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Outdoors: Formula for shad success

Past action below Conowingo Dam. Angler in front prepares to bring in shad, while angler in back plays another one.
Past action below Conowingo Dam. Angler in front prepares to bring in shad, while angler in back plays another one. (BILL MAY PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

It's often been said that the formula for successful shad fishing is the same as for establishing the desirability of real estate: location, location, location.

Some would add the element of timing. A fly fisherman I met at a trout stream the other day related, "My experience of shad fishing is 'You should have been here yesterday'." I've had some good experience in over 40 years of shad fishing and agree both location and timing are key factors. That's certainly true this year.

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One fisherman reported on the Chesapeake Angler Forum of Tidal Fish, under the title of "Susky (Susquehanna River)Alive with Fish": "Went fishing Saturday and Sunday afternoon (last weekend) and caught fish on every cast. I caught big white perch, white shad and stripers using shad lures and double hook up after double hook up of white perch using both blood worms and minnows...."

I assume this guy fished from a boat. (I also suspect most of those "white shad" were actually hickory shad.) Before Wayne Blottenberger moved to Pennsylvania, we fished the Susquehanna below Deer Creek in his 14-foot jon boat. We fished shad darts and small spoons on spinning tackle and flies with fly tackle to take all the above species plus the occasional smallmouth bass, channel catfish and carp. We also fished from shore, joining the crowds below Conowingo Dam, at the mouth of Deer Creek and other spots along the Harford County shoreline.

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Reports in indicate both boat and shore fishing on the mainstem Susquehanna have been very good - at times - this spring. Small silver or gold spoons have been the top lures.

However, our favorite way and place to fish has always been fly fishing in Deer Creek, and that has been spotty this year. Blottenberger and Dale Weinrich fished there about two weeks ago. Wayne used to live within a couple of miles of the river and is one of the best shad fishermen I know. Dale is a retired Maryland DNR biologist, who studied hickory and white (American) shad for much of his career, was largely responsible for the reopening of the catch-and-release shad fishery in the late '90s and is also an expert angler. Dale and Wayne had a "slow" day, i.e., each took a few more than 20 hickories.

Fishing was even slower when I joined then a few days later. Dale arrived pre-dawn and took 10 fish. Wayne and I took 5 each. Dale's stream thermometer showed water temperatures dropped from 64 degrees on the prior trip to 59 on this trip. Typically this is a low-light, morning and evening bite. Usually, as on Wayne and Dale's prior trip, fishing shuts down in bright sunlight

We all used 4 to 5-weight fly rods, 5-foot sinktip lines and size 6 or 8 streamer flies. Wayne's pattern of a pink chenille body, silver rib and pink marabou wing has been our - and the shad's - choice in recent years.

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On a typical shad outing, we all take 2 to 3 dozen hickories with the standard techniques, then experiment with other techniques, turn our spots over to others, coach them if needed and explore new waters. This time Wayne and I checked the Susquehanna, saw fishing was slow then went home.

The next day I got an email from Wayne; a buddy of his reported "steady catching" fishing the Cecil County tributary of the Susquehanna, Octararo Creek. Wayne commented, "Go figure." I say location and timing. Since Octararo is deeper than Deer Creek, you can fish there with flies or with darts and spoons.

Spinning tackle is the choice for fishing the mainstem Susquehanna from shore. Use a long, medium-weight rod, 8 to 10-pound monofilament and one or two shad darts or small spoons. These lures will take hickory and white shad, plus the other species mentioned as bycatch. Figure on snagging and losing lots of lures.

Boat fishermen can use the same fly and spin tackle described previously. If the water is flowing fast, you may need a full sinking line with fly tackle. You can use much larger flies, even size 1 or 2 for all species.

The main river is treacherous for boaters and waders, even during steady releases of water through the dam. It is downright dangerous when more dam gates are opened. Sirens and flashing lights give about a 10-minute warning. Waders should immediately get out of the water and be prepared to move to even higher ground. Boaters should start their engines in neutral and be prepared to move. Boats should anchor via a rope anchor attachment and have a big knife handy to cut the rope should the anchor becomes jammed in the rocks when you need to lift it.

You can get the planned release schedule by calling 1-888-457-4076, but, as the recorded message says, this schedule can change.

Access Points

Conowingo Dam Area - US Rt. 1 to right on Shuresville Rd., left to Shure's Landing Rd.

Deer Creek - Shuresville Rd. as above to Stafford Rd., turn right on gravel road after crossing bridge to fish upper Deer Creek, continue to left to fish mouth of Deer Creek.

Octararo Creek - Rt. 1 across Conowingo Dam, turn right on MD 222 to Susquehanna Park in Cecil County.

Lapidum Boat Ramp - MD 155 to Lapidum Rd. to Webster Rd.

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