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The Virginia Shad Dog

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A good friend of mine from Virginia, Tabb Williams, turned me on to shad fly fishing. Tabb is so into shad fishing that he nicknames his dog “Shad Dog” and had a sticker made up for his boat.

Shad are anadromous members of the Herring family. They enter fresh water in the spring to spawn. On both the east coast and the west coast, these spawning runs are a great opportunity to catch a great sport fish nicknamed 'the poor man’s tarpon'. The Virginia and Oregon coasts have some fantastic action.

Shad Fly Fishing

Shad can be a very challenging fish to catch for the beginner. They have some very peculiar habits. 

First, they can turn on and off on colors - seemingly in seconds. Secondly, shad tend to pod up in a particular area in a pool. When I say pod up, I mean there could be 200 shad in a 4 foot by 10 foot area. 

If you are not precise in your presentation, you’d never know you were a few feet off of a couple hundred potential hook ups.

The good news is, shad tend to inhabit the same runs year after year. 

I recommend going with someone for a couple different reasons. First, you’ll find out where they are. Secondly, you’ll learn the etiquette of the water. Given that they pod up, so do the fisherman. This is really no different that fishing a salmon or steelhead run from and etiquette standpoint.

Where Shad Are Found

Shad generally prefer shaded spots with clear water running over gravel. They will suspend anywhere from 6 foot to 18 foot in the water column. Use your sink tip set up. You’re going to want a 6wt with 250 grain weight and an 8wt with a 350 grain weight so you can target varying water columns.

If you see shad migrating and actively moving up the river, don’t even waste your time. The shad bite and bite very well when they’ve podded up to rest. You can catch a fish on every cast. 

Fly Colors and Sizes

If all of a sudden the “bite” turns off, don’t panic. Shad are different fish. One minute they will be nailing your chanteuse Crazy Charlie, the next you can’t catch a cold with it. Switch up your colors. Shad key on a variety of colors and can change their preference just like that.

These are great fish to catch….and release….they really aren’t very good eating in my opinion. But that are fun to catch with a lot of fight and action. They average in the 4-5 pound range. 8 pounds would be a monster. 

Get out there and catch some shad my fishy friends!

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