Often compared to junior-sized tarpon for their acrobatic and strenuous battles, shad are a unique species anglers should not ignore when they arrive from February through early April. Both the Santee River below Lake Marion and the Cooper River below Lake Moultrie have an equal representation of these spawning fishes.
The run is mostly made up of blueback herring, American shad and, to a lesser extent, hickory shad. While populations of these fish are considered below their historic levels in these two river systems, anglers returning from a day on these waters won't notice.
On the Cooper River tailrace in Moncks Corner this past weekend, double-digit catches came very quickly, and fish continued to double over light-action rods for most of the day, with a mixture of blueback herring, American shad and a few hickory shad mixed in. Both bucks and roe shad came to the boat throughout the day, with the biggest roe shad tipping the scales slightly more than 4.5 pounds.
The best fishing came between the railroad trestle and the spillway. Even though the boat traffic within this confined stretch remains elevated during this run, there is always plenty of room for anglers.
Tactics for catching shad over herring differ somewhat in these fast-water systems. Typically, herring prefer the faster-moving water in the center of the channel, whereas shad will be congregating towards the banks along the channel breaks. As for tackle, anglers targeting herring prefer Sabiki-style rigs weighted with enough lead to fish along the bottom in the heavy current along the center of the channel.
Shad fall for small chrome spoons and brightly-colored crappie jigs from 1/16- to 1/8-ounce. Jig bodies with chartreuse are preferred, but pink, orange and white will also produce regular strikes. Typically, the best action came along the current seams near the banks in five to 12 feet of water. Anglers should allow lures to reach the bottom for the best results. Both a slow retrieve and holding the jigs in the current will both produce quick bites when a school comes by.
Currently, elevated lake levels and extended power usage within Santee Cooper's grid, is maintaining a significant flow through tailrace canal and Cooper River water system. Anglers new to the area should expect variable flows and drastic changes in water level in a short period. The shad and herring run should continue strong through the end of the month within both the Cooper and Santee Rivers.
Access to these rivers is good for fishermen ready to get a piece of the action. For the Cooper River, the public boat ramp is just below US 52 in Moncks Corner, and the Santee River access is up US 52 above St. Stephens.