The familiar crunch of gravel under my tires relaxed my breathing and widened my eyes. Stepping out of the truck, I looked toward the creek to see two anglers emerging from the water. The younger of the two men greeted me with a smile. “Howdy.” Even his voice smiled. 

“How’d it go?” I inquired while trying to hide my excitement of more space on the river. 

“We got a few, then it was slow going, then we got a few more. It was a blast.” The older gentleman smiled and nodded as his companion chatted with me. 

“Sounds like a wonderful afternoon.” I replied.

“Definitely, good luck!” They pack up their gear, lingering at the tailgate to chat with each other. 

A lone fly fisher remained in the creek. Using a two-handed spey rod, he made eloquent, looping casts to the far bank, swinging his line and fly downstream with the current. I didn’t want to intrude but also, I was hesitant to reallocate being new to the area, only fishing for shad once before.

I take a few steps toward the chatting men. “Should I drive upstream and find another spot?” 

“Nope, this spot is good and he’s cool. We worked in with him, there is plenty of space.” The younger man responds.

“Take care.” I put my waders on, and the two men depart. 

I sit and watch the angler, casting and swinging flies through the current. The movements were soothing, nearly hypnotic. Wading a few steps into the creek, I call out, “Mind if I work in with you?” I’ve heard this terminology before, often used by friendly steelheaders swinging flies in western rivers trying to hook the elusive chrome sea run rainbow trout.

The Shad Pathway to Spawning Grounds

“Not at all. You can follow me downstream. I’m moving down to the tree and calling it a day. There were several pods earlier, but they have slowed. Maybe another will come through for you.” The spey fisherman was cool. 

“Thanks!” 

Quickly I became absorbed into fine tuning the mechanics of my casting. Equipped with a single hand six weight, longer casts with a light fly took about twenty minutes to roll out accurately, but not quite consistently. My companion finished up and headed out, wishing me luck on his exit.

Eventually my rhythm steadied as my casts and line management sufficiently presented the fly without twinges of embarrassment. First a bald eagle and then a blue heron passes overhead, temporarily granting me the feeling of connection with nature, leaving behind the realm of the stumbling interloper. I had gone from doing and was approaching being, and I could feel myself relaxing. 

Amazing Bird Life Overhead

Migrating shad began to thrash the water surface around me and my heart rate notches up with each splash. My mind switches to intensely following the line after each cast, mending, and feeding extra line to manage the swing. Minutes later, an osprey struggled to hold a wriggling shad as it labored to its nest. Its catch was sizable, roughly the size of the bird’s body. This would be a meal worth the effort.  

My line swung below me and suddenly tightened. The violent pull shook me from my bird watching. I gathered in line frantically to get the fish on the reel. The shad leapt from the water and splashed down hard on its side.  

Slight panic begins to build in my mindset. I search my mind to recall lessons from landing larger, more powerful fish. My history of losing fish near the net creeps into my confidence. I held the rod low to keep the fish in the water. Maintaining side pressure on the fish, I manage to stay connected to the fish as it makes its last desperate run. Reaching back and lifting the rod, I landed the stocky fish. Triumph mixed with relief fills me as the fish fills the net. 

Beautiful Hickory Shad

Iridescent silvery scales sparkle in the light on the rigid and muscular build of the shad. A bullet through the ocean, shad are incredibly powerful swimmers. The wide, round eye seems focused in the distance, unable to stray from its mission. With a slight brush of the sharp, bony fins I am reminded to handle the fish quickly and carefully. I release the fish back into the water and it continues its long journey. 

Guilt and admiration replace triumph in my emotions. The catch and release dilemma stays with me. To enjoy the art of fly fishing, the angler must endanger the health of the fish. We often participate in conservation or volunteer pursuits to help sport fish populations stay viable in the future. I tell myself I do more good than harm and make another cast. 

Over the next hour, shad are hooked and lost and hooked and landed. The sun drops below the treetops and I make my way back to my truck. Seeing the tracks of the three anglers retreating up the sandy point bar, I smile. 

“I got a few, then it was slow going and I caught one more, but it was a blast.”

Keep Mending…

Shad migrate from the ocean, up the larger rivers (Susquehanna pictured) to smaller tributaries to spawn

One Reply to “Momentarily Interrupting the Shad Migration”

  1. I guess I never thought of shad in a stream. Not that I am an expert of fish.
    It seemed to be a challenge beyond the usual trout fishing so I can see why it was an amazing experience!
    Good to interact with other anglers along the way!
    You continue to have unique interactions with nature! Such a spiritual exchange!

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