For anglers in the know, fishing the March shad run offers one of the first opportunities since the deep freeze of winter to catch a pile of fish. The Roanoke River will be brimming with hickory shad, and guide Mitchell Blake of Chocowinity, N.C., will be there.
Although Weldon, N.C., is the terminus for spawning shad on the Roanoke as they make their way from the ocean — and considered one of the hottest spots — Blake said that phenomenal fishing can stretch as far downriver as Jamesville. All it takes is enough water flow to create a current and concentrate the fish.
“I’ve caught them in as little as 4 feet of water and as deep as 25 feet,” said Blake (252-495-1803), who runs FishIBX Charters. “Water depth doesn’t matter as much as the current, but the water levels will have a lot to do with where the fish are on any stretch of the river. In a low-water year like last year — and that looks to be the way we’re shaping up this year — it concentrates those fish in the main river body. But if we get enough rain, the water could be running over the banks. That will put them in the edge of the woods and in the little gullies and ditches that run out of them.”
On the water, Blake keeps his eyes peeled for current breaks, any structure that diverts the current flow for the fish to congregate behind and around. Treetops, rocks, points off the bank or areas where a stream or drain from swamps connect to the river are all prime real estate. In these places, Blake prefers to anchor up and work them over with flies and shad rigs.
“I like to present the lure or fly where it swings in the current,” said Blake. “For flies, I mostly use a 200-grain sinking fly line with a 4-foot leader of 8- to 10-pound monofilament. I’ve seen lot of fish caught on a fly rod, because you can use materials for a fly that create such fine movement and a shad will fire on it. I’ll use a 1¼-inch Clouser-type fly with a tiny, weighted eye. Pink/white and green/white did really well last year.”
The tandem shad rig used on light spinning tackle can be purchased pre-tied or tied easily by hand. Most rigs lead with a ¼- to 1/16-ounce crappie jig and a 2-inch curlytail grub tied to a dropper loop followed by a 1½-inch, 1/16-ounce gold or silver spoon tied a foot to 18 inches behind.