Steelheading for Shad (No Risk-No Reward)

Shad on Yuba
Peter Graves – 1st shad.

The first warming trends of late spring triggers a heavy stoke and desire for many steelheaders to once again stretch a line for new cycles of life in anadromous systems. Generally, hot weather activates spring-summer runoff adding volume and velocity to rivers inspiring major shad migrations to take advantage of the open door. A final flush and grand finale that digs deep into those who can’t resist the temptation of chasing unpredictable fish migrations and yearning to experience, hot weather, cold beverages, social line- ups and multiple grabs.

2011 early season shad conditions were far from the norm. This year’s record snowpack and unseasonably wet and cold weather patterns nurtured chilly water temperatures (52-54 degrees) and full volume river flows in most all systems. Conditions most generally associated with steelheading. Shad are all about warm temperatures and favor 63-72 degree water temperatures. Although it has happened in the past, I can’t remember when was the last time I fished in a lineup of shadders layered in fleece, long underwear, hats/gloves and full raingear. Not to mention retreating to a warm campfire. It’s a relief to know there are others. Despite the harsh conditions those accepting the challenge and willing to brave the elements were not only surprised to experience there were shad but also a solid shad grab.

Talk'n Shad
Talk’n Shad!

High flows inspired excellent early season striper runs and fishing in both the Sacramento and Feather Rivers. Since both stripers and shad are surface spawners deep suspicions of a good shad run was heavy on the minds. Joe Neil and fellow shadders reported fresh shad runs all the way up to Road 48 in mid-May. The American and Feather received the lead edge about the same time while we experienced shad in the icy waters of the Yuba at the end of May. One thing about high water years you know where the shad are and where they are not. Most any soft edge (this year Willow lines) and slower waters will be holding fish. Like steelhead, shad will migrate the easiest way possible. The key to high water success is to get down into the column of holding/transitioning fish. Forget the traditional long reach down and across approach. We discovered consistent success fishing heavily weighted (tungsten bead/lead bells) patterns fished on a short line nymphing approach. Short dap casts, quartered slightly upstream and followed through with a few payout mends, to achieve maximum depths and sustained prolonged drifts. 0X tippits was the savior to retrieving your patterns out of the willows and root wads. Standard type 4 Hi speed heads and multi-tips did the job. Spey-switch casters were reminded not to rev-it-up and take advantage with a Scandi line and type 4 tip. Over shooting the soft edges simply reflected a good casting session.

Shad on Yuba
Chris Christinsen (aka C-) got shad.

Currently strong numbers of fish have filtered throughout the entire Valley systems. The down side is hot weather has triggered major late season runoff. All rivers are fluctuating daily, some dangerously high and unfishable. On a brighter note, it is better to have more water than not enough. Remember the drought years? No water no fish, not to mention major devastation on ecosystems and other wildlife. Prolonged high flows open the door not only for shad but also bonus stripers, spring-summer salmon-steelhead-trout. Cold water temperatures slow fish maturing and preserve the quality of the fish. How long will the 2011 shad run last? Not sure. However, we have successfully caught shad through July into early August. Years ago I was caught off guard when fishing the lower Trinity (September 26) and witnessed a 6 lb. hen shad on the flank of a fresh school of Chinooks. Bottom line, the balance of the shad run all comes down to runoff. Use good judgment and keep in tune with river flows. Anyone pissing or moaning-Shad up and go fishing!

Shad on Yuba
Walt & handful of shad
CB – bundle up & say cheese
Yuba River River trips
I see faces
Boat load of steelheaders-ah-er-shadders