Have you heard the one about how to cook a shad?
Have you heard of American Shad?
What about the "Founding Fish"?
Have you heard of The American Revolution?
Maybe you know of a man named George Washington?
Have you been living under a rock?
Well, if you're unfamiliar with the fish that I'm talking about, The American Shad, it is my favorite broadcast spawner. These fish run, they jump, there’s literally millions that swim up the Columbia, who doesn't love that. I like to call them the gate-way drug to anadromous fish. Once you find them they can be relatively easy to catch. With that said, Shad fishing to me is a no brainer, sit back relax and just catch fish. Quite often you’ll find yourself in shorts and a T-shirt enjoying the weather. Most times out I find myself laughing out loud with the stupidity of the fishery and after a tough steelhead season there is nothing better then an easy catch.
This is the fish that saved George Washington, remember that guy, and his army from starvation at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Yep that's right, you might be sipping tea and eating biscuits and complaining about the Queen's Royal Family if it wasn't for these fish. You might say it's your patriotic duty to target American Shad.
The first 12,000 Shad were stocked on the west coast in 1871 in the Sacramento River, within 6 years Shad were reported in the Columbia River. It wasn't until 1885 that the first plantings of Shad occurred in the Columbia. Now we have the largest return of these fish in the world, at around 6 million. That gives us a lot of chances to hook one of these things.
Typically we use a 5wt or 6wt single hand rod but recently people have started using trout spey rods in 3 or 4wt sizes. These trout spey rods are great from the bank to throw those heavy sink tips, but are a little cumbersome from the boat because of there length and ability to land fish. Any reel works fine, but I like something with a decent drag. Sometimes you will run into bi catch like, Carp, Spring Chinook, or a Sturgeon, and it pays to have something to slow those big fish down. For fly lines on single hand rods we use sink tip lines in either 15' or 24' tip length, and in the fastest sink rate you can find. I like to use either a Rio 250 grain or 300 grain 24' sink tip fly line. Now for the trout speys, I've found that a intermediate skagit line will help get the fly down faster, and then i normally put on 12'6" sink tip of T-14. Depending on water speed and depth I will change that sink tip to either T-8 or T-11 and maybe even shorter chunks as well. If your snagging on the bottom your too deep just switch to something lighter or change the cast. Leaders are the same for both set ups, I would recommend a short 3' to 4' leader of 6 or 8 pound test. The fish aren't leader shy so its up to your desecration.
What to look for when targeting Shad. Try to find the river's current seams, these fish want to take the path of least resistance up river and that is where you will find them. They are most easily targeted in the soft edges, eddies, and drops offs of the stream. When casting we need to try to get the fly as deep as possible, so I recommend casting your line straight across or even upstream at a angle to get that fly sinking immediately. Once the line becomes tight I will swing the fly across river tell it is straight below me, giving it a slight twitch ever so often to give movement to the fly. Make sure at the end of the swing you let it sit for a bit, those shad love to eat on the dangle. Remember if your snagging the bottom to often you might have too heavy of a sink tip or you might be casting up stream at too high of a angle, so just make a adjustment.
Well, what flies should you use? Anything bright, with the best colors being silver, chartreuse, and orange, but have fun with it. Hook size range from 4 to 10 water depending, just make sure they don't have too long of tails on your flies, it can cause short bites which can become rather frustrating. I like to use a loop knot to attach the leader to fly, this helps with fly movement when your swinging, frankly i would recommend this with all streamer style patterns you use.
The Shad fishery is going strong right now, so get after it. Typically the Willamette and Columbia Rivers have good numbers of fish returning to the forth of July after that the shadnado starts to slows down and retreats eventually back to the ocean. This fishery can be amazing but take it how it is, it's not the Deschutes or the Metolius, its urban and you won't have solitude, but think of it as the next door fishery that you share with your 6 million little friends. I love it, and every year look forward to the craziness that is shad season, I hope you can find the same amount of joy that I find in these over grown herring and I also hope that this little bit of information helps you on your way.