Hickory Shad Run Heating Up as Weather Warms

Published 5:12 am Sunday, March 16, 2003

By By Fred Bonner, Outdoors columnist
Cabin fever infects many fishermen these days and the question on most of these "diseased" angler's minds is "Where are the hickory shad biting?"
From all reports the spring run of shad is just getting going and a few weeks from being at the peak of the migration. Most waters such as the Neuse, Tar, Cape Fear and Roanoke Rivers are high due to all the recent rain that we've had and the shad that are in the area are scattered. If and when the waters diminish somewhat and the weather warms some, the fishing should get a lot better.
One of the more famous spots for white (American) shad on the Cape Fear River is at the locks near Fayetteville. The folks at A.K. McCallum get daily reports from the fishermen that visit their store and keep these guys well informed. The word there is that the waters are too high and too cold for the white shad to be there yet. Just wait a while and things should improve.
The famous Pitch Kettle area of the Neuse River above New Bern was "hot" a week or so ago but as the river's level rose and the weather cooled off, the fishing slacked-off. Anglers that were reporting catches of 30-40 hickory shad a day were, as of last week, reporting that catches of five or six shad a day were more like the average catch for a fisherman.
Some fishermen seeking to launch and fish at the Pitch Kettle have found that it does not have a public launching ramp. Knowledgeable fishermen find that a good private ramp is available at Pelican Landing, which is just to the left off River Road as you go north on that road off Highway 43 near the Weyerhaeuser plant in New Bern. There's a three-dollar launch fee and, I'm told, the ramp is a good one with plenty of parking spaces available. The Pitch Kettle is off to the right of the main Neuse River where the main current swings sharply off to the left a mile or so above the Pelican Landing.
Don Oden at the Base Camp in Washington reports that some of the fishermen that visit his store have been doing very well on hickory shad at the headwaters of Broad Creek off the Roanoke River above Plymouth. Don says that these guys have been going about as far up into Broad Creek as their boats will allow and casting their shad darts and spoons into the 7-8 foot-deep water in the narrow waterway where the fish are concentrated.
The Broad Creek/Cow Creek areas off the Roanoke River are some of the most beautiful areas in North Carolina. If you've never visited these areas to fish, bird watch or just enjoy some really beautiful scenery, here's how to get there.
There is a good Wildlife Resources Commission launching ramp in Plymouth. Launch there and motor upstream on the Roanoke River. Go past the first major creek going off to the right (Middle River) and continue upstream for about 7-8 miles past the ramp in Plymouth. Broad Creek will be the second major waterway coming into the Roanoke from the right. Go into this creek, past Cow Creek on the left and follow Broad Creek until it narrows down to just a few feet in width. This is where reports have the hickory shad being caught in large numbers.
The headwaters of Cow Creek have also been known to produce good numbers of hickory shad but there have been no reports from this area this year.
A second way to get to the Broad Creek area is to launch at Sans Souci on the Cashie River. The state of North Carolina operates a very scenic, two-car ferry at this landing and there's a fair ramp on the south side of the ferry landing. Launch and follow the Cashie River downstream for about a mile and there will be a small waterway called "The Thoroughfare" cutting off to the right. This winds its way through the swamp for about a mile and a half and enters the Roanoke River about two and a half miles below where Broad Creek comes in from the right. Both Broad and Cow Creeks also can produce outstanding fishing for striped bass, largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie.
Of course the number one spot in the state for shad fishing (particularly for hickory shad) is on the Roanoke River near Weldon. Bobby Colston operates a fishing tackle store in Gaston near the prime fishing spots and reports, as of Friday, that the fishing for shad has been very good at the falls of the Roanoke, downstream to the "Big Rock" and some fishing upstream from the falls. The water on the Roanoke is high and, according to Colston, this is good for the fishing.
Downstream on the Roanoke the floodwaters have spread out throughout the swamps alongside the river and the fish are distributed across a big area. By the time they get upstream to Weldon, the banks of the Roanoke are high and the migrating fish are concentrated into a relatively narrow area (Somewhat the same effect as fishermen are finding on the headwaters of Broad Creek).
Colston reports that fishermen are having their best luck on the double rigged spoon-shad dart rig. Fishermen not wanting to be bothered with the tangles that these rigs cause are also catching a lot of shad on single spoons or darts or even small curly-tail jigs like you'd use for crappie.
All reporting areas are saying that the best fishing is to be had early in the morning, particularly if the sun is out. Colston says that "when the sun goes in, the shad fishing cuts off."
If this spring's fishing goes as usual, the striped bass will be following the shad and herring up the coastal river as they feed on the smaller fish and start doing their own spawning activities. The water levels that have been so low on recent years look to be excellent this spring and things should get better as things warm up.
This promise of good fishing is just "what the doctor ordered" for the treatment of "cabin fever."
Fred Bonner is a native of Aurora and is an Eagle Scout, veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a graduate of N.C. State University with a degree in Wildlife Management. He is also a graduate of the National Fish Disease School. He is a former research biologist at the Pamlico Marine Laboratory and is the former editor of Carolina Adventure magazine. He welcomes comments and suggestions and may be reached at 7220 Cleveland School Road, Garner, N.C. 27529 or by e-mail at fbonner@mindspring.com.