Cat on the Fly

Cat on the Fly

Not much of a report here, but I will log it. I was not planning on fishing today as the shad fishing was slow last weekend, and the water is still outside of the banks of the St. Johns river. However, the river calls me this time of year, and I decided to make an impromptu solo trip. I thought about heading downstream to the turns before Lake Harney, but that seemed like a lot of work, and I was feeling lazy. I purposely avoided the mouth of the Econ as it was busy up there.

I spent time working around the bridge, creek mouths, and trying some new spots anywhere I found a decent current. I fished for about four hours, working the upper water column with the single hander, then the deeper water with the switch rod and did not hook a shad. They may have been slaying it up by the Econ for all I know, but I suspect the front moving through may have shut things down.

I thought the skunk was on me and double checked the kayak for bananas. Luckily for me the catfish pictured above decided he wanted a taste of the orange Shad Dart that was trailing behind a pink Kip Tailed Clouser I was swinging, and he proceeded to darn near spool me on the six weight switch rod. Good fun, but this is Shad on the Fly, not Cat on the Fly. 🙂

It was a productive day none the less. I probably made hundreds of Spey casts, taking my time and really working on technique to get the rust off of my fundamentals. My casting is coming in to good form again, just in time for a Spey casting clinic I am attending next week. When the fish arrive en masse, if they decide not to eat, it will not be because of a bad cast if I have anything to say about it!

What’s in my Backpack?

What's in my Backpack?

As the shad fishing ramps up in the early part of the season, it’s time to start planning and preparing for some trips to different areas of the river. For me, that not only means getting the kayak and canoe rigged and ready, but ensuring I have what I need in my backpack to do some hiking when its time to head down the path less traveled to find fish.

Luc Desjarlais’ book Wade Fly Fishing The Upper St. Johns River Basin (Florida) for American Shad provides a wealth of information on places to hike to fish for shad on foot. Some of these hikes can put you many miles from civilization, so being prepared is key. For example, my hike to the Indian Mounds last year covered around 12 miles where I barely saw a boat or another person. Even if you are not planning a long trip, it is important to make sure you are prepared. Cellphone coverage can be spotty in areas, and even if you have coverage, help could be hours away.

In the video below, I invite you to take a look at what I normally carry in my backpack. There are likely things I could add, and perhaps things I could remove, but this is what I choose for me. I hope that you will also give some thought as to whether you have what you need in your pack, not only to ensure a great day on the water, but to provide first response that could save your life in an emergency.  The video focuses primarily on the preparedness items that live in my backpack, rather than the items I would add to go fishing. In addition to the items highlighted in the video, I would of course add what I need for the day such as rod(s,) reel(s,) flies, vest or sling pack, lunch, water, etc.

If hiking is not your thing and you plan on using your boat, kayak, or canoe to pursue shad, give some thought as to whether you have everything you need in your float bag. I have a very similar list of items that live in my float bag that I bring every time I head out in the kayak or canoe. Regardless of how you are going to get to the shad, the key is to BE PREPARED!


Here is a list of the items in my pack along with weight.

# Item Weight (ounces) Pounds
1 headlamp 1
2 germx 2.2
3 Sun & Bug 0.9
4 Swiss Army Knife 3.5
5 TP 0.4
6 Duct Tape 0.7
7 Signal mirror 0.7
8 Poncho 1.6
9 Compass 0.8
10 Whistle 0.4
11 Paracord 3.2
12 Tinder Kit 2.5
13 Bivvy 3.9
14 Lightmyfire 1
15 Pillcase 0.4
16 First Aid/ Trauma 15.6
17 Water Kit 4.9
18 Green Dry Bag (for clothes) 1.2
19 Blue Chamois 0.7
TOTAL 45.6 2.85

First Shad Caught in 2018

Above is a picture of the first shad caught in 2018! Well, the first shad I caught in 2018. 🙂

I met up with Todd at CS Lee around 9:30. The weather was cold, with air temps around 43 when we arrived, and a 5-10mph wind that provided a wind chill that cut through you, particularly when wading in 48 degree water. My original plan was to check out the bridge, hit the creek mouths on the way down to the Econ, and then potentially head up to Culpepper bend to do some scouting. I decided to start shallow with the single hand fly rod and a light weighted fly, thinking the shad would potentially be looking for warmer water.

Based on the gauge height of just under 4 feet and a quick look by the bridge, we determined the water was still a little high to wade around the bridge. It could be done, but figured we would be in thigh to waist high water at times, and with the cold temps, we decided to skip it. As we passed, we noticed a couple guys fishing near the bridge from a gheenoe. A message from Suede confirmed that it was them fishing, and that they did find shad near the junction.

