Two-time Charley on the Roanoke
My back hurt, and I decided to rest it on the front deck of the skiff. My fleece jacket was rolled up and I was using it as a pillow. A cloud was obstructing the sun, and my eyes were comfortably closed. In the distance, there was a train whistle, the song of a bird, and the quiet sound of the river’s undulating movement under the anchored boat. The best sound was the sound of my grandson, Charlie and son in law, Jeff, as they boated one fish after another.
Thursday, I fished the Roanoke River for the first time this year. Eleven year old grandson, Charlie, had the week off from school and we made the three hour trip to Weldon for some shad fishing. When the shad are biting, I like fishing for them almost as much as stripers. They’re determined fighters, they have a tendency to jump, and the light lures they like, require the use of very light tackle. The last few years, the shad fishing has been slow for me. There were some good runs, but they always occurred when I was otherwise occupied. When I did manage to get to the river, the fishing was slow, and good shad fishing is far from slow.
Normally, I think of shad fishing when the bean trees bloom. I have bean trees all around my yard, and over the years I’ve learned the lovely, purple blossoms are one of the first harbingers of spring and the shad run on the Roanoke River. Of course, there’s another indicator of the shad run and it’s the internet. I’ve been seeing reports of shad on the Roanoke for over a week now and some friends, who live in Roanoke Rapids, sent me an email saying the shad were beginning to bite. I was a little surprised because my bean trees showed little signs of blossoms.
When we arrived at Weldon on Thursday morning, our first reaction on seeing the river was disappointment. The water was high and murky. We’d hoped for a partly cloudy sky, but there was a low ceiling, making the river look even more murky. When you drive three hours, you don’t just turn around and quit, so we launched the skiff and went straight across the river to a reliable spot. There’s an eddy on the east side of the river across from the Weldon boat ramp that often produces shad when nowhere else will. It was tough to keep the boat placed there, but we made some casts. We got nothing, not even a tentative strike. We drifted a few hundred yards, casting to the bank with no result and resolved to try a spot of shallow water where the fish like to spawn.
We anchored up and fished for about twenty minutes before hooking the first fish. Jeff then boated two small males in two casts and they shut off again. Then, as the clouds cleared, they began in earnest and we were catching them on almost every cast. From time to time, the school would move on and the action would stop, but it would then start again, and as the day passed, the fish got bigger and bigger. Grandson, Charlie managed twice to catch two fish on one rig, one on the dart and one on the trailing spoon, earning the new moniker, Two Time Charlie.
So, if you’re wondering why I was lying on the front deck of the boat while Charlie and Jeff nailed the shad, it was because I was exhausted from catching fish. I won’t say how many shad we caught, my preacher would only accuse me of lying again, but suffice it to say, we caught a lot.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites. He recently finished his first book, Off the Porch. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, or would like a copy of his book, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com
There are two kinds of shad on the Roanoke, American shad and hickory shad. Americans, sometimes called white shad, are larger and not as common on the Roanoke, though their numbers are growing. American shad can easily reach five pounds. Hickory shad are smaller and normally run from a half pound to about two pounds for a big female. They’re fierce fighters on light tackle, though too boney for most people to eat.
Both species spawn at the same time and both can be caught with the same methods. Our fish were almost all hickories with the largest fish running about 18 inches. They will test your equipment and your skills on light tackle, especially when the boat is anchored in fairly fast water. The best rod/reel combo is a small ultralight rod and reel. Longer rods work better; I like at least six and a half foot rods capable of throwing jigs as light as 1/8 ounce. Eight pound test is the maximum, six is better. I like Berkley NanoFil braid in eight pound test. I can spool 150 yards of it on a tiny ultralight reel and with that much eight pound test, I can land a pretty big striper. I tie a three foot eight pound fluorocarbon leader and then my shad rig.
Shad can be caught on a variety of lures but a standard shad rig consists of a small jig called a dart and a small spoon. You can purchase it as a tied-and-ready rig from Nungesser, part of Sea Striker, in Morehead City. Otherwise, small spoons and jigs work well, but rigging two lures as trailers seems to work best. In the Roanoke during striper season, you can only use single barbless hooks or regular hooks with the barb mashed down. Hickory shad are also great fun on a fly rod. Try a five weight with about nine feet of LLC13 as a shooting head with braided mono as a running line. Small Clousers and Deceivers work great.
— DICK JONES