Tar River shad run cranks up in February

Tar River shad
American shad aren’t as common as hickory shad during the spring run, but they are usually much larger, approaching 5 to 7 pounds.

These fish mark beginning of spring in eastern N.C.

For anglers in eastern North Carolina, the harbinger of spring isn’t the arrival of robins in February. It’s Tar River shad, along with hickory and American shad in almost every major river and creek.

Fishing can be fast and produce some surprising specimens, particularly American (white) shad on light tackle or fly rods.

“In February, both kinds show up,” said guide Richard Andrews. “The hickories arrive first, followed by white shad. People look forward to it because it marks the beginning of a new season.”

Shad migrations begin as a trickle in January, pick up speed during February and are roaring by March.

Hickory shad have protruding lower jaws; American shad’s jaws are the same length.

“People in Tarboro, where I grew up, didn’t call the third month ‘March Madness’ but instead ‘March Shadness,’ ” said Andrews (252-945-9715).

Catches of 100 or more fish per day are commonplace.

Tar River is full of shad holes

Anglers rarely catch shad in the Pamlico River downstream from Washington because they spawn in shallower waters. But upstream, it’s a different story. The Tar River feeds the Pamlico and begins above the US 17 bridge at Washington. Northwest toward Greenville, Tarboro and Rocky Mount, the Tar is a smaller stream with many easily-fished tributaries. Best spots are creek mouths and at blowdowns.

“Falkland, Greenland and Old Sparrow creeks are good places to fish” Andrews said. “In fact, anywhere between Falkland and Greenville is a good place to find shad.”

Hickory shad between 1 and 2 pounds fill most creels, while chances to catch American shad increase nearer Rocky Mount.

“Hickories can weigh 1 to 3 pounds, but American shad can weigh up to 7 pounds,” said Andrews, who regularly has 50-fish days that will include one or two American shad.

Anglers mainly use ultralight spinning rods with double-drop 1/8-ounce jigs with soft-plastic crappie curlytails or tandem shad darts. Anglers also sometimes tie a dropper line and jig or dart 1½ feet above a small shad spoon.

Many anglers usually choose 4-pound monofilament, but Andrews likes 4-pound braid with a short monofilament leader.

“You’re gonna get hung up, and braid lets you straighten out snagged light-wire hooks,” he said.

“I like green, but pink or white may work some days,” said Andrews, who believes lure color is crucial.  “I also enjoy fly fishing and use double flies, usually two marabou feather jigs I cast with a 4-weight (rod) and 150-grain sinking line.

About Craig Holt 1382 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.