Shad Fishing South Carolina’s Rivers

How ironic! Castingawayblog has been concieved as a venue to highlight exotic fly fishing locales around the planet, and my very first blog post, paradoxically, is about fishing for a species that some might describe as vulgar, everyman’s fish- the American shad. Shad are an exceedingly common visitor to the coastal rivers of the east shores of the United States. However, they are unusual from the standpoint that they are anadromous, that is to say they spawn in freshwater, spend a part of their lives in such waters, then move to the ocean. Like salmon or steelhead, they return to their natal streams to produce the next generation in an ancient ritual which remains very poorly understood.

Other anadromous species like salmon or steelhead, remain the glamour fish, while the lowly shad is relegated to being the ugly stepsister to these much sought after trophies. Nonetheless, shad offer their own attractions. These fiesty fish fight freshwater obstacles from heavy currents to concrete dams in their struggle to reach the place of their birth, where they return the same gift of life that they received from their parents to a new generation.  It is indeed difficult for fly fishermen to forget the shad are members of the herring family, just like their much larger cousin, the tarpon. Like their distant relatives, shad, once hooked, delight the angler by providing an aerial display complete with body twists and contorsions, every bit as exciting as a 125 pound tarpoon, just on a smaller scale. Shad commonly are, of course, much smaller, ruinning from 14 to as much as 29 inches. Each specimen faces a gauntlet of fishermen who lie in wait in watercraft of all stripes to intercept these incipient parents and transport them to their waiting frying pans filled with lard fat. In my own observations, most of these fishermen seek meat for the table. Sport is but a happy byproduct of this hunter-gatherer activity, a practical implementation of certain segments of the DNA base sequence that we all carry in the depths of our cells. These fishermen, and women, typically attach chartreuse curly tail jigs or lures know as shad darts to spinning rods and enjoy considerable success employing such tactics. They fill the rivers inland from South Carolina’s coast, in such rivers as the Santee, the Cooper, especially the section below the dam in Moncks Corner known as the Tail Race Canal. The Rediversion canal in the St Stephens area is also popular with shad fisheren.

A few of us fancy ourselves to be more sophisticated in our approach by using fly equipment. Now it is widely accepted that flies cannot compete in terms of effectiveness of numbers landed, with conventional tackle. To my mind, it is not unlike the election of bow use by a deer hunter. The rifle is doubtless an infintely more effective tool for deer harvesting, but the requirements of bow hunting make that approach ever so much more interesting. It requires a closer approach, some might argue a more highly evolved skill set, and the sometimes extreme physical demands of tracking and recovering of  wounded animals through heavy underbrush and natural obstacles. Such dedicated and ethical hunters command considerable respect from all.

Having acknowledged the superiority of the efficiency of conventional fishing in general, and shad fishing in particular, those rare occasions where the guy flinging those gossamer strands of line to which are attached bits of feather and fur and other assorted bits of tinsel and glues, actually outfish the hardware heavers are sweet indeed. Outfishing a buddy using conventional gear while you persist with flinging flies, is unusual, but  becomes  a moment to be savored and meantally relived for years in the future. Anytime that particular friend begins a tirade about using “sisy fishing”: equipment, reminding him or her about that day you outfished his spin gear or even live bait, are sweet indeed.

Such an event occrred recently on the Santee River in rural South Carolina. Three friends launched their upscale jon boat at the Highway 52 boat ramp and headed north from there. Snide comments emanated from the guys holding the Shimanos as the boat plowed the water north of the landing. Ross tied on a custom chartreuse fly and let it slip into the calm air, and it sailed smoothly into the surprisingly clear water. After few similar casts, and he had 4 fish landed, avaeraging 4 -5 pounds each. Additionally, he was able to jump two or three more. His friends were flabbergasted, and ultimately admitted that flies do indeed have a place in the fishing aresenal and represent another valuable arrow for the fisherman’s quiver. They admitted this fact somewhat sheepishly, as they had scored not a single shad.

A few days later, I was privilegfed to join my friend Ross for what we hoped would be a repeat performance. Despite the use of highly sophisticated electronic equipment the CIA would have been proud of and a three hour search, we had only a single, unconsummated strike. Our consolation was that the hardware boys and girls who dotted the surface of the river were striking out as well. After vigorously beating what was obviously a deceased horse, we motored back to the landing and loaded our boat onto the trailer for the ride home. After briefly considering a second attempt at the Rediversion Canal, we consulted our watches and decided that the prudent course, if we were to keep our marriages solvent, might be to ,as the fighter pilots say, extend, separate, and fight another day.

The fly rod prevails today!


About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
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