Shad fishing on the St. Johns is something that I have been looking forward to doing for a very long time. I had always heard wild stories of thick shad schools nailing small flies, and finally I worked up the motivation to get out there. Thanks to a good friend of mine, we were able to ride in style and hook up on a good number of fat shad…
And just like that… the 2016 Shad Run in Florida is over, for me at least! My wife is expecting our second daughter on March 15th, so it is time to hang up the waders and pack up the fly rods for a while.
After much deliberation, I decided to make one final trip to the Econ to see if I could land some shad. I had not really planned on returning as the fishing was slow last weekend when I visited with my brother. However, on Saturday, I opened up the rod tube that my brother had borrowed on the river last weekend to find only three of four rod sections to my favorite Scott A3 5wt fly rod! Needless to say, I was pretty bummed because Scott no longer makes that rod. I remembered where we had broken down our gear before making the hike back to the car, and it was near a place I had waypointed because we found shad washing there. I figured no one had probably visited that spot since last weekend as it was off of the yellow trail itself, so I decided to make a trip to see if I could recover the “lost” rod section.
I started making the mental plans to return to the Econ, ventured out to Academy Sports to pick up some new shoes (as the shoes I wore last weekend did not provide necessary support and I paid for it,) when my brother called back. He said that he distinctly remembered putting all four sections in the tube, and struggled to get the third section in. The short story was, upon further inspection, I found the “lost” section of the rod, which my brother had inserted in to the tube after all, through a small rip in the liner in to the area between the liner and tube itself. Crisis averted, apologies were made for accusatory assumptions with no hard feelings, but mentally I had already amped myself back up to fish that area where we saw shad washing the weekend before.
I decided to take the mountain bike to get me to the river and then lock it up once I got there and hike the rest of the day. This decision cut half the time to make it to the river and I was fishing by 9:30am. I saw plenty of surface activity, but could not determine if it was shad washing or schools of crappie this time. I fished the area I had returned to pretty hard for nearly 2 hours with the switch rod and did not hook up with a darn thing. I decided to make the best of a beautiful day and made the 2.8 mile hike to the Culpepper bend. The yellow trail is a gorgeous area to hike, minus all of the cow patties… yuck!
I arrived at Culpepper bend around 1:00 and fished that turn as well as the turn upstream of it for about another hour and a half. No shad, in spite of me throwing just about everything I had in my bag of tricks in to the river. So it ended up being another great day of hiking, and slow fishing… which honestly did not break my heart.
While I had good success during the 2016 Shad Run, it was a slow year. I did not manage to break twenty fish total and did not even hear a report of ten plus fish days, but that is just how it goes some years. El Nino gave us warmer than average temperatures for the early part of the run and high water for the later part of it. The fish were/ are there, but they are spread out. This was the first year I think I heard of people catching shad near SR 50 in January, and perhaps I should have taken the queue to move up river earlier. No regrets though, if anything, I can say I explored more places than ever in pursuit of shad and I now have some new spots to try during thicker runs.
For those of you still fishing the 2016 Shad Run, please feel free to reach out with reports! Also, if you are interested in contributing to this site, by all means let me know!
So today I decided to try something completely new and leave the kayaks at home and make a hike in to the Little Big Econ State Forest to a center section of the lower Econ River. It is about a two mile hike to a section labeled a prime shad spawning area which meant it would take a lot less time to reach by foot than by kayak. My brother joined me, and we set out with our waders, fly rods, and provisions on our backs. We started our hike at Brumley Rd around 9:00am and enjoyed an easy walk along a truck road for about 1.25 miles where we reached the white trail heading towards the river. This trail is a single track about .75 miles long and decently defined until you get to the river. Once you reach the river you have a choice to head up river on the white trail, or down river on the yellow trail. We spotted two very large alligators in the area, so we fished from shore a bit. Back casting in this area can be challenging due to high banks and foliage. We did not spot or find any shad, so we made the decision to travel further up river along the white trail. Be aware that if the water is on the high side, you would find a deep creek that you would need to traverse to get there if you follow the white blazes. Check out the video below to see how NOT to cross it! LOL!!! Most of this area is high banked and not ideal for fly fishing. You would be better served bringing conventional tackle to fish this area. However, once you near the area of the old shelter, things flatten out a bit and there are some nice sand banks on the inside turns.
We fished for a couple of hours in the upper stretch of the prime spawning area and did not see or land shad. We stopped for lunch around 1:00 and then made our way all they way up to the old shelter where we ran in to the only other people we saw all day. We fished the area with no luck and confirmed that the others did not land shad either. At about 2:00 we decided to hoof it back to the yellow trail which took about 45 minutes. We moved down about another 15-20 minutes to the next turn and quickly found shad washing… on the opposite bank. This area is high banked, but there are areas you could step down to fish. I was able to reach the shad with my switch rod making Skagit casts but as many accounts can confirm, when you see shad washing, they generally won’t take a fly.
