Neuse River shad providing plenty of action

Neuse River shad
A stringer of hickory shad from North Carolina’s Neuse River put a smile on this youngster’s face.

A little scouting goes a long way

For such a prolific species, migrating hickory and American, aka white, shad in the upper sections of North Carolina’s Neuse River require no small amount of scouting. But once an angler finds a hidey hole this month, they’ll produce fast action, according to one guide.

“I look for shad busting at current breaks or at bends of the river,” said Ashley King of Keep Castin’ Charters in New Bern.

Hickory and American shad are hard-wired to swim from the Atlantic Ocean through inlets and across North Carolina’s Albemarle or Pamlico sounds to the upper reaches of the rivers where they were born to spawn each spring. They rest from their travels behind current breaks. Slack water behind downed trees, submerged sand bars and rocks, often marked by swirling water, are prime resting areas.

King’s prefers the Neuse upstream of New Bern. That’s where the river narrows to 40- or 50-feet wide. And this narrowing concentrates fish.

“I keep crappie/shad rods in my boat, along with (striped bass) rods,” said King (910-389-4118). “Best spots always seem to be a current break in the bend of the river that’s probably 10- to 12-foot deep. I put the boat at the skinny part. So I’m able to fish an eddy and ripping water.”

Small jigs and light gear get the job done

His go-to lure is a 1/16-ounce, pink or chartreuse jighead with a white grub body.

“I’ll also use a tandem rig with a 1/16-ounce jig (tied to a 6- to 8-inch dropper line) about a foot above the bottom 1/8-ounce jig,” said King. He uses three tactics: slow-trolling, setting multiple rods in holders and let the current twitch soft-plastic jigs tails, and casting and retrieving. He uses 6-foot, light-action TFO sticks mated to Shimano 1000 series Saros spinning reels spooled with 10-pound braid and 15-pound fluorocarbon leaders.

“If (shad) are down in the water column, I might throw upcurrent and let the jig sink. And I’ll retrieve fast enough to keep the line tight and off the bottom,” King said.

Tandem rigs often allow for double hook-ups. And shad look and fight like mini-tarpons.

“I’ll go as far (upstream) as Pitchkettle Creek,” he said. “But I can’t get my bay boat much farther than that.”

Hickories average 1 to 1 ½ pounds. Americans may reach 4 pounds, but are not as numerous. Shad also make big runs up the Roanoke and Cape Fear rivers. Shad carry a 10-fish daily creel limit, with only one American shad allowed in the creel — except in the Cape Fear River.

Craig Holt
About Craig Holt 1310 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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