Shad fishing: Size matters

Kosar shad spoonsMidway through this season I took a tip from two old pro’s and switched my preferred shad rig to a shad spoon with a little split-shot a couple feet above it. Wow, whereas my darts got a little attention, the crazy fluttering spoon was hammered relentlessly. Both gold and nickel ones got equal love from the lust-crazed shad.

The first spoon I used was a Nungesser 20 (the one at the bottom of the photo above. The 20G-1 is gold and the 20N-1 is nickel. Click the links to buy them.) It worked great for a couple of weeks. Then it didn’t. I was baffled—donde est shad?

Frustrated, I swapped to a wee little spoon. (The one at the top of the photo.) WHAM! Suddenly the fish were hitting again. And these shad were much smaller than the hogs that had been hitting previously. So I learned something—the size of shad running can change, and one needs to adjust hook size accordingly. I also was delighted to find blueback herring hopping on these trim little shad spoons.

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It is May 2, 2018, and the Shad Run is on!

The frequently rainy spring bedeviled shad fishermen. Heavy rains fall, then the shad are un-catchable for four or five days.

My previous trips inevitably brought shad, but it was hit or miss. This morn began the same way: three shad in the first 10 casts (7:45am) followed by 30 minutes of futility, one shad, then 20 minutes of futility. Come 10am, I had all of 10 shad in 2+ hours.

Then the tide really started to flow out, and the run was on. I bagged 40 or so fish in the next two hours, most of which were caught on the simplest rig: a silver or brass spoon at the end and a couple of big splitshot sinkers a couple feet up the line. Cast long, count to two as it falls, and reel back and medium speed. Neither the color nor the size of the spoon made a difference—the shad pounced. My rod hand actually got a blister from the friction as I hauled out one fighting shad after another. And my left hand is all scraped up from grabbing shad so that I could remove the hook. Beat-up paws and sore forearm muscles—these are signs of a very good day of shad fishing!

Hickory shad: Win some lose some

Spring has come, and the shad are running up the rivers and waterways of the east coast. Here in Washington, DC, shad come in from the ocean, through the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac River. (Map here.) They make the journey from salty to fresh water to spawn.

Conveniently, the Potomac narrows in northwest DC, and angler flock to Fletcher’s Cove in mid-March and April to catch some of the bazillions of shad that stack up.

This spring has been rainy, which swells the river and makes it cloudy. It is tough to catch shad when they cannot see the darts and spoons, and a swollen river is a dangerous river. (See the rig below.)

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Shad Fishing at Fletcher’s Cove in Washington, DC on April 13, 2017

What. A. Day. I arrived at 7:30am, just 30 minutes after the tackle shop at Fletcher’s opened. every boat was rented. I was down, and considered going home.

But the sun was shining and the mercury was at maybe 55 degrees and it was a lovely morning. So I walked north past the boat dock to see if I might have some luck from the shore.

My first spot, a rocky outcropping right at the edge of the cove was a disaster. First cast I snagged and lost my two-dart rig. I seriously pondered packing it in. But with so many boats on the Potomac River and shad leaping and splashing, I had to try.

I am very glad I did. VERY.

I caught around two dozen shad from a muddy spot just south of what I call the catfishing peninsula. I had four of them in the first 25 minutes. And the fish were big. The smallest ones were 8″, but I consistently got fish 12 to 16 inches long. Below is a video of one of the whoppers. All the shad fought hard, and my line was busted three times. (I am inclined to switch super light braided line—maybe green—which will not break so easily and is much easier to tie, especially when it is sunny or windy. Or 10-pound clear monofilament will work.)

You can see from the video above that my rig was a small tri-swivel tied to my line (4-pound monofilament) and two darts (one chartreuse and one yellow), with one dart on about 22 inches of line and the other on about 16 inches.

As the video shows, you cast, then begin reeling once the darts hit. Frequently you’ll get hit in 5 seconds or less. You also might find yourself with shad on both darts, which makes reeling all the more an adventure.

Kosar Two Shad at once 04-13-2017

I wear a size 12 shoe, which shows how big these shad were. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar.

Oh memo to the novice: shad leap from the water and thrash alot, so keep the line tight and rod bent as you reel them in, otherwise they can pop themselves off the hook. And bring a net to scoop them in—lifting them straight from the water may get you a broken line or allow the fish to leap free.

Update: Additional experiments revealed that casting single darts (chartreuse, yellow, and orange) worked just fine. Switching to orange after working chartreuse heavily got positive results. Also, in slack tide, you cast and start reeling a second or three after the cast. As current builds, you may need to count to 10 or more before you slow reel so as to to let the dart sink down.

Scoring Bluegill, Pumpkin Seeds, Small-mouth Bass, and Channel Catfish Near DuPont Circle

kevin-kosar-dupont-circle-fishing-10-2016Talk about urban fishing!

One can fish Rock Creek under the Lauzun’s Legion Bridge. There’s a slab where one can drop a line into the water about eight feet below. Pumpkinseed are plentiful, and bluegill also can be found. (Both can be used as bait for catfish.) They hit worms very hard, and can be landed with bread or dough balls too. A bobber can scare them away, so consider just dangling your bait in there and watching them come and strike.

Go here when the weather is above 50 degrees, otherwise you may not find fish here—the water is only a few feet deep. (Come winter fish move to deeper water that is less brisk.)

I have frequently seen small-mouth bass and small catfish (maybe 15 inches) in the water, but they have proven very leary to respond to the various lures and baits I have tossed their way.

Catfishing on the Potomac River Near the Watergate, January 29, 2017

catfishing-near-the-watergate-01-29-2017Metropolitan Angler, who posts videos on YouTube, fishes here. He brought in at least two blue catfish that were 24 inches or more on January 20, 2017. (The temperature that day was about 45 degrees.)

So I decided to give it a try on January 29, 2017. I am very glad I went.

It was 45 degrees and overcast, and the tide was very low. One can park at Thompson’s boathouse (there are meters) or on Virginia Ave NW. One walks on the sidewalk through the intersection of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Ave NW toward the Watergate and Kennedy Center—the spot is only a couple hundred feet past the intersection.

My expectations were low, but I had a good hour of fishing. I rigged four rods: 2 steel helicopter rigs that each had two 4/0 circle hooks baited with thawed cut sunfish and a 3-ounce pyramid sinker. The other two rods had my standard catfish rig with an 8/0 circle hook rig baited with Surgitube bag jammed with chicken liver and a 3-ounce flat sinker.

In short, both rigs and baits proved attractive to catfish. We were there only one hour but caught an approximately 12-pound blue catfish (on the sunfish) and had bites (on the sunfish and the chicken livers twice).

Be careful—there is no rail and the drop to the water is at least 10 feet if not more (when the tide is out). This is no place for toddlers or young kids.

And forget bringing a net, unless it has an unbelievably long handle. The water is way beneath your feet, so best to use very heavy line (25-pound or more) because hauling a thrashing catfish up through the air puts huge strain on your line.

Blue Catfish Caught in Nanjemoy Creek in October 2016

This is one of the blue catfish that I caught in Nanjemoy Creek. The catfish there sure love to hit on fresh chicken livers. (I did see one young lady score small catfish on big earth worms, but I have not tried them myself.)

This fish was 28 inches and close to 10 pounds. A nice one—but there are some beasts in the creek. Twice I have seen 30-pound test line snapped by sudden massive hits. (This is what happens if you do not leave you drag loose enough—or if the fish manages to jerk the line under a log or somesuch.)