We have a winner! Congratulations to Steele Doxtater!!!! I think this is a record for the First Shad of the Season Contest with the first fish being caught, photographed and posted just a hint over 24 hours after the contest started! Steele caught this beauty near Marina Isle not too far from Cameron Wight. Last year’s winner Cas Summers was aboard, so let it be known that these big guns have no problem fishing bigger water in Shad Alley to get that early win! Way to go Steele, congratulations and I will send you a message in Facebook Messenger for your prize!
Here we go! Let’s get the 2019/ 2020 shad fishing season started, with this season’s First Shad of the Season Contest! The winner will receive their choice of a $50 gift certificate to Orlando Outfitters, or a box of shad flies tied by yours truly!
First Shad of the Season Contest 2019/2020 Rules:
- The contest begins December 7, 2019 and ends once I have confirmed a winner
- This is a catch, photograph and release contest
- To be eligible you must:
- Be a member of the Shad on the Fly Facebook Group. Membership is free, but the Facebook group is a closed group so you must request to be added as a member
- Download the Shad on the Fly 2019/ 2020 Official Token image above and print it out in color. You may trim it down to size.
Alternatively, you can save it to your cell phone and use your phone to display the token as long as it is CLEARLY visible (just don’t drop it in the water!)
- To win you must:
- Catch a shad using a fly rod and fly
- Be the first person to upload a picture of the fish, fly reel, and fly with the Official Token clearly visible in the image to the Shad on the Fly Facebook Group
- Must share the general location you caught the fish (e.g. downstream of Mullet Lake, Upstream of Lake Harney, C.S. Lee near the Econ, etc.)
- I will message the winner in Facebook to get their address and mail the prize, or setup a meetup on the water if possible. Whatever works best for the winner
Official Facebook Stuff:
The Shad on the Fly- First Shad of the Season Contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Facebook. Participants understand that they are providing their information to the owner of the Shad on the Fly Facebook Group, and not to Facebook.
Philippe Richen from the Orlando Kayak Fishing Club (OKFC) Facebook Group was nice enough to invite me to be the guest speaker for their Facebook Live Fishing Seminar #3 on December 5, 2019. This is a High Definition recording of my presentation. Topics include:
What types of rods, reels, and lines do you need to fish for shad?
2. Flies/ Lures
What types of flies and lures are effective for catching shad?
How to find fish and what to do to catch them
4. Preparing for the Season
What I do to get ready for the shad season
5. Where will I fish this year???
The places I plan to visit to fish for shad this year
After taking a week off from shad fishing, I needed some time outdoors, and decided to make the hike upstream from Snowhill Road on Saturday. Recent rain had pushed the water up to about 3.5 feet on the Snowhill gauge, which is about a foot, to foot and a half higher than ideal for sight fishing, but fishable. I invited Ray to join me, and found out that he was already planning his first trip to this section of river, so we decided to team up.
We arrived at the river around 9:30 and made our way upstream, where we found another fisherman working one of the first bends for bass. We decided to give him room, and proceeded to hike along the river until we made our way to the pool that Todd and I call the double gator pool. Care to take a guess why? 🙂
The double gator pool has a feeder creek that dumps in to it, which creates a nice whirlpool eddy in its depth. The fish tend to sit outside of this current, and it is always a good spot to try. Interestingly, we did not find alligators here this trip, but did see a significant amount of surface activity. There is an opening at the water’s edge with just barely enough room for a backcast. Ray worked that area with the fly rod, and I opted to move slightly upstream to fish the head of the pool. With newly downed trees on the shore, and water levels higher than ideal, we found already confined quarters to be even more challenging, as comfortably wading to allow more space for a backcast was difficult.
One should note, that the Econ River upstream of Snowhill has a deceptive quality about it. While there are areas of white bottom “sand bars” that beckon to you like a Siren’s song… “wade in, come stand on me,” if you become too enchanted by the thought of better reach, you will quickly find that some of them are not sand bars at all, but quick sand! I have actually found myself in crotch deep sand before, which is creepy enough in clear, shallow water, and definitely something I would not want to do in an areas of river we fondly refer to as the double gator pool. Before you step, check… then check again.
