by Jerry Norris
Well, it's January 2012 and it is about twenty degrees outside. Now isnít that just lovely. Lots of folks are wishing for hard water so they can go ice fishing, but personally, I am ready for the shad bushes to bloom and the shad to run
Hickory Shad are usually the first fish that start showing up in the river in early spring. Depending upon weather and water temperature, they begin to show up at the mouth of Deer Creek around last or next to last week in March.
It usually starts out very slow with anglers only picking up one or two fish a day early on.
Those first fish are almost invariably caught in the edge of the fast water at the mouth of Deer Creek. Preferred lures for early spring are the old reliable shad darts but on some days, #12 or #13 silver Tony Accetta spoons with green prismatic tape catch a lot of fish. I use both but usually stick with the darts because they are easier to cast and less expensive to lose, and believe me, if you fish for shad very much you are going to lose a lot of tackle. I use the same dart rig for shad as I do for white perch, and my preferred dart colors are the samefluorescent orange body with either a yellow or chartreuse green tail. I tie the rig directly to the line with the two darts tied in tandem using Palomar knots. I tie the first dart up the line about 12 inches and then tie the second dart to the tag end of the line from the first knot. I usually use eight or ten pound line when tying tandem rigs. Anything less is asking for trouble because shad go absolutely bonkers when hooked, and with any lighter line, I lose the last dart a lot due to double hookups. When the season is in full swing, double hookups are the rule ratherthan the exception. Always be sure to check the line for fraying after each fish and retie often. Early fishing is mostly a spinning event. Rod and reel combinations can be any where from ultra light to medium light and line weight can be as low as you feel the need to go.
As the water temperature climbs, more fish move in and by the middle of April, the run is on as the fish spread up river and into Deer Creek! This is the time when the long rod enthusiasts ply their trade in Deer Creek, primarily from above the Stafford Road Bridge up to the pumping station. By the third week in April the shad will spread all the way to the base of the dam, and the river is alive with shad. By this time shad will hit on a variety of lures from small spoons, such as Nungessers, to darts and jigs, to twisters.
This is the time when a fish on every cast with multiple doubles is often the rule rather than the exception. This is the time when the Conga lines form at the mouth of Deer Creek and below the dam as well. Ah, combat fishing at its finest! This is also the time when the big rockfish join the fray in the quest for a shad of their own. When you are waist deep in the river, it is unnervingwhen a 30 lb plus rockfish brushes past your legs as it swims by and it is down right unsettling to have one come up and take a shad almost out of your hand as you are trying to release it! Needless to say, there are more than a few broken lines when a huge striper grabs a shad and takes off down river.
Late April to mid May sometimes sees a run on the Hickoryís larger cousin, the white or American Shad. These fish are much larger and much scarcer than the Hickories and they fight differently as well. They can be caught pretty much in the same manner as the Hickories-if you are lucky. The fast water at the base of the dam seems to be the better location for the American Shad.
Boat fishing is the best way to go if you can. It gives a lot more freedom to move and seek out fish. It also lets you get away from the crowds on shore, but that is not to say that the water doesnít get crowded as well.
Shad and white perch fishing share a lot in common. Shad tend to hold in the fast water and eddy margins just like perch do, so target those areas behind rocks and in current breaks near shore. Whether from shore or from a boat, cast into the fast water and let the lure swing through the margins. As for location, the Harford County shore line provides good to excellent fishing from the Lapidum ramp all the way to the base of the dam. The Cecil County side holds fish as well;itís just a matter of finding some access to water that holds fish.
Iíve seen several waders take far too much risk to the point of having to yell to them that the water is coming up, so word of caution is appropriate here. If you are wading, keep a very close eye on the water levels. The same goes for watching your anchor if you are in a boat. When the gates open, the water can come up several feet very rapidly even well downstream.
Early season shad fishing does create one dilemma: I love to catch shad, but I also love to catch and eat white perch. So, I have to make a decision-do I go upriver for shad and action or do I go down river to deeper water for perch and fillets? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions! I am sure I have missed some fantastic perch fishing by deciding to go upriver for shad instead. However, by the middle of April, the perch start moving upriver as well and by the end of the month, they are beginning to take over as the shad begin to spawn and drop back into the bay on their way back to the ocean, but then that is another story!