The adventures of LCJ: Shad fishing
By Lawrence Cooper Jordan Jr.
I went to Charleston for the weekend to visit the South Eastern Wildlife Expo and stayed with Bo Hutchison (a friend from The Citadel) at his apartment. Bo and his roommate had caught a load of oysters and shrimp, which we were planning on cooking Friday night. As we stood around the table cracking oyster shells, Bo asked if I would like to try shad fishing with him in the morning, and fishing is one thing I just can’t turn down. Shad fishing is best in February and early March when they are running upriver to spawn. The best part about shad is that an early morning and long boat ride are not required in order to catch them. We picked up some Bojangle’s biscuits and drove towards Moncks Corner backing the boat into the Cooper River near the Highway 52 bridge. The boat ride took about three or four minutes to reach the Lake Moultrie Dam, which was good because the cold air nearly numbed our faces. Several other boats had already reached the spot and were pulling in some monster shad the length of my forearm. These are roe shad, which grow to be much larger than what we often catch in a cast net. Many people will remove the roe sack (eggs), and wrap it in bacon to cook. Nobody would dare to eat the actual fish because of the foul and oily smell. Bo and I had different plans for the fish we caught. Our shad would be kept in a freezer chest until late spring when the bull red drum (33-plus inches) arrives in Georgetown. We expect the smelly shad pieces to make excellent bait for the red drum and could even be ground up and used as chum to attract a tarpon to the boat. Each boat is allowed to keep 10 shad per person and the limit is not difficult to reach. The best way to catch shad is to set anchor in the river or to tie the bow rope to a tree on the bank as we did, and to cast a small green artificial grub on a jig head or weighted hook into the current. As the current sweeps the grub towards the stern, the rod should be used to give it a bouncing motion in the water. This motion triggers an aggressive strike and a fun fight to follow. These roe shad were large and put up a fight comparable to bass, especially when using light tackle. One of the things that make shad a little tricky to catch is that they have paper thin mouths and too much pressure will pull the hook loose. We forgot our net and lost quite a few shad next to the boat. Our number of fish landed would have been more than doubled if we had brought a net, so make certain you bring one. The pelicans posed another issue. They would swim around watching the boats to find a jumping fish. The sound of a reel screaming as a fish pulls line was enough to draw the pelicans’ unwanted attention. The pelicans would then gather around the boat and could sometimes catch a fish if it jumped too high. One pelican came a bit too close to the boat and grabbed a fish as I was dangling it over the fish box. In an effort to save the fish, Bo gently tapped the pelican a few times with his fishing rod to keep it away. The pelican was on the boat flapping its wings and knocked the tackle box over, spilling all of our hooks and lures. By the end of the fight, the pelican had stolen the fish and left us with a pile of hooks, lures, and tackle spread all over the deck. Pelicans 1, Fishermen 0. We continued to fish until about 4 in the afternoon and decided that it was time to head home. We had already culled our 20 keepers and were releasing fish that we caught at this point. Bo pushed the throttle and we sped back to the boat ramp. A DNR officer waited for us at the boat landing and was taking measurements of everyone’s shad. There is no size limit for shad, either large or small, so the measurements must have been used for a survey. We returned to the house to place our shad in the freezer and grill hamburgers before I drove back to Dillon. No matter how much fishing you have done, new methods can always be found to catch them. Bo and I had a great time fishing today, and the only thing I would change from the day would be to bring a net and pelican repellant.