Santee River shad can test an angler’s mettle

Santee River shad
Guide Joel Campbell said landing good-sized shad like these, even on medium-action tackle, can be a real chore — but an exciting one.

Shad: “redneck bonefish”

We don’t have bonefish in South Carolina, but according to Capt. Joel Campbell of Charleston Gigging, we do have the next best thing: shad, which Campbell calls “redneck bonefish.”

Shad spend most of their lives in saltwater, but in late winter and early spring, they run up freshwater rivers to spawn. Campbell catches plenty of shad on the Santee River and in the Rediversion Canal.

“A lot of people discount these fish because they’re relatively small. But you hook into a 3-, 4-, even a 5-pound shad, and you’re going to be in for a fight you wont forget. And it’s not a fight you’re guaranteed to win,” said Campbell (843-270-5545). He uses a simple Sabiki rig with multiple small, dressed hooks. A pyramid sinker at the bottom of the rig keeps it in the strike zone. But Campbell said anglers shouldn’t let it just sit on the bottom. They should also avoid casting to the middle of the waterway.

“The shad are going to hold tight to the cover along the banks. Whatever kind of trees or bushes line the banks where you’re fishing, you want to get your rig close to that,” he said. “Once your weight settles on the bottom, you want to slowly reel back in. Make sure your weight is keeping contact with the bottom.”

Stay close to brush along the banks

Campbell said these Santee River shad are fairly easy to find from the Arrowhead boat ramp in St. Stephens.

“You just head upriver from that ramp,” he said. “Once you are in sight of the railroad bridge that crosses over, you can catch shad anywhere along the brush on each side of the river or canal.”

Many anglers use ultralight tackle for shad, and Campbell said it works great when fishing with a single lure. But he prefers a 2000 series spinning reel mounted to a medium-action rod when using Sabiki rigs. That’s partly to handle the weight of the pyramid sinker, but also because anglers often hook more than one shad at a time.

“When you get two or more shad on one rig, you’re not going to want an ultralight rod,” he said. “Even catching a single shad here — they will pull drag and put up a serious fight. Shad also have a paper-thin membrane in the corner of their mouths. A hook can tear out as easily as it can a crappie’s mouth. If you hook them there, you want to land them as quickly as you can without horsing them. So a medium rod and a reel with a good drag is essential.

“These fish are fun to catch, and one of my favorite species to fish for,” he said.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1521 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply