I like to think of shad angling as an interlude, a pleasant interruption in the serious pursuit of trout, I wrote in this column about a decade ago.
I haven’t changed my mind since then. Shad are a great sports fish and like many anglers I welcome the spring run. Compared to trout, especially brown trout, they’re relatively easy to catch. At most times, I hasten to add. There are periods during the spring run that shad stop hitting and it takes some hard earned expertise to catch them.
Most of the time, however, shad are obliging. You can take someone new to shad angling to the Annapolis River, give them a few shad darts, and they’re on the way. Noting again there are exceptions, catching shad is often as simple as casting out a shad dart and reeling it slowly in. One of the exceptions is fly fishing. Catching shad consistently with flies isn’t easy to learn and I’d say it’s almost an art.
One thing I like about shad – besides the enjoyment of catching them – is that they’re a great starter fish for young anglers. Introducing a young angler to shad fishing is easy. I started a grandson, for example, simply by showing him how to cast out and retrieve a spinning lure. In no time he was catching shad. There’s more to shad fishing than this, of course. The times when the shad are picky and slow hitting require a lot more expertise than what the grandson learned his first day on the Annapolis River.
I’m often amazed when I discovered that some trout and salmon anglers never fish for shad. One of my friends is a dedicated fly fisherman; dedicated that is to pursuing salmon, sea-run brookies and brown trout all over the province with his fly rod. Yet he’s never cast a fly for shad. I often tell him about the challenge and thrill of taking shad with a fly rod but I haven’t been convincing enough. A lot of fishermen are like him and I don’t understand why.
I suspect anglers like the friend look on the shad for what it is, or what they think it is – a brawny, coarse, hardly edible non-game fish that (on salmon rivers especially) gets in the way of “real fishing.” I guarantee a couple of afternoons on the Annapolis River during the shad run will quickly change this trout and salmon fishing only attitude.
And by the way, while June is almost over, along with the peak shad angling period, it isn’t too late to hit the Annapolis River. I’ve caught shad in the Annapolis in early July. The drawback is that late in the run shad are “soft” from being in fresh water and not as edible as the early fish. However, early July angling is different in an interesting way. With spawning over and shad preparing to return to salt water, they often school close to the surface and you can see countless fish as they move in slow circles. A friend called this “shad watching.”
To close off, here’s a shad recipe from a friend. He called to note my column on cooking shad ignored a proven method. After the shad is cleaned and scaled, he said, place it on a cedar shingle in an extremely hot oven. Once the shad is cooked, throw it away and eat the shingle.