The annual spawning run of shad up the Rappahannock River in Virginia is on.
If any angling event produces hysteria this is it. The migration of fisherman to the Rappahannock has historically been surpassed only by the migration of the fish themselves. Unfortunately, the shad have declined in recent years, and last year it seemed that more fishermen were hooked by the fish than vice versa.
The spawning run usually lasts three to four weeks. The fish started hitting well late last week, but the water in the river was unusually high so few fishermen tried their luck. According to Reginald Chesley, owner of Chesley's Tackle in Fredericksburg, the fishing should peak this weekend. Bear in mind, however, that last year was not a good year. The days of catching 50 shad in a morning are gone for most fishermen.
The most popular area of the Rappahannock is below the U.S. Route 1 bridge north of Fredericksburg. The river there is fast, rocky and difficult to wade. But that's where the shad spawn, so that's where the most productive fishing will be. Look for the shad in the holes, pockets and deep runs where the fish can rest briefly before continuing their upstream migration.
The most effective tackle is a light or ultra-light spinning outfit with two-to eight-pound test. Small shad darts, spoons and spinners are the best lures. Your retrieve should be interspersed with short frequent pauses to let the lure dart, sink and pause as a baitfish would. Fly rods are also popular, I recommend a rod of at least 8 1/2' fitted with a seven-to nine-weight line that carries a sinking tip. Your leader should be at least four-pound test. An effective streamer pattern is an orange wool or rabbit-hair body with a white marabou wing tied on a No. 10 streamer hook.
The best time to fish for shad is in the early morning, from 5:30 to about 9.