Finding the Shad
Earlier in this article I mentioned shad are typically found between Lake Monroe and highway 50. That is a long stretch of river and where a bulk of the shad schools are staging can vary week to week. The internet can help you narrow in on where to start your search. Captain Tom Van Horn is a local shad expert and his reports at www.irl-fishing.com can be very helpful. There are also a lot of great, current shad fishing reports on the Facebook group, Shad on the Fly.
Once on the water, you still need to figure out where to fish. If you’re lucky, shad will reveal themselves by splashing and swirling on the surface. This is called washing and is related to their spawning activity. A congregation of anglers in anchored boats and on the bank who are casting light spinning tackle and fly rods is a good indication shad are around. It’s okay to join the group. Just be courteous and give everyone their space. If all else fails, trolling is a great way to find the shad. I mostly fish out of a kayak and the paddling speed of a kayak is perfect for shad trolling; just let out enough line so your lures are occasionally bumping bottom. Once you get a hit, stop and cast to see if there is a school around.
Once you find the shad, quarter your casts upstream. Let your lure sink for a few seconds and then work it back slowly along the bottom as the current drifts it downstream. If you are occasionally snagging a clam or mussel then you know your lure is down in the strike zone.
The scientific name for American shad is Alosa sapidissima. The latin translation of sapidissima is “most savory”. Their fillets are described as delicate and sweet, but they are full of thousands of tiny bones so specialize cooking techniques are required to make them palatable. There are also some who consider shad roe to be a delicacy. I’ve eaten neither shad or their roe so I can’t vouch for those claims. To be honest, most shad fishing on the St Johns is catch and release.
Unless you are exempt, you’ll need both a freshwater and saltwater fishing license to pursue American shad. The need for a freshwater license is obvious because you will be fishing the St Johns River where you’ll catch many freshwater species as by-catch. You will need a saltwater license because shad are a saltwater species, and license requirements are dictated by the species, not the water you fish.