Soft Hackle Shad Fly

The Soft Hackle Shad Fly, like a lot of shad flies, is not so much a specific pattern, but more of a style or technique used to create a myriad of different shad flies. I have recently become obsessed with the simple elegance of soft hackle flies, and I believe they are under utilized when targeting shad on the fly. All that you need is a bit of colorful flash for the body, oval tinsel for the ribbing, a wrap or two of soft hackle, and a bead chain or hourglass eye and you have created an impressionistic shad fly that harkens back to a more simple time. We can essentially change the color of the Mylar body, and the color and type of soft hackle, and come up with endless variations of this classic.

I experimented with the version of the Soft Hackle Shad Fly that I tie in the above video in 2013 and had good success with it. I have started tying other variations for this year’s shad run, and I am quickly filling my fly box with them. I love the mottled look of the died Guinea Fowl soft hackle in this specific version, but I also tie soft hackle shad flies with natural color wings such as cream and brown grizzly. I believe the natural colors are a good option when fishing relatively shallow water on clear bluebird days.

Dare I say, with my new found obsession for this classic fly tying technique, some of my go-to patterns like the Kip Tailed Clouser and Shad Dart may be competing for space in my fly box. While hair wing patterns are easy to tie and certainly catch shad consistently, I also like to try different things on different days. As a fly fisherman that also loves to tie flies, what fun is it to tie the same exact patterns year after year, even if you know that they catch fish? It is through the process of experimentation and trial and error that new standard patterns are born and revered in a region.

Soft Hackle Shad Fly

Soft Hackle Shad Fly Pattern:

Hook: Size 8, 2x long
Thread: 6/0 Uni Thread (Pink in this version)
Body: Mylar Tinsel (Pink in this version)
Ribbing: Medium Silver Oval Tinsel
Wing: Soft Hackle (I chose a died pink Guinea fowl feather in this version but also use hen in cream and brown grizzly frequently)
Eyes: Bead Chain or Hourglass (I chose pink bead chain in this version)

A Collection of Soft Hackle Shad Flies
A Collection of Soft Hackle Shad Flies

Crappie Candy

The Crappie Candy is not just an awesome fly for catching crappie on the fly, but is also a favorite pattern for targeting shad on the fly as well. In my version, I omit the marabou tail found on the original and replace it with kip tail. I like to tie it with bead chain eyes as I can fish for shad with it using a polyleader or sink tip line, and if the bite is slow early in the season, I can tie a float on to my leader two or three feet above the fly and work over and around structure for crappie and bluegill. When targeting pan fish with the Crappie Candy, my favorite option is to use the fly as a dropper on a hopper-dropper setup. I tie a small, bright colored popper on as my hopper and either swing the tandem rig over or near structure. If you will only be targeting shad with the Crappie Candy and will not be targeting crappie, I would tie this fly pattern with 5/32 hourglass eyes to make sure the fly gets down in the shad’s face quickly.

This fly is definitely a St. Johns River Favorite shad fly.

Crappie Candy

Crappie Candy Fly Pattern:

Hook: Size 8-10
Thread: 6/0 Uni Thread
Tail: White Kip Tail
Flash: Flashabou
Body: Uni-Floss
Throat: White Kip Tail

I like to tie this pattern in orange, pink, yellow, and chartreuse. The tail can be tied in to match the color of the body as well. However, keep the throat white as that simulates the light underside of most minnows.


St. Johns High Tie Minnow (Shad Fly)

The St. Johns High Tie Minnow is an excellent shad fly pattern to target shad on the fly in the St. Johns River. It is tied with bead chain eyes so the fly rides hook tip up, which keeps it from hanging up in the grass or muscle beds. This makes this shad fly a St. Johns River Favorite. As the name tells, the wing is tied in “high tie” style which presents the fly to the shad in a slightly different way to other minnow patterns. I believe the aggressive posture of the high tie wing makes this fly pattern look more like a small baitfish or shrimp diving for bottom to avoid danger. It is particularly successful at taking shad when fished near bottom using a sink tip line or polyleader, where it bounces through cover looking for a place to hide. While I tend to use a figure-of-eight retrieve with most shad flies, I will mix it up when fishing this fly and use some quick, short strips to help add to the illusion of bait looking for cover.

