Ever since I was a little kid who used to ride his bike to Liberty Reservoir, one of the most effective lures in my scant arsenal of baits was the shad dart. For those of you who don't know, the shad dart is a small, lead headed jig that is cone shaped with but a whisp of hair or feathers tied at hooks end. They have been a long-time, East Coast standard for many decades and were originally designed to catch the fish for its namesake - hickory and white shad.
Shad darts come in sizes from as small as 1/64th of an ounce on up to bruiser sized one-ounce lures for larger game such as mid-sized stripers. Most anglers employ 1/8th and 1/16th ounce darts for the bulk of their shad, or other, types of fishing. With the annual seasonal runs of shad now going on in the Chesapeake tributaries and other East Coast rivers, shad darts are now the prominent lure for these anglers for the next several weeks.
Back in the day, shad darts were also known as "quilbys," "crappie darts" or just plain "darts." Many anglers make them themselves and paint then to their own specs to lure crappies, white perch, small rockfish and, of course, shad and herring from the tidal rivers and local reservoirs. The standard color pattern that is most popular is the red head/white body/yellow tail pattern that is easy to tie and catches every thing that swims. To date, I have taken these species with darts - large and smallmouth bass, pickerel, pike, bluegills, crappies, white and yellow perch, stripers, carp, channel catfish, and most of the local trout species. The cone-shaped body and beveled head just creates an irresistible swim pattern that makes them so effective.
The most fish I ever caught in one day I caught on 1/8th ounce darts...over 250 shad from the Susquehanna complex on a warm, late April day back in 2007. I forgot to mention several walleyes that were mixed in with that outing - notch another specie. Other color patterns work well, too. My good friend Ron Munshower created what he called the "lady bug" pattern - orange with black dots. This was especially good on panfish species like crappie and bluegills. And another friend, Charles Wallace from Delaware, prefers luminous colors of fluorescent chartreuse, greens and reds to lure tidal surges of hickory and American shad.
You can find smaller darts today sold by the Leland Lure Company as "Trout Magnets." These are commercially made and are even down to 1/100th ounce to accommodate the mid-west ice-fishing crowd. They are in most of the big-box stores. I like to keep a look out for darts, painted or unpainted, at the off-season fishing shows and events throughout the region. Inexpensive and versatile, they are a 'classic' lure, and should be in everyone angling arsenal.