Ray fished the area with the fly and had a take, but did not connect. I worked the head of the pool with the spoon for a while without a bite. Ray clearly spotted shad washing towards the inside of the bend, but outside of his reach, so I came over to take a shot with the spinning rod. After a few casts, I had a hard take followed by a solid run in to the drag. As I reeled in, the 7ft ultralight bent right down to the butt of the rod. Just as I said “man, this is a nice fish,” it made a strong run in to the drag and Ray shouted “it’s about to jump!” Right as I lowered the rod tip, we were both surprised by a leap in the air, and a tarpon like head shake… not from a shad, but by a GIANT gar that landed in the water like someone had thrown a bowling ball in to the river! Alas, the 6lb test on the ultralight was no match for the beast, and I broke him off before coming to hand. It looked to be the largest gar I have ever hooked.
I re-rigged as Ray took some more shots with the fly. After a few more casts in to the strike zone with the spoon, I managed to hook and land a shad that was very emaciated. While I was excited to answer the question as to whether shad had made it above Snowhill, this was also a sign that we are in to the tail end of the run. I switched to my 7ft fiberglass fly rod, and made some single hand spey casts in to the strike zone, but found no takers.
We continued upstream to an area I call the willow pool. It was a pool back in 2017, but the river has changed since then and the depth of the pool seems nonexistent. I would say its actually more of a soft bend now, so maybe I should call it willow bend… Ehhh, I still like pool.
Pool or no pool, there is still a head where there is decent current, and some trough like structure along the north bank. Just as prior years, fish were stacked up in this trough, and downstream of them, sat an alligator that will likely find plenty to eat as the fish continue to spawn and die off as water temperatures continue to rise.
An alligator on the shore is your best friend… better to be able to clearly see them than to wonder what all those bubbles are across the river from you. In the past I have made many casts directly in front of a beached gator, even plopping the fly right on top of them at times, hooked and landed fish, without even a flinch. Ray did just that, working the area directly in front of our pool mate, as I looked for a decent entry to fish the head of the pool. Again I found newly downed timber along the shore to further tighten already confined areas for a backcast, but I was able to manage, wading in about knee deep to make single hand spey casts to where I saw fish washing.
About that time we saw our first paddler, making his way upstream on the Econlockhatchee. Being a good man, he took care to move out of the way of where Ray was casting. Unfortunately on water this narrow, that meant he hugged the shore where the alligator was sunning himself, and it quickly slid in, not to be seen again. An alligator in the water is not your best friend, particularly in water this narrow, so back on shore we went. I switched back to the spinning rod, and after casting the spoon several times, watched two shad end up at my feet, even though I never saw them in the mud stained water I was casting to. They nipped but did not take.
Several more paddlers came by, spooking the pool… or bend, whatever you prefer. We decided to make the hike up to the pool downstream of the Flagler foot bridge, a solid bend in the river with good current at its head and tail. We found no fish, but did find more people. We continued up to the foot bridge, and I was surprised to see it was closed for renovation.
We half-heartedly fished the stretch just downstream of the bridge after a lunch break, but honestly just laughed because there were so many kids with their families, jumping and playing in the water, and paddlers coming downstream. With temperatures in the mid 80’s… at the beginning of March, who could blame them? We were sweating through our quick dry apparel, chasing a herring that swam a couple of hundred miles upstream on a freshwater river to spawn, until they were dead. I was starting to question why I didn’t bring a bathing suit so I could join them… the kids, not the spent shad! 🙂
Ray and I made our way back downstream, fishing the spots we already knew had fish, struggling to make casts, getting a few takes, and one more fish to hand. We watched more and more people paddle up and downstream and I have to say, I am pretty sure I saw more people on the water than I have ever seen above Snowhill in one day, even on a Saturday. We joked that the new neighborhoods in Geneva and Oviedo likely had something to do with it. Its probably true. More interest in the river, might end up meaning more respect for its riches, and that is never a bad thing. Time will tell.
As February fades away, and hopes of shad jumping in to boat at the mouth of the Econ do the same, consider this… there are still good numbers of fish upstream of Snowhill, Ray and I can surely attest. It is humbling to watch what they do unfold.. sometimes right outside of even a modest cast, but it is incredible all the same.
If you made it out to Brumley this year following reports of fish, I encourage you to now make the same journey with them upstream. In this new territory, you will find conditions tight, technical, and challenging… distinctly different than the conditions found further downstream. Backcasting is difficult if not impossible in a lot of the areas you will find fish. This is single hand spey casting water at its finest. Short rods, versus long switch rods, shine here. If spey casting is not your thing, a conventional rod is a good choice too.
As the water drops below three feet, you will be able to see shad clearly, and sight fish for them. You will watch them chase a fly, and turn a cheek, just as selective as any western trout, or discerning Bahamian bonefish. But with the right fly and presentation, you will catch them, and you might even be able to do so until April!
