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Shad Runs Begin in North Carolina Coastal Rivers

hickory shadRALEIGH, N.C. (March 2, 2006) – Although they may be nothing but big herring, hickory shad are luring more and more anglers east each year as they begin their spring spawning runs up the coastal rivers of North Carolina.

Knowing where to go and how to fish for hickory shad can mean the difference between catching the limit of 10 per day or going home empty-handed.

Hickory shad run strong in the Roanoke River, appearing in the lower river near Plymouth in late February and early March. In the upper river near Weldon in Halifax County, hickory shad arrive starting in mid-March to early-April, depending on water temperature.

“Peak shad fishing near Weldon varies from year to year, but usually occurs when water temperatures rise to between 52 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Kevin Dockendorf, fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “This year’s run will hopefully be a little earlier than last year, when spawning runs were delayed nearly a month due to relatively cold water temperatures.”

Although the Roanoke River is considered by many anglers to be the premier destination for hickory shad, fishing opportunities are also abundant in many other North Carolina coastal rivers, such as the Neuse, Tar and Cashie.

Popular hickory shad fishing spots on the Neuse River include Pitchkettle Creek near Fort Barnwell (Craven County), the mouth of Contentnea Creek near Grifton (Lenoir/Craven county line) and the mouth of Bear Creek near LaGrange (Lenoir County).

For boat or bank anglers, a good place to fish for hickory shad on the Tar River is the Bell’s Bridge area north of Tarboro. Using the Commission’s boating access area, boat anglers can head upstream to Swift Creek or downstream to Fishing Creek. Although bank access is limited, bank anglers can usually find success along this shoreline. Another good spot to catch hickory shad for boat and bank anglers on the Tar River is near Battle Park in Rocky Mount.

On the Cashie, anglers fish “shoulder-to-shoulder” along the bank near the junction of U.S. 17 and U.S. 13 in downtown Windsor. Launch a boat at the Commission’s boating access area on Elm Street and head downstream to fish at the mouths of oxbows and feeder creeks. While boating, please remember to use caution as many boat and/or bank anglers may be congregated just around the next bend.

Now that you know where to find the fish, let’s talk about how to catch them.

Catch hickory shad using flies, small spoons and artificial lures. Most anglers typically fish for shad on light spinning gear rigged with shad darts or spoons on 4- to 8-pound test line. Fish these lures by casting upstream into the current and retrieving as they sink and drift downstream. Anglers should remember to sink their lines to keep their lures from being swept away by the Roanoke’s swift current.

Increasing numbers of anglers are refining their fly-fishing skills for hickory shad, using small Clouser minnow or Crazy Charlie lures. Lures with a touch of flash to the tail seem to work particularly well.

Whatever lure is used, anglers are guaranteed a good fight as hickory shad are known for their impressive aerial acrobatics.

“After they’re hooked, hickory shad put on quite a display of flips while you’re reeling them in,” Dockendorf said. “Whether you're a rookie or old hat at the sport, you'll have your fair share of ones that get away during these flips.”

While many shad-fishing enthusiasts harvest their daily creel limit, catch and release is popular, especially during peak season when a successful angler may tangle with dozens of fish per day.

Hickory shad, like their larger cousin the American shad, are native to the Atlantic coast, spending the majority of their life at sea and entering freshwater only in the spring to spawn. Once abundant, both species have suffered from overharvesting, pollution and dam construction. While the American shad continues its struggle, hickories are doing well, particularly in the Roanoke River.

“We’re not certain why the Roanoke River’s hickory shad population has rebounded to the extent it has, but we think it may be related to improved springtime river flows that have resulted from our water management agreements with the Army Corps of Engineers and Dominion/Virginia Power,” said Bennett Wynne, anadromous fisheries coordinator for the Commission. “These stabilized flows have benefited striped bass as well.”

For more information on fishing in North Carolina’s public, inland waters, visit the Fishing section, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.



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