shad don’t throw the roe away. Baked or pan-fried, the shad’s roe is what fancy chef’s call a gourmet delight. Honestly, they’re delicious and certainly worth trying. Use the roes from early run fish only; the longer shad are in the rivers, the “riper” and less tasty their roes become.
Most times shad are easy to hook but there are periods when they turn temperamental and ignore the best-fished darts and flies. When this happens you either keep on fishing until the shad start hitting again or you tie on a small shiny spinner and get the fish excited. Whole schools will often chase spinner lures and you’ll be tempted to jig (foul hook) shad. Don’t yield to temptation.