The Shad Planking began in the 1930s, near Smithfield, as an opportunity for white "Virginia gentlemen" to drink, tell tall tales and eat fish. The event was moved to Wakefield in 1949. The Wakefield Ruritan Club invited the public to attend, and the state Democratic machine began using the event to promote its candidates.
The American shad, Alosa sapidissima, has an iridescent blue-green back that lightens to silver along the sides and has a black spot at the shoulder. It is known to grow to 30 inches. It has lots of bones, and it's oily, too. Shad at the Planking are imported from North Carolina because of Virginia's depleted stocks. Fried whiting and trout are also served.
Thousands of shad are nailed to white oak boards. The planked fish are leaned against a rack before dawn with the shad away from the fire for at least one hour. The boards are then turned over with the fish facing the fire. They are cooked for three hours or so, until the oil stops running out of the fish. They are basted with a sauce. They are usually enjoyed with beer or bourbon.
Republicans began coming in the early 1970s. Many think that in 1977, then-state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D) became the first black to attend. Also that year, Washington Post reporter Megan Rosenfeld was the first woman to attend. The planking continues to be an annual political rite, where politicians rally their supporters over smoked fish and chilled drink.
SOURCE: Fish and Wildlife Service | REPORTING BY CHRIS L. JENKINS, MAP BY GENE THORP - THE WASHINGTON POST