This is the second of six articles included in the series entitled Fly Fishing for Shad- The Basics.
What makes a great fly rod? The answer to that question is most often based on one’s personal opinion. What I am about to say here might garner some negative response, but here goes. In this sport, there seems to be a group of people that believe if you do not spend 700 dollars on a fly rod, you are not serious about fly fishing. While I believe everyone is entitled to spend their hard earned money how they please, 700 dollars is a lot of money for what is essentially a graphite stick. Now I know, I know… there is a lot of engineering and craftsmanship that goes in to designing a rod blank, and high end rods have their place in this world. If I for one was going to take a trip to an exotic destination and pay several thousands of dollars to target 100+ pound tarpon, I could potentially justify a 700 dollar expense to ensure I have the best 10 or 12 weight rod to do the job. For fly fishing for shad on the other hand, well, dropping that kind of coin is just not necessary. However, if you must have the highest end rod on the market, no one here is going to stop you! 🙂
So what type of fly rod do you NEED when fly fishing for shad? Because of their size, stamina, and ability to make multiple runs in to your backing, shad are formidable opponents. However, high-end, large weight rods are not necessary to land the feisty shad. In my opinion, the best fly rod to use to fly fish for shad is the humble 5 weight rod in a 9ft length. I tend to gravitate towards medium fast action rods versus their fast action counterparts, but that is me. While a fast action rod might produce a tighter loop, I am more than capable or producing a tight enough loop to cast 60 feet with ease using a medium fast, and it does not bother my elbow like a fast action rod does.
To me, the 5 weight rod is a perfect balance of power and finesse for fly fishing for shad. It lets you “feel” the fish during the fight, but still allows you to cast relatively heavy flies in a decent headwind. The ability to cast heavy streamers is key to shad fishing, as more often than not, you will be using flies either weighted with bead chain or lead eyes. And of course, more often than not, mother nature will send at least a breeze to complicate things.
Now a 5 weight really is my favorite fly rod for shad fishing, but there are times when it just does not fit the conditions. Winters in Florida can produce days where wind speeds average 10-15 mph (or more) and that will send a fisherman without a larger weight rod packing. On these days I like to use a 7 or 8 weight rod. While you lose some of the “feel” of the fish with a larger rods ability to horse the fish to the net, you can punch through a stiff headwind and keep on fishing. So while it may not be as challenging to fight the fish, it is a lot more fun than heading home.
Another recent option (to me) when the wind speed picks up (or even if it does not) is a two handed rod. Switch rods have recently become all of the rage in other genres of fly fishing, and during the 2014/2015 season, a 10 foot 8 inch 6 weight switch rod became my rod choice when the wind picked up. Heck, as I got better at Spey/ Skagit casting, the switch rod became my primary tool and opened up a whole new world to me. Switch rods with heavy Skagit heads allow a caster to reach new water with longer casts and get deeper using heavy sink tips. Two handed rods offer fly fisherman so many options that they warrant their own focus, and I will go in to more details in a future article.
When fly fishing for shad, you really do not need a specialized outfit. You probably already have a fly rod in your quiver that can do the job. While a 5 weight rod is my favorite for light wind days and a 7 weight for high wind days, there is no reason a 6 or an 8 won’t work. However, in the interest of protecting the fish that you catch and release, I would not venture in to lower weights than the 5 weight as the extended fight time to bring the fish to hand will most likely produce more stress on the fish. Now I admit, I have caught shad on a 3 weight fly rod and boy, that is good fun! However in hindsight, it is not fair to a fish that I intend to release to pay the price of energy loss for my extended entertainment. These fish are here to spawn and create the next generation of fish we hope to catch after all. Likewise, going larger than an 8 weight, while maybe allowing you to fish in higher wind, will most likely result in little challenge and less fun.