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!

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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.)

I have been out to catch shad four times so far (March 27, and April 11, 15, and 24), and yet to be skunked. Despite the river being muddy from the heavy rains a week ago, I bagged about a dozen shad in less than two hours. Finding the level where the shad are racing by is key. To move the lures lower in the water, one adds splitshot about the swivel. Start it one and add additional splitshots. Also, give the lure longer to sink. I start with a three count (splash, 1, 2, 3, reel) and then increase that count as high as ten. (Do keep the bail closed—otherwise more line will spool out and you can end up with a tangled rig.)

Today I had an unusual experience: a massive shad hit broke my 10-pound line. Many folks who fish for shad use 8- or 6-pound line. I use 10 because shad are so wild and thrash so much. Still, as the video above shows, the stronger line was not able to withstand the hit. Whether it was one huge roe-laden shad or two shads hanging on the dart and the spoon I will never know.
Kosar Shad 04-11-2018
Kosar dart spoon shad rig 04-24-2018

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.)

How to Tie a Simple Catfish Rig

Kosar Simple Catfish Rig 10-31-2016.jpgThere are various ways to tie catfish rigs. I used to use helicopter rigs because they are absurdly easy to tie and require only two things—a sinker and a hook. I first learned how to do one from this video.

But, the more I fished the Potomac River and Tidal Basin, the more I grew annoyed with helicopter rigs because they tend to get twisted—the hook portion of the line gets wrapped around the sinker line due to the water current. Don’t get me simple wrong—helicopter rigs are a fine way to start, and they can be used if you are short on gear (like if you’re in a boat and lose a nice rig and have insufficient materials to re-rig.). And helicopter rigs can work great if you buy some additional materials that keep the lines from twisting around each other. (See this photo. And, yes, some folks put the weight above the hook and others below it.)

This is sometimes called a “zero rig“—but I refer to it as a simple catfish rig because is shows  simple, clean profile—a single line with the hook at the end and a single sinker. here’s a 4-minute video I made showing how to make this rig. Below the video you will see links that will enable you to buy the various components (circle hook, flat sinkers, Lindy plastic beads, and 30- or 40-pound monofilament line).

I advise tying 3 or more of these rigs before you go to fish. Then clip them on to a swivel clip that’s attached to your reel line. This enables you to bait up quickly, and to replace a rig if one gets lost (due to a snag) or damaged. Enjoy!