Fishing for American shad

Mike Cox from Bonneau, and grandsons Austin and Cooper, look forward to shad fishing every March. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

Shad are on their annual spawning run

The Santee Cooper lakes, along with the Cooper and Santee rivers, offer an amazing array of fishing opportunities throughout the year. And during March, the fishing options expand beyond the typical choices of fishing for crappie, largemouth bass, stripers, catfish, and bream.

The influx of the saltwater American Shad, and Blueback Herring, making their annual spawning runs up the Santee and Cooper rivers, and into the lakes, creates excellent fishing opportunities for anglers.

Seasonal forage is a common theme in the Santee Cooper lakes, and an important part of sustaining our excellent fisheries. Our lakes have an advantage over many inland lakes in that it’s linked to forage migrating from the Atlantic Ocean.

This saltwater forage link includes menhaden, as well as the ocean-run blueback herring and American Shad. As these species move into the lakes, they create additional food for multiple species of fish.

The American Shad is an outstanding angling resource, and one that many fishermen take full advantage of.

American shad are hard-fighting fish, and the big roe shad are prized by many as a food source, too. But their incredible strength, stamina and tail-walking-acrobatics when hooked on light tackle offer anglers a unique fishing opportunity.

Two main options

Shad fishing is a big deal throughout many areas along the eastern coast, but Santee Cooper anglers have multiple options by fishing the tailwaters below the Pinopolis Dam in the Cooper River and in the Re-Diversion Canal below the St. Stephens fish lift. The fish lift, and the lock at Pinopolis Dam, affords passage for shad migrating upstream to spawn in the Congaree and Wateree rivers.

Other places produce productive fishing for shad, but these are two well-known areas where fish congregate in huge numbers during March, often providing sensational fishing.

Restrictions and guidelines govern this fishing. It’s not a free-for-all fishery, and includes limits, areas that can be fished, and specific no-fishing areas. Ensure you know all the rules and restrictions before going.

March is the prime month, but it’s not unusual to see shad show up in February. As with most spawning fish cycles, water temperature is the catalyst. Once the water temperature reaches about 55 degrees, American shad begin to show up. And they do so in huge numbers.

Many anglers look forward to shad fishing for the pure enjoyment of the fishing. Hooking shad is not difficult once you’re set up in the right place. Most anglers prefer to put one or two crappie-sized jigs on a line, usually 1/16- to 1/8-ounce in size. Green and chartreuse are excellent colors. Pink, and any bright color, seems to work rather well also. Sabiki rigs are productive, and can be fished stationary in the current, using heavy sinkers to keep them suspended at the most productive depth.

Simple technique for shad

The preferred technique for jigs is to cast into the current. As the lure sinks, it’s swept downstream, and the angler simply reels it back in steadily. The pace of the retrieve impacts depth, and that’s a trial-and-error factor anglers must figure out daily. It’ll vary on location, amount of current and the depth of the water you’re fishing. But when you feel the tap of the bite and set the hook, you’ll know you’ve hooked an aggressive fish.

Their pugnacious nature is a major attraction to shad fishing, even if not used as a food source. Plus, once in the cooler, you can keep them on ice until you get home and cut them into some prime fish-catching chunks of cut bait to freeze and use later.

A bloody chunk of American Shad is a prime offering for a catfish or striped bass, if you’re hoping to make a springtime fish-connection in the Santee Cooper lakes, or in these rivers.

Typically, the best and most dependable fishing for American Shad occurs during March. When you get on them, it’s non-stop fish-fighting action. If you haven’t done it before, give it a try this spring.

And if you do, odds are good you’ll be eagerly awaiting for next March to roll around again.

Limited offer:

American shad make a run from the coast into Santee Cooper Country every spring, but it’s the only time they are abundant enough in this area for anglers to target them. March is typically the best month for these fish, which fight like champions, especially when hooked on light tackle.

About Terry Madewell 802 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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