With recent rain pushing the Econ River up 1.5 feet, I decided to give the pools at Brumley a break, and make the paddle downstream of Snowhill again on Saturday. The plan this time was to make my way down to the pool below the power lines, as I have wanted to fish this area for multiple years. After recently finding out that Ray Ayala lived quite literally two minutes away from me, I asked whether he wanted to join me, with the caveat that this was a lower probability trip, but we would get to fish some lesser traveled areas.
This section of river is indeed a gamble, but there is some quality water to fish, at least in years where the Econ has good current relative to the St. Johns. In this section you will find sand bottom, good current, pools with eddies and some with whirlpools… all the makings of perfect holding areas for shad making their way upstream to spawn. With the rain and a report or two of slower fishing at Brumley, my thoughts were filled with good numbers of fish moving upstream, but alas, it is more difficult to think like a fish than it may seem.
I picked up Ray at 8am and we made the trip to the bridge on Snowhill Road. We were greeted with more cars parked along the bridge than I have seen in a while… Boy Scouts making the paddle to C.S. Lee, with an overnight stay on the Econ. This is actually a trip that Ray and I had been considering ourselves. We loaded up the canoe and decided to get in front of the crowd, using the current to our advantage to quickly make our way to the confluence where I caught fish last trip. Ray fished the head of the pool with the fly rod, and I covered the depth and tail of the pool with the “fish finder” and found no takers.
Back in the canoe, we skipped the big pool with the nice whirlpool, and decided to stop at the pool above the power lines. We were greeted by a nice gar, actively working the surface of the pool, along with considerable surface activity. Same story, different pool… we covered the area by fly, and by spoon, and found no takers.
We continued downstream another 1.5 miles through a section of deep, straight, slow moving water and arrived at the pool below the power lines at around 11:00. There we found two nice sized alligators, one of which slipped under, not to be seen again that day, and the other just meandered, guarding the stagnant side pool outside of the current of the river. There was considerable current at the head of the pool, which came to a crawl at the center and then accelerated in to a run below the tail of the pool in to the next turn. It looked like prime water to find shad. Next verse, same as the first… Ray began working the area with the fly, me with the spoon on the spinning rod. After several casts, I hooked up with what looked to be a small hickory, or a large blueback herring, but I lost the fish right as I slipped my hand in the water to grab it, so I did not clearly identify it.
We fished the area thoroughly from the inside bank, but found no other takers. However, from nearly the moment we arrived, I noticed non-stop surface activity outside of the best of the current coming in to the turn, near that stagnant side pool. This was an area we could not reach from the inside bank, so we mustered up some courage and jumped back in the canoe to see if could drive the alligator out, circling behind it, through the stagnant pool, banging on the side of the canoe with the paddles.
The gator submerged, and we opted not to fish the shoreline that would have given us prime access to the surface activity until we had waited long enough to ensure the gator did not surface again for air. Instead we fished just upstream of the stagnant pool on high and dry bank, and a section of submerged land bridge just about knee deep. Fourth verse, same as the first… Ray worked the area with the fly, and I with the spoon and found no takers. I finally rigged up the switch rod for some extra reach, trying heavy flies with sink tips, and light flies on floating tips to no avail. Right as I started to consider moving over to better shoreline, our buddy showed back up, dashing any hopes of wading in that area.
What we did start to figure out though, was just why that gator was so interested in guarding that side pool. We began to see surface activity not just right outside of the current, but right in to the stagnant pool itself. While the recent rain had reconnected the pool to the river, after looking at satellite images of the area, it is now clear to me that once the water receded just another foot or so (a couple of days in Econ time,) that pool would once again be cut off from the river, likely trapping fish and creating an all-you-can-eat buffet for our reptilian friend(s.)
After swinging flies, a couple of beers, some conversation, and something like four hours, we finally saw those boy scouts pass us. I have no idea what took them so long, but we decided to motor our way back upstream. On the way we stopped and fished the pool above the power lines again where Ray caught a bluegill. We continued up river and fished the pool with the whirlpool, and later fished the opposite bank at the confluence and did not find shad. We did however nearly get swamped by three jackasses on jetskis, I kid you not, under a mile from the Snowhill bridge. The river is what, 20-30 feet wide here?? Idiots!
It was a good day of exploring, and I enjoyed fishing with Ray. I am glad he is as laid back as I am, just enjoys being on the water, and doesn’t mind trading a sure thing for a chance at catching fish in new places.