There is no time more satisfying to be on the water than that golden hour just as first light illuminates the natural world in shadows and whispers.
In spring particularly the upper reaches of tidal Chesapeake rivers burst with life, both finned and feathered. Ocean swimming rockfish and shad of both varieties are deep up river, with the latter species my target. I’ll leave the stripers alone.
The Potomac, Gunpowder and Susquehanna are all popular spots to play the shad game, which is one of strictly catch and release. Don’t discount smaller tributaries, though, since shads can be caught in the Nanticoke and Choptank, too.
When the bite is on, tandem shad darts, tied to a three-way swivel (#2 or smaller) with the heavier dart tied on the shorter leader, in yellows, chartreuse or white work.
If the fish are finnicky, go with neon or glow hues of pink, orange or even purple. Shad hit best in low-light conditions and it isn’t unusual for me to have to ride out a slow or weak current to catch a fish.
Mash down barbs for easier release. In-water releases are best for shad (any game-fish for that matter). If you want to handle one for pic or selfie, first scoop it up in a rubber coated, shallow net, and wet your hands.
In these same waters earlier this spring alewife and blueback herring spawned. Collectively termed “river herring,” they look very similar. These are the fish that trolled umbrellas rigs tipped with 9- and-12 inch rubber shads are supposed to mimic. Despite some who want to lump them together, river herring aren’t menhaden.
Removing blockages and reducing coastal netting has helped river herring and shad populations return to their ancestral waters. A prime example of this kind of proactive initiative was the breaching of Bloede Dam on the Patapsco River last September.
Multiple partners worked for years to make it happen, and as a result for the first time in a century, oceanic migrants like herrings can now swim freely to the spawning grounds of their ancients. These projects that unbind rivers have made multiple positive impacts that include not only expanding fishing and other recreational opportunities but help to revitalize local communities and reduce safety hazards dams present.
We’re most likely at the peak of the shad run now, and I’d wager it’ll be over in another week or two. And if you miss it, you have only yourself to blame. Worse, you’ll have missed out on tangling with a game fish whose size belies its fight. Both types of shad—American and their smaller cousins, hickories—are guaranteed to put a bend in your rod and a smile to your face.
Chris Dollar writes about the outdoors for Capital Gazette. Email photos, calendar listings and outdoors news to: email@example.com.
April 14: Bay Bridge Boat Show. More than 100 fishing boats on display. Bay Bridge Marina, Stevensville. More information at annapolisboatshows.com.
April 17: Annapolis Anglers Club meeting. Capt. John Whitman of Patent Pending Charters presents “Spring Trolling Techniques.” Capt. John will also have his Spoonbrella Rigs for sale. Meeting starts 7 p.m. American Legion Post #7, 1905 Crownsville Rd., Annapolis MD.
April 18-May 23: Spring Turkey Season. Only bearded turkeys, bag limit is 1 turkey per day and 2 bearded turkeys for the season. Daily shooting hours April 18-May 9 are one-half hour before sunrise to noon; May 10-May 23 hours one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
April 19-21: Kent Narrows Boat Expo, Harrison's Yacht Yard & Bridges Restaurant on The Kent Narrows, 106 Wells Cove Road, Grasonville, MD at 9:00a.m.-5:00p.m. 410-827-9090 www.facebook.com/kentislandboat.expo
April 20: Boatyard Bar & Grill 18th Annual Opening Day Rockfish Tournament. Catch, Photograph and Release. Entry Fee $250 per boat for four anglers, $50 for each additional angler. Party at 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Awards at 5 p.m. Register on-line at boatyardbarandgrill.com.
April 20: Maryland’s Spring Trophy Rockfish Season. Check DNR website for specific regulations.
April 20-May 5: Annapolis Anglers Club/EVAN Foundation Spring Rockfish Tournament, which benefits research and patient support for neuroblastoma, a rare and deadly pediatric cancer. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 24: Free State Fly Fishers Beer Tie, Killarney House Irish Pub, 584 W Central Ave, Davidsonville, MD at 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Contact Luis Santiago (209) 485-5315 www.fs-ff.com
May 11: Kayak Fishing course offered by Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold campus. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Cost is $59. Mark Bange and John Veil, instructors. Register at aacc.edu or (410) 777-2345.
May 13: Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Doors open at 6 p.m., meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Hwy (Route 2), Severna Park.
May 26: South River Open Water Swim, 8 a.m. at Sylvan Shores, Riva. Proceeds benefit South River Keeper efforts. Register or sponsorship opportunities at swimthesouthriver.com.