Hudson column: Shad run in full swing

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

Andy Eller and Will Harrell love to fly fish. One of the highlights of their fishing season is chasing hickory shad during their annual migratory spawning run from the Atlantic Ocean up the Roanoke River.
The cool thing about hickory shad is they fight really hard. When you catch them with a fly rod you are in for a great fight.
They are in the herring family, which includes tarpon. So that should give you some idea of their general disposition after they are hooked. In short, they go crazy.
“Andy ties all the flies we ever use,” said Harrell, who usually fishes with Eller around Williamston, close to where the Roanoke empties into Albemarle Sound.
They didn’t find the shad there this year, which could only mean that the fish were already all the way up the river in Weldon. That is where the actual spawn takes place.
“We caught about 50 shad on this pink fly that we just simply call a shad fly. We like this fly better than a shad dart because it is lighter and much easier to cast.”
Most fly fisherman use 400-grain, sinking-tip line and bounce flies off the bottom in quick twitching motions to get strikes. The sinking-tip line allows the angler to work the entire water column without having to throw a heavy fly, such as a shad dart, which, as Harrell says, can be hard to cast.
Veteran anglers prefer 5- or 6-weight fly rods because they can handle most anything that swims in the river.
Early April is the key time for the shad spawn on the Roanoke. But don’t worry if you are late, because striped bass will make the same spawning run well into May.
In fact, Eller and Harrell caught one striper in Salmon Creek off the Chowan River near Edenton before making the move to Weldon to find the shad. The stripers arrive in Weldon just after the shad leave.
According to Capt. George Beckwith, who guides for stripers on the Roanoke River each spring, these fish can move from Albemarle Sound all the way up the rivers in a very short time, probably within a couple of days once they make the decision to go.
Meanwhile, the shad have likely already begun their departure back down the river toward the ocean.
Once the shad leave and the stripers arrive it is wise to switch from shad darts or flies similar to Eller’s shad fly, and use bead-head clouser minnows that you can fish deep in the same way you fish for shad. Bright colors often work better when river fishing since water clarity, especially at the bottom, can be quite bad.
Weldon is easy to find. Simply head north on I-95 until you get close to Virginia.
The boat ramp is within a few minutes of the interstate as well. If you go, keep in mind that both hickory shad and American shad, as well as striped bass, are highly regulated.
For that reason it is very important to check the fishing regulations on the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website at
The site features a regular weekly report on the shad and striper fishing as well as a map of the river around Weldon with information on the submerged hazards, which are many.