The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 28, 2013

Let me take you to school with ‘Shad 101’

Tight Lines
Rick Goines

TARBORO — As you read this, thousands of Hickory shad and American shad, which we call white shad locally, are leaving the Atlantic Ocean entering the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and heading up freshwater rivers to spawn.  Fish that live in saltwater, but travel to and reproduce in freshwater are classified as anadromous.  Striped bass, better known as rockfish, also follow this process several months after the shad.

This migration of spawning fish provides about 4-5 months of outstanding local fishing action in the Tar, Roanoke, and Neuse Rivers.  We will probably hit about 2-3 weeks in March when I would put up our excellent local shad fishing against angling anywhere.  It’s that good!  If you like to catch fish, an eastern North Carolina coastal river is the place to be during hickory shad, white shad, and rockfish season.

Henry Knight caught the first shad last year on the last Sunday in January 2012.  I expect a similar timetable this year.

The good news is that shad fishing is not complicated or expensive.  You do not have to have a boat.  A ton of shad are caught from the bank.  

Equipment can be as simple as a not-to-pricey spinning rod and reel combo, and a tandem shad rig.  My very biased opinion is that you need to see Tackle Joe at Greenville Marine.  Joe Varnell can fix you up with everything you need, equipment-wise.  My next stop would be either Roberson & Dupree Shoe Store or Marrow-Pitt Ace Home Center in Tarboro to purchase a card of six Custom Jimmy D Shad Rigs.  I’ve tried everything out there, and Jimmy D’s work best for me.  I highly recommend them to anyone serious about catching shad.

Personally, I think most people use too much hardware on their line to shad fish.  I prefer a simple small snap swivel on the end of the line.  I see people throw lines with more bling-bling on it than a rap singer. I find that very unnecessary, and sometimes more of a distraction and hindrance than a help.  In fishing, as in most things in life, simple usually works out better.  I believe in KISS, as in ‘Keep It Simple Stupid.’

Shad anglers tend to be kind of bunched up on the river bank.  Give the person next to you a little room, and always be cognizant of where you are casting.  Tangled lines are never any fun for anyone.  It’s a simple cast and slow retrieve process.  When I say slow, I mean painfully s-l-o-w.  Retrieve all the way to the bank or boat.  I could feed a room full of hungry people on the shad I have caught right in front of me on my final reel-turn revolution.  In addition, it’s right darn exciting to see that fish nail that bait before your very own beady little eyes.

Shad fishing is not about strength, but more about finesse and technique.  I think that may be why the ladies excel so much at shad fishing.  Also, it’s a fishing outing the whole family can enjoy.  Fishing skill and expertise is always good, but not absolutely necessary when the river is teeming with fish.  Shad is a great fish to target for novices and youngsters.  Many a lifetime of fishing pleasure was launched catching a few feisty river shad during spawning season.

Rick’s Soapbox:  Congrats shout-out to Robert Cherry who caught a 10-pound striper in the Tar River last week.  Rocky was either an early member of the advance party, or he forgot to leave last spring.  When I asked Robert what he did with him, he just smiled and rubbed his stomach.  Rocky did not die in vain.  He fed a good man.  

I prepare this article in mid-week, and as I write this, no one has claimed the 2013 Tar River First Hickory Shad Contest prize package yet.  Why not you?  Go get ‘em!  

Care to share?  Tight Lines welcomes your fish snaps, tall tales, and outrageous lies at

See you on the water, my friend!