As we approach the end of January, I'm already excited about returning to the Roanoke River this spring. In less than two months, I'll be floating down this wild river with clients, enjoying the amazing fishery that is the Hickory Shad spawning run. We are right in the middle of our winter Redfish season here on the coast, but I can't help thinking of what's next, as I order new 4wt sinking lines, tie up Shad flies, and imagine the fun to be had. For some reason, Shad just don’t get the same love that Striped Bass receive on the Roanoke. I truly think anglers don’t know what they’re missing, as fishing for these aggressive, acrobatic fish is as fun as it gets.
Both Hickory and White Shad make their spawning runs up the coastal rivers of North Carolina every February through April. The Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear are all known for their spring shad runs, but in my opinion, the Roanoke River near Weldon NC is the best place on the planet to experience shad fishing. The hickory shad usually show up in the Weldon area during the first two weeks of March and hang around through early April. I wish I could spend a whole month chasing these fish, but I'll most likely try to time it to fish up there for a week during the absolute peak of the fishing.
Even a slow day shad fishing on the Roanoke, is usually more action than you will experience in other locations. I generally hate over-hyping any of our fisheries, but I can safely say that fifty to one-hundred fish in a day, is a definite possibility when fishing the Roanoke. Not that numbers are the most important part of a fishing trip, but when it comes to shad fishing, continuous action is just part of the fun of it. The other great news is that you don't have to get up super early to experience the bite. Shad feed by sight, so we can start once the sun gets up and we can usually catch fish steadily throughout middle of the day.
You also don't need any special equipment or skills to have fun catching these fish. If you don't fly fish, Shad are great fun on ultra-light spinning rods, light braided lines, and small jigs. In the Roanoke we are fishing for them in anywhere from 5-15ft of water with some current, so we count down as our lure sinks through the water column. Brightly colored shad darts, shiny little spoons or just plain old crappie jigs all do the trick. I keep rods rigged up with jigs in a variety of colors because the shad can often have a preference day to day.
Fly fishing is personally my favorite way to target them. When I first started fishing for them on the Roanoke almost 18 years ago, we were using 6wt rods so that we could throw a heavy enough sinking line to get down to them. Over the years, sinking fly lines (and rods) have gotten better, and now we can catch them on fly rods as small as 4wt, or even 3wt! On my skiff, I usually keep a couple 4wts rigged up with 150-grain fast sinking lines to get the flies down through the current. We generally fish a very short leader, only 2-3ft long. For flies, we have a variety of small Clousers, and marabou tailed streamers tied in pink, white, chartreuse, red and yellow...the brighter and flashier, the better!
Obviously, there is more to the Roanoke than just Shad, there is the beautiful scenery, the abundant wildlife (Ospreys, Eagles, Turkeys, Turtles, etc), and the pleasure of a slow drift down a river as it flows through the fall line and morphs from rapids to blackwater river. Shad fishing on the Roanoke is a total package deal, meaning you get some awesome views along with great fishing, making for some lasting memories.
It's also a fantastic place to get your children hyped up on fishing. Shad are probably only second to Bluegill in the easy to catch department. If your son or daughter can turn the handle on a real, there's a good chance they can catch Shad on their own. The normally continuous action of Shad fishing really helps keep the younger anglers focused and interested in the sport...and if they need a break, there's always time for snacks!
I am officially open for Shad trips on the Roanoke March 21-26, 2024. If I get enough interest, I may expand that, but for now, those are the dates I'm leaving open on my calendar for Shad. We will be offering half to full day trips to meet your needs and I can supply all the gear, or you can bring your own. The only thing you will need is a NC Freshwater Fishing License, if you are of the age where you need one (we can assist with that if you need).
In my eyes there's no better way to welcome Spring back to North Carolina than a day of fishing for Hickory Shad. The action is steady, they fight hard on light tackle and love to jump, and they bring a smile to everyone's face. Plus, you get to experience all of this on one of the prettiest rivers in the entire state. I'd love to have you join me this March catching Shad on the Roanoke out of Weldon NC.
To book a trip, shoot me an email (email@example.com) or call or text at 910-340-4811.