The Partridge and Peacock is a traditional soft hackle fly, that I have modified to meet my needs when fishing for shad on the Econlockhatchee River. During years when the Econ has high flow relative to the St. Johns River, the shad can make their way up the Econ in considerable numbers, and when the water levels are right, they can even make their way to the section of river above Snowhill Road, and beyond.
Don’t let the dark bottom of the pools deceive you, the water in this section of river can be very clear. You will also often find schools of shad sitting above white sandy bottom in very shallow water where you can sight fish for them. So swinging a big, flashy fly will inevitably spook them. In these conditions, longer leaders with finer tipits are required, and attached to that, a smaller fly that looks natural and buggy. Everything in the river eats a soft hackle, and the Partridge and Peacock is my go-to fly when the shad get spooky.
Partridge and Peacock:
Hook: Size 10 Nymph Hook Thread: 8/0 Dark Brown Uni-Thread Body: Ice Dub- UV Peacock Eye Wing: Hungarian Partridge Eyes: Black Bead Chain
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. This fly 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 (Mosquito Fish,) 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 Pattern:
Hook: Size 10 Heavy Scud Hook (edit: After a season fishing them, I think a Light Wire Curved/ Scud Hook like the Daiichi 1130 tends to ride hook tip up more consistently. Either way though, the shad do not seem to care. I think the epoxy teardrop creates a keel on the fly that causes it to wobble, and that is why they can’t resist them. So hook tip up is only important if you are fishing them on a sink tip near bottom where you might snag) Thread: White Danville’s Tail: White Kip Tail Eyes: 1/8″ Prismatic Stick On Eyes Head: Thin Clear Cure Goo
The Shad Buster is a fly pattern that I had seen in pictures and learned to tie, but I never really figured out what it was called until I stumbled across an old article that Steve Gardner wrote. Steve is a long time fly fisherman, ex-professional fly tier, and he frequents the St. Johns River in pursuit of shad where he uses this fly. The Shad Buster is a hackle fly, but unlike other hackled shad flies like the Shad Intruder and the Shad Comet, it uses a stiffer “spade” feather for the palmered collar. These types of feathers are typically used for tails on dry flies, and although the barbs have a webby base, the barb itself is stiff. While true spade feathers come from the shoulders and wings of the rooster, you can usually find suitable feathers at the outside of the top of a dry fly neck. Another difference between the Shad Buster and other types of hackled shad flies is the fact that the hackle is wrapped in FRONT of the eyes which causes the barbs to align in the gap between the two eyes themselves. This gives the fly a more triangular or arrow shaped profile rather than the rounded three dimensional umbrella shape of a soft hackle.
Hook: Size 6 Thread: Pink 6/0 Uni-Thread Tail: White Marabou Body: Pink Sparkle Chenille or Pink Body Braid Eyes: Silver Bead Chain Hackle: 3 turns of white spade feather
The Shad Comet is a fly I learned to tie after studying an image I found on a Google Image search several years ago when researching shad flies. I could never find instructions but was able to piece together the pattern based on what I saw in the image. This fly became one of my standard alternates and has been a fixture in my fly box since I first started targeting shad on the St. Johns River. When I first started tying this shad fly, I liked the way the fly looked, but found the process of tying hackle style flies tedious. I found hair wing flies like the Kip Tailed Clouser, Shad Dart, and Crazy Charlie much easier to tie and I gravitated towards them when tying up dozens of flies for the season. Because of this, hair wing type patterns became my defacto choice when targeting shad by no fault of the hackle flies themselves, but rather laziness and a self imposed restriction to use flies that I could tie and replace quickly. Now that I have become a better fisherman and lose less flies, I don’t necessarily need to tie two or three dozen flies for me and friends each year. I have also become a more patient fly tier and I find the process of tying soft hackle flies much more enjoyable, so these types of shad flies intrigue me much more than they once did. Only time will tell whether soft hackle flies will take lead over the hair wings but, more and more of them find their way in to my fly boxes each year.
At minimum, the Shad Comet is a great alternate pattern and one that I have relied on many times when the fishing got slow. The subtle use of flash and the innate action of the hackle lends itself well to fishing for finicky or spooky fish. Bright days and shallow water are where I fished them frequently. I have found that this fly does not require much from me to come to life and I typically fish it using a dead drift, and then retrieve it using a slow, smooth figure of eight retrieve. Most strikes come at the end of the dead drift, before starting the retrieve. An interesting note about the Shad Comet fly is, I have caught more gar on this style fly than any other as a bycatch when fishing for shad. I am not sure what gar think they are, but they seem to love them. Catching a good size gar on a 5wt is good fun, trust me!
Note: My favorite color combinations are orange hackle/ white tail, orange hackle/ orange tail, pink hackle/ white tail, and pink hackle/ pink tail. While I generally do not carry a lot of chartreuse flies, this is one fly that chartreuse seems to perform as well (or maybe even better on some days) as the other colors, so chartreuse hackle/ white tail, and chartreuse hackle/ chartreuse tail are also recommended.
The Shad Intruder is a fly that presents a remarkably fishy profile to the fish with a minimum of materials, just like the steelhead fly that it is named after. That means it looks good, and is easy to cast. Now it might be a stretch to call this fly an Intruder as this is a much smaller and sparse fly compared to the fly used to target steelhead, but the profile is reminiscent of the real thing. The Shad Intruder at its essence is really just a double soft hackle fly, but let’s face it, “Shad Intruder” just sounds better. 🙂
All kidding aside, using two soft hackles on the Shad Intruder really creates a three dimensional profile of a minnow when viewed from the sides, top, or bottom. When viewed from the back, I think it looks remarkably like a small shrimp, which is never a bad thing when targeting shad. The soft hackle barbs add a lot of action to the fly, even when at rest. While even a gentle current brings the fly to life, a strip-strip-pause brings all kinds of action. I love soft hackle flies anyway, but I really do believe they are under utilized when targeting shad. I will say that I have had a lot of success with them when the fish seem finicky and unwilling to take a super bright colored fly. Blue bird days in shallow water are great conditions to try this fly, but I have fished them deep on grey days when the shad would not take my standard offerings and had good success as well. Do yourself a favor, always keep a couple of Soft Hackle Shad Flies and Shad Intruders in your fly box. Doing so has kept the skunk off of me on more than one occasion!
Note: I typically tie this fly with either pink tinsel and dubbing, or orange tinsel and dubbing, but leave the tail hackle white and the main hackle natural. Orange is my favorite color in this pattern, with pink being the alternate.
The Shad Intruder Fly Pattern:
Hook: Size 8, 2x Long Thread: 8/0 Dark Brown Uni-Thread Rear Collar: Pink Dubbing Tail: One or Two Wraps of Short White Soft Hackle Body: Pink Tinsel Ribbing: Medium Oval Tinsel Front Collar: Pink Dubbing Hackle: One or Two Wraps of Speckled Hen Soft Hackle (length to the bend of the hook) Eyes: Bead Chain