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Shad Fishing Slam

The shad fishing continues to be consistent in many tributaries throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, not the least of which is the upper Patuxent River where I found myself, again, this morning. It’s been that good. This time, I was joined by my father, Rob, and our good friend, Clay, for a morning of fishing during which the action was just enough to keep us hooked there a spell longer than we probably should have been. Though the number of fish weren’t head-over-heels there, the spectrum of species certainly was, and we managed to catch a shad fishing slam: hickories, Americans, and blueback herring. We got ’em!

The morning started funny enough with my father and Clay arriving a good 45 minutes ahead of me. I told them via text, “Veer left and walk down the bank; when you think you’ve gone far enough, keep walking.” 

Fiesty, little blueback herring.

Eventually, I show up and start my walk into the woods to find them. And I walk. And walk. And darn if they weren’t a solid quarter-mile further downriver than I had ever ventured before. Long past the holes I intended to show them. So, we trudged back to a spot I’ve done particularly well at the past three visits. Clay hooked into a solid hickory. I caught a white perch, then a hickory. My father found perch, as well. The hits came on random colored offerings; a yellow/red dart, another chartreuse, and a blue/red/silver stump-jumper. 

The river’s flow/current was moderate but not overwhelming for 1/16 ounce darts, jigs, and spoons. There was enough flow, so that if you cast out and upstream you could let the water swing the rig down-current toward the seam of calmer water near-bank where the fish generally prefer holding. Even an 1/8 ounce jig did well. All three of us had tandem-rigs of mixed lures tied to the business end of our light-fast rods. 

We continued moving back upriver until we found pockets of fish and when we did find them, the action was brilliant for twenty minutes or so before the fish seemed to move on. We did this dance a few times before settling into a stretch of bank that comfortably accommodated the three of us casting, and landing just enough fish to keep us happy. We also settled on both black/red and yellow/red darts to hook into most of the fish. 

My father with a nice hickory shad, and Clay casting for another.

But all good things come to an end and with the action coming to pause for longer than my tolerance allows, I decided to tie on a white dart with red threading and yellow hair—a color usually employed during sunshine and blue skies, not the 100 percent cloud cover we had. Maybe this could spark another run of bites. 

A couple casts in, I felt a pop at the end of the line. A snag perhaps? No! This snag started moving and I had a very nice specimen tugging and taking line. A couple good runs of drag. The whippy spirit of the fight cued me to shad, and this one proved to be a very fat American. Perhaps my largest landed American in three seasons. She was a brute, she was fun, and after landing her for a few quick photos, the release was smooth and she swam healthily away. “Go make more of yous now, ya hear!” I said. 

One more American hit for me, Clay scored a half dozen roe hickories, plus a buck or two, and my father scored a very nice roe hickory that broke the tip of his rod! In between the shad, each of us caught a couple blueback herring, which are about as feisty a catch as you can hook into. Thus, we completed the anadromous slam of hickories, Americans, and herrings. Plus, white perch.

Walking back to our cars, I remarked that with the shad runs starting weeks earlier this season, our time fishing for them might be ending sooner than later. Clay—more than 70 years into his angling addiction—felt differently. “I think the runs are just getting started,” he said. 

I hope Clay is right. See y’all on the water again, real soon!