You can catch shad on a variety of tackle, including shad darts and small spoons. My favorite tackle is curly-tailed crappie jigs, rigged on 1/8oz crappie jig-heads, tied to a length of fluorocarbon leader. I have caught shad using a variety of jig colors, but you can’t beat chartreuse for shad. My preferred setup is two jigs on the leader, spacing them about a foot apart, to increase chances of a strike. How about the rod and reel? You can use anything you are comfortable throwing. I like a medium or medium-light rod with a fast action and 2500-sized spinning reels. Those folks wanting to increase the fun-factor should go ultra-light with their gear.
I have two basic techniques for catching shad – trolling, and fan-casting from an anchored position.
My favorite shad-catching technique is trolling. I am fishing in a Hobie “Outback”; the pedal-driven kayak is great for moving around. My rod and reel is held in my right hand, while I pedal the kayak to troll the double-jig setup up and down the river. When a fish hits and that rod doubles over, I can quickly set the hook and throw the rudder over. The Outback spins around while I apply pressure to the shad and I can bring him to net.
I really embraced this technique when I went to the river one day, and all my favorite anchoring spots were occupied by boats. The middle of the river was empty, so I trolled around in a big eddy created by the dam and coal-plant discharge. Each time I circled, I caught fish. It got so good that the power-boaters took notice. Next thing I knew, I had company – with several boats joining me, doing circles in the river!
The second technique is find a favorable spot to anchor along the river’s edge, and cast across the current for shad. I use the same double-jig setup, casting the jigs across the river to let them sink and then using a slow retrieve back to the kayak. It is important to let them fall down deep in the water; that is usually where the shad are swimming. Be prepared for the occasional snag. When the fishing is hot, you might get one every time you throw it out there. Switch spots if the action slows down. Always use caution anchoring your kayak in any type of current, and be prepared to cut your line if you get in a dangerous situation.
Consider taking an extra rod for catfish. Take one of your shad and cut up it for bait, and soak it on a bottom-rig while you continue to shad fish. You just might hook a nice catfish. They are out there, too, waiting to ambush shad as they make their way up the river.
Shad fight hard, doubling your rod over and peeling off line against the drag! You’ll enjoy it, and hopefully these tips will help make it happen in your kayak. Good luck, and safe fishing!