Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Tenets Of Shad Fly Design

Continuing on my posts of fly fishing for shad I thought I should explain my three tenets of a shad fly. I keep these as a constant in my shad fly design and construction. As we are fishing off rocks on the upper most tidal sections of the Potomac I expect my clients to loose loads of flies. My patterns are tied with minimal materials and I do not use expensive hooks. The Urban angler pattern uses a conehead, to me that is rather expensive. If you fish from a boat you will have less chance at loosing your fly so go for that pattern.

1. The Fly Should Be 1" Long

During the shad run the river explodes with life. Not only is the river full of target species (American shad, hickory shad, river herring, white perch, stripers) it is full of small fishes that gorge on all of the eggs released by the target species. You might just see a massive school of shiners or other minnows at your feet when fishing from shore. You'll also see loads of shiners and other minnows trapped in illegal cast nets. These fish are usually discarded and left for dead on shore if not already dead from having their gills destroyed by the nets.

These fish range from one to four inches in length. When I started fishing for shad I was using larger minnow patterns and was constantly skunked. I ended up foul hooking more fish. As I've been targeting shad on the fly rod since the late 90's I have progressively gone to smaller sized flies. I have determined that flies in the 1" range have the most success rate.

2. The Fly Should Be Brightly Colored

The females of the target species in the river are relying on external fertilization. In ecological terms, shad and the other fish are considered r-selection organisms. They produce thousands of potential progeny at the mercy of the environment with the hopes that few will survive their first year. Hundreds of thousands of these female fish will be in the river system simultaneously releasing millions upon millions of eggs. There are going to be thousands of smaller fish consuming these eggs. These fish will be right in with the spawning fish. The spawning fish will be very aggressive toward these fish. The male and female shad will bite and strike at these fish to get them out of the way. They are striking them out of aggression/frustration and to protect the eggs. You may or may not have picked up on the fact that my shad buster's have dumbell eyes. These eyes look like eggs in the mouth of baitfish-I don't give shad too much credit with what they think my flies look like. You may have noticed that my shad puffs are three different colors. The reason for this is to make them really stand out, almost clash with their surroundings. I'm rather partial to the variegated chenille I picked up from Urban Angler a few weeks back.

Your flies should be brightly colored to make them stand out against all of the cryptically colored fish in the mix. I prefer chartruese (still can't spell it), hot pink, hot orange, gold, and silver. The lads down in Fredericskburg prefer the gold. Its a regional thing.

3. The Fly Should Have A Short Tail

The shad are striking out of agression. They are not eating. Food is the last thing on their mind. They ate plenty while out in the ocean. Predatory fish strike the prey fish's head. It is the most vulnerable spot. A stunned or dead fish is a much easier meal (i.e., burns fewer calories) than a live fish. That is why so many fish have fake eyes on their tails. If they are not going to be biting the head, you can get away with a shorter hook. The shad will be nipping and snapping at the tail section of the fish. They are not trying to kill it, they are trying to show it who is boss.

If your fly tail is too long (the Snowhite Damsel seems to be the exception in my experience) the fish will be biting at tail fibers and missing the hook. I prefer streamer hooks in the size 6-8 range. If you tie with synthetics it is relatively easy to trip down the tail. If  you are using natural materials you will loose the tapering aesthetics of the fly. The fish will certainly not care. I use a hemostat with a scissor as an added bonus. I can cut down the Flashabou and similar tails.

If you Google 'shad fly' you will come across a plethora of patterns. Everyone has their favorite color, weight, and design. One thing you will notice is that 99% of them are going to have the above three tenets included. Whether on purpose or not, it is a standard throughout east coast and west coast shad fisheries.

Here is another little tidbit. If you don't tie flies you can use small crappie jigs and tube baits. Be sure NOT to hit yourself or your rod with these. I would suggest a 1/32 oz.



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