In addition to being a great fly for shad on the St. Johns River, it has also taken quite a few other species. Panfish such as crappie, bluegill, and sunfish of all types have been caught using the St. John’s High Tie Minnow. I have also taken smaller 1-2 pound bass in good numbers. Most of these species have been caught on this pattern when fishing higher in the water column by using the fly without a sink tip or polyleader. I have also caught small gar and decent size catfish using it.

St. Johns High Tie Minnow

St. Johns High Tie Minnow Pattern:

Hook: Size 6
Thread: Red Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
Underwing: White Kip Tail (tied short on the bottom of the hook)
Flash: Flashabou (color to match the upper wing)
Top Wing: Kip Tail (color of your choice, tied in a similar fashion to the underwing)
Eyed: Bead chain
Note: Be sure to build a small bump of thread before tying in the wings as well as making thread wraps behind the wings once tied in to ensure it stands up and stays there. My favorite colors are orange over white and pink over white.

Al’s RV Shad Fly

Captain Al Montello’s RV Shad fly was designed to imitate a variety of small shrimp and krill that are known to be an important part of the American Shad’s diet. This is a simple pattern to tie and I like the fact that it utilizes a common gold Aberdeen hook. In addition to being tied with a chartreuse puff of yarn, red yarn is also a good option. This fly pattern was originally found on and looks to be a regional favorite shad fly pattern in Massachusetts.

Al's RV Shad Fly

Al’s RV Shad Fly Pattern:

Hook: Size 2 Aberdeen Light Wire-Gold (the gold color is essential)
Thread: Red Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
Wing: White Kip Tail
Throat: Red Hackle Barbs
False Head: Chartreuse Yarn


The Completed Pfeiffer Collection of Shad Flies

The Complete Collection of Pfeiffer Shad Flies

I have completed my journey in to the past and finished tying all 41 shad flies found in C. Boyd Pfeiffer’s book entitled Shad Fishing which was published in 1975. I have to say, the completed collection of shad flies looks pretty great in the beautiful wooden display box that my wife gave to me on our five year anniversary! I will display the entire collection with pride. 🙂

While I had tied some of these shad fly patterns before, there were quite a few that I had never attempted. I learned a lot by taking on this effort, and really enjoyed the process start to finish. There are definitely shad flies in this collection that I plan to use while fly fishing for shad on the St. Johns River this year. More importantly, I learned some new styles and techniques that I can use and adapt to make new shad flies that work well on my own water.

Here are the names of each fly in picture above:

(First Row Left:) Connecticut River Shad Fly #1, Connecticut River Shad Fly #2, Connecticut River Shad Fly #3, Connecticut River Shad Fly #4, Enfield Dam Shad Fly
(Second Row Left:) Cole Wilde’s Shad Fly, Cole Wilde’s Shad Fly #2, Massachusetts Shad Fly, Tom Loving’s Shad Fly, Burt Dillon’s Shad Fly
(Third Row Left:) Joobie, Maryland Shad Fly #1, Maryland Shad Fly #2, Maryland Shad Fly #3, Janet’s Fancy
(Fourth Row Left:) Joe Zimmer’s Shad Fly #1, Joe Zimmer’s Shad Fly #2, Irv Swope’s Shad Fly, The Silver Shad, The Royal Shad

(First Row Right:) Hayden Shad Fly, Shad Fly, Green Dart, Silver Yank, Russian River Shad Fly
(Second Row Right:) McCredie Special, Red Jasper Shad Fly, California Shad Fly #1,California Shad Fly #2, California Shad Fly #3, California Shad Fly #4
(Third Row Right:) California Shad Fly #5, California Shad Fly #6, California Shad Fly #7, California Shad Fly #8, California Shad Fly #9
(Fourth Row Right:) California Shad Fly #10, California Shad Fly #11, Shad Queen, Shad Fly-Dart, The Simple One