Shad in California By Hank Shaw
Excerpt: Shad are everywhere in the rivers of the Pacific Coast and nowhere on the menu. Along the Sacramento River, which flows into the Sand Francisco Bay, it’s not uncommon to have a 50-fish day… READ MORE.
I am excited to announce the creation of the new Shad on the Fly Facebook Group! Several people reached out during the 2015/2016 Shad run and recommended adding a discussion forum to this site where we could trade fishing reports, discuss tactics, share fly patterns, and post pictures and videos. After giving it some thought and doing some research, I decided to take advantage of the group functionality within Facebook rather than attempting to setup and then moderate a separate forum. The Shad on the Fly Facebook Group will receive updates when new posts are added here, so if you are not subscribed to Shad on the Fly via an RSS reader and would like to receive notifications for updates, you can do so by joining the group.
If you enjoy fly fishing for shad as much as I do, please become a member of the Shad on the Fly Facebook Group and join other shad fanatics in discussion, trade stories and advice as well as pictures and videos during future shad runs!
Spey casting for shad has become my preferred method for catching shad on the fly. For the record, when I say “Spey casting for shad,” I really mean Spey or Skagit casting using a double hand rod. I am not going to spend a lot of time here explaining the differences between the two as there are excellent resources available elsewhere, but a quick rule of thumb is, Skagit casts are all waterborne casts, and Spey casts can be either waterborne or touch-and-go casts. I will also provide some links in the footer if you want to learn more.
I caught the two handed bug back in the summer of 2014 when I picked up my first switch rod. Originally my intention was to use it to extend my distance in the surf while overhead casting, which it is certainly capable of with its ten foot, eight inch length. However, as I started to become more proficient at Spey casting, I quickly started to realize that it could be a killer tool in the pursuit of shad. As the 2014/2015 shad run began, it was clear that we were in for a high water year. This is really where a switch or full length Spey rod shines. Paired with a Skagit line, you are able to cast incredibly heavy tips like T-11’s and T-14’s with flies weighted with hourglass eyes to get the fly down deep in the strike zone. Pair that with the cannon-like power of a long rod under load from a waterborne cast, and you have a winning combination.
More than one day that year I had excellent fishing days, while those fishing with single hand rods struggled. One particular memory I have from that year was packing the kayak up after a full day of successful fishing, when a gentleman approached me from the Fish and Wildlife Department. He was conducting a creel survey and asked how many shad I had caught. “Nineteen today, but I decided not to keep any.” His response… “Did you say nine or nineteen?” “Nineteen,” I replied. “What is your secret?” he asked. I proudly showed him the used switch rod I scored from Ebay for a scant 70 dollars and sung its praises for five or so minutes, explaining how deep I could get with it and how much further I could cast. He later said, “well it must make a difference, the runner up caught seven today.”
For those of you that may be considering joining the two handed club and starting to Spey cast for shad, you may find the whole idea a bit, well… intimidating. I know that I did. You have to choose a rod, choose whether to start with a switch line, a traditional Spey line or a shooting head system such as a Scandinavian (Scandi) or Skagit head, and learn new casts, using both your strong and weak side. It is going to take some time and practice to get proficient, but it is worth it. There is something uniquely graceful about Spey casting, and once you learn the techniques, you will find it to be incredibly relaxing, and not to mention, you will be slaying fish in your moment of Zen! Something else to consider, Spey casting opens up a whole new world for your traditional rods as you apply what you have learned to single hand Spey techniques.
Here is some quick information about each of the areas mentioned above:
Double Hand Rods:
Note: If you choose to go with a shooting head system, you will need running line. You may be tempted to go the cheap route and go with good old Trilene… DON’T! I have used Trilene and have learned it just ends up being a knotted, twisted mess as soon as there is wind at play. I have tried Rio slick shooter (not impressed,) Airflo Ridge (eh…so-so,) and the Sunset Amnesia (insert Angel-like music here.) Do yourself a favor, start with the Amnesia in a 30lb strength, stretch it properly before you load the reel, and then once before you cast it the first time you hit the water for the season. There is enough diameter on the 30lb that stripping line back in is easy and tangle free. Just thank me later for the pain and aggravation you will never know!
Learning the Casts:
So you have made the jump, bought a rod and picked a line, now what? Now the fun begins, its time to learn how to cast. The best thing you can do for yourself is find a quality instructor and take some lessons. Doing so will likely shorten the learning curve. That is great if you live near rivers such as the Deleware, Potomac, or American rivers, you will most likely be able to find an IFFF certified Two-handed Casting Instructor (THCI) near you. However, that is not an option in Florida, where Switch/ Spey rods have been somewhat of a novelty. While they are starting to catch on, it will probably be some time before there is an instructor within a short drive. So how do you learn how to cast? While nothing beats one-on-one instruction, there are two videos which I highly recommend.
Once you have picked up one of these videos, I recommend that you focus on learning the Snap-T first off of both shoulders, and then move on to the Double Spey off of both shoulders, and if you chose the Scandi system, add the Single Spey off of both shoulders after that. The Snap-T and Double Spey are both waterborne casts, and if you learn those, you will be able to fish most conditions you will find in the wild. River Right, River Left, Wind Right, Wind Left… learn the Snap-T and the Double Spey and you have any of those combinations covered. Once you have mastered these, you can move in to the other casts which will give you some options when the Snap-T and Double Spey are not quite perfect for a situation, or you just want to try something new.
Becoming a proficient caster takes practice… a lot of practice! If you do not live near the water this can be difficult. Whether you are using waterborne casts or touch-and-go casts, the water tension on the line is what helps load the rod when creating the D-Loop. To help simulate this when casting in your backyard or a local park, build yourself a grass leader. While a grass leader is not quite the same as being on the water, it allows you to practice without heading out to a river or lake. You will have to adjust timing once you actually get out on the water, but most folks get the hang of the slight difference in load that the water tension adds versus the grass leader in a short time. To learn how I tie my variation of a grass leader, check out the video below.
If you are interested in joining the two hand club, I hope that this article has helped you make the decision to jump in and start spey casting for shad. It is truly a wonderful world of fishing that you will enjoy for a lifetime!
The Annual Shad and Crappie Derby starts November 1st. Looks like it is time to come out of my summertime hibernation and start getting ready for this year’s run!
For the first Orlando Kayak Fishing Club meeting of 2016, Philippe Richen lined up Luc Desjarlais, author of Wade Fly Fishing The Upper St. Johns River Basin (Florida) for American Shad, for a book signing and presentation. I was able to attend this meeting and had a great conversation with Luc before his presentation about why he only included seven flies in his book. Luc told me that he actually thought that seven flies were too much, that you could fill fly boxes full of flies you would never need. Luc believes that if you want to catch shad consistently, there are really only three flies that you need, the Crazy Charlie, the Gotcha, and the Clouser Minnow, just tie them in different weights to match water conditions. I certainly can not argue with that, but will continue to try new flies none the less. I love to tie flies, and I love to catch fish in different ways. So my pursuit of the “perfect shad fly” will continue, even though I know there are tried and true favorites. 🙂
Luc is very friendly and animated, and I thought that he brought his book to life in a wonderful and interesting way. Not only did he work his way through information in his book during his presentation, he also provided plenty of additional anecdotes from his fifteen years of experience fishing for shad on the St. Johns River. In my review of his book, I said it was “essentially a treasure map for the fly fisherman targeting shad on the St. Johns River,” and this presentation is an excellent companion to that map on your journey to catch more shad. This podcast is something I will listen to year after year as I prepare for the run, and I highly encourage anyone that is targeting shad on the fly on the St. Johns River to do the same!