We worked the creek mouths for an hour or two, me working shallow with the single hander, and Todd swinging deep with switch rod. Todd noticed a fish shallow, right in an area of convergence where there was a nice eddy, and some odd current upstream of it, likely caused by the wind and water coming off of the pasture. After a couple of casts with a 7.5ft T8/ 2.5 Ft Intermediate tip, Todd was the first to hook up with a nice American shad using a size 2 Gold-@ss Gotcha with a tan wing. The fish made several good jumps and a decent run before coming unhooked. Todd graciously yielded the spot to me as he thought I would be better off fishing the single hand rod shallow in that particular area due to the backward current. I worked the area using a beadchain Crazy Charlie but found no takers. Todd promptly hooked up with a Hickory (pictured) quite literally 5 feet from me which was hugging the bank.

I decided to change rods and rig up the switch rod. I rigged a 5ft T8/ 5ft Intermediate tip, 6 feet of level leader, and a size 4 Pink/ White Kip Tailed Clouser, tied with a long wing and began swinging flies through the eddy. After several attempts I hooked and landed the fish pictured up top. While I had given up on the single hand rod and was using the switch with a sink tip, after some discussion, we both agreed that the trigger was likely the larger flies. Our thoughts were, with the cold water, a small meal might not be worth the effort, but a large source of protein likely made the fish bite… IF you believe they are actually eating on their way up to spawn. 😉

The fishing was slow, so we decided to join the masses up by the Econ. When we arrived, there were two or three boats working the channel, and at one point I counted six. We were surprised there were as many people out fishing for shad this early in the season on such a cold day. We wondered if it had anything to do with this strange guy that is compelled to blog about his adventures in fishing for, and sometimes catching said shad. 🙂 Who knows? But I say the more the merrier, there is plenty of river to explore if you get tired of the crowds.

We fished the west bank, which is comfortably wadable with gauge heights under 4 feet and did not find fish. In fact, we never saw anyone catch any fish, even the boats. The west bank has been spotty in the last few years. It used to be a great place to hang all day, working your way up the Econ a couple of turns, but honestly, it is starting to get to the point I am not sure it even warrants a stop. The east bank seems to produce better in years of late, but the water is still too high to comfortably wade there. Gauge heights of under 3 feet are much preferred but be aware, high weeds can make false casting tough depending on wind. Single hand Spey casting, or Skagit/ Spey with a long rod is my preference. That said, it seemed the fish were further downriver today.

With the slow fishing we decided to head up to Culpepper bend. We motored up with the trolling motor in about 25 minutes and found no current. We worked the turn upstream of Culpepper for about 20 minutes and decided to head back. The deep cycle battery pooped out about a turn from the mouth of the Econ on the way back, so we resorted back to paddles and made our way back down to the creek mouths. We fished for another hour or so before calling it a day around 4:00. It was a fun day, despite the cold. I will likely skip going out next weekend and wait for the run to thicken up a bit before heading back out.

Stand of Palms on the Econ River
Stand of Palms on the Econ River

We have a Winner!

We have a Winner of the First Shad of the Season Contest! Congratulations to Suede Langston for catching and posting the first picture of a shad caught on the fly of the 2017/2018 season! This beauty was caught near the Econ on December 28, 2017. As you can see, the photo clearly shows the fly, fly reel, and official contest token in the picture. Not only is Suede the clear winner, he did so by landing a coveted December shad! Great Job Suede!

The prize below was mailed to you today. I hope the flies help you catch dozens more this shad run!

Fist Shad of the Season Prize

Fry Fly

The Fry Fly is an easy to tie, small, lightweight minnow pattern that is a great match when fish are gorging themselves on mosquitofish in the St. Johns River. Shad can often be caught on this pattern when they are active in the upper part of the water column. The pattern does not have a bead chain or hourglass eye, but rather has a small tear drop shaped epoxy head that allows the hook to ride tip up, but also stay shallow rather than diving to the bottom. The shape of the head also creates a darting action when being retrieved that can elicit a strike.

In addition to shad, you will find bass, stripers/ hybrids, pan fish, and even gar will take these little flies, so they are a great alternate fly to keep in your box. The Fry Fly may not be a fly that you use on every outing, but when fish are active up top, they can be deadly, particularly in the early part of the season as the water recedes off of the pastures and in to the river’s banks. This concentrates the small Gambusia, grass shrimp, and other tasty morsels in to the river that have otherwise been spread out across the flat pasture. Fish of all kinds school up and the feeding frenzy can be amazing to fish.

Fry Fly

Fry Fly:

Hook: Size 10 Heavy Scud Hook
Thread: White Danville’s
Tail: White Kip Tail
Eyes: 1/8″ Prismatic Stick On Eyes
Head: Thin Clear Cure Goo