There are definitely shad in the Econ River right now, but if you decide to hike out this week to find them, you may want to start looking for them on the yellow trail and then make your way back up river. Also, conventional tackle would be a good idea to help search for them as a lot of the area is just not conducive to fly fishing right now.
My brother and I really enjoyed the hiking aspect of this trip and would certainly do it again!
Note to self: You could definitely mountain bike the truck trail and most likely the initial portion of the white trail until you get to the river to save time. Once you get to the trails at the river, it is probably easier to just hike it.
I launched from CS Lee on Saturday and was greeted with 15mph NNW wind. I fished the creek mouths on the way down to the Econ using my switch rod paired with a 10ft T8 sink tip and hourglass weighted fly. The St Johns River is still outside its banks and the wind was not helping that one bit. Even with the sink tip and heavy fly, the swing was quick downstream and the high water made it difficult to reach the main channel in most places. I made my way up to a point that juts out in to the river on the east bank before reaching the Econ. With the banks submerged, I found myself wading in waste high water with no room for a backcast. This is really where the switch rod shines, as it allows me to make waterborn casts rather than false cast. Fishing the east bank with a NNW wind means my casts were off of my weak side, but I still managed 40-50 feet and then could throw some line in to the mends. Note to self, you really need to practice your off hand casting more. 🙂 I managed one nice shad in about 45 minutes of fishing. The cold water and wind finally got the better of me as I decided one shad an hour was not worth freezing my butt off over. Time for a change of scenery.
I have grown bored of fishing the same old spots for little action this year and decided to do some shad fishing on the Econ River instead. I started up the river at about 11:15am and found that, even though the St. Johns River was outside its banks, the Econ was well within its banks. I decided to paddle to the Culpepper Bend, as I know I can generally make it there in about 30 minutes using Hobie pedal power. I arrived around 11:45 and I fished both the Culpepper bend and the bend following for about 45 minutes and did not find fish. The current was minimal due to the wind and raised water on the St. Johns, so I fished with a 5ft polyleader on the one hander. I have caught shad on both of those turns before, but not today.
There is another turn close to a mile upstream of Culpepper where I have caught fish before so I decided to make my way up river again. When I arrived I found the current to be dismal and decided to continue upstream for a while to see what I could find, and then fish all of the turns on my way back down river. I paddled until 1:15 and pulled off for some lunch. That is the end of the red line on the map above. While another mile of paddling upstream would have put me in prime shad fishing territory, I knew it would likely take another 30 minutes to get there and then I would only have a short time to fish before having to turn around and make the journey home. I stopped and fished most of the turns with decent current on the way back down river with no luck. This is probably because I really did not spend more than 20 minutes or so at each stop, but, I figured they were either there in numbers and I would hook up, or it was as slow as it was back on the St. Johns and I would not.
This was the furthest up the Econlockhatchee River that I have ever ventured. I now know that I am quite capable of the long paddle to make it to the most fruitful water, but, I would say I would need to make shad fishing on the Econ River the plan, skip fishing on the St. Johns River, and head upstream earlier in the morning. My guess would be a 2.5-3 hour long paddle to make it, so an early start would make sense. Figure 3 hours upstream, 4-5 hours of fishing, and 2-2.5 hours back downstream and a total of about 11 miles. Its doable, but a long day for sure.
Note: I did talk to a couple of guys in a canoe that said they saw shad washing like crazy on the Econ about 2-3 miles upstream of Culpepper. Looking at the maps, I would say that would be right where the prime fishing typically is. On my way back down river I also talked to some folks that spent most of their day lower on the Econ than Culpepper and they said they managed six shad between the two of them all day. Slow fishing for sure.
I am not sure that I can really qualify this post as “on the water” as in fact, I never made it on the water at all. That said, it is still a Florida shad fishing report for the archives. My intention was to fish from CS Lee on Sunday February 7th, but mother nature had other ideas. Serious rain through the week kept the water levels high, which can change the game sometimes, but I don’t generally care as I throw a 10 foot T8 tip on the switch rod and go dredging. However, take high water and a NW wind at 17-20mph plus cold temperatures and you have the perfect recipe for a day of lounging at the house rather than shad fishing. As I get older (and debatably wiser,) I have lost some of my “Eddie would Go” spirit when it comes to fishing, and I have to say, I no longer worry about the fish I may have missed. I have learned through good old fashioned stubbornness that there are days better spent doing something other than fighting wind, freezing your butt off, and just plain getting frustrated. I still have my moments, but take in to account the wind direction was from the northwest and I knew the water would stack up, kill the current, and keep the water levels even higher. There has not been much relief in the water levels so far this week, but the wind has started to die off and I am jonesing to get on the water. Wind, temperature, or water be damned… I am going this weekend! Now there’s that “Eddie would Go” spirit I was talking about. 🙂