There are times the shad are so thick, you can feel your 1/4 oz weight bumping over their backs as you retrieve your spoon. This year was no different, just early, as is the beginning of every other fishery due to our abnormally mild winter. The Shad run only last a month or so, which means every bit of free time I had for the next 4-6 week would be spent on the James. We don't call them poor mans tarpon for nothing. These fish put up a great fight on light tackle and can jump 4' out of the water- this year I had one jump clean over the yak from port to starboard.
The river also grows thick with catfish during this time. I generally anchor up, drop 2 lines off the stern with fish-finder rigs and bait, then cast gold spoons and shad darts. The action is constant during the peak of the run with Blue Cats in the 18-30" range taking your bait as soon as it settles on bottom, and shad biting every cast once you've got them dialed in.
This year, a local kayak fisherman put together a small tournament, the MS Shad Shootout, to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was a fun day on the water and great to see some fishing buddies make the drive up from the beach.
A friend of mine had never caught a Shad, or fished from a kayak, so while the fish were still biting I was able to get Matt out on the water with me. I was a little concern taking him out, since the river has a pretty strong current just below the fall line, but I gave him a brief safety lesson prior to hitting the water and he did great. He is an avid bass fisherman, competing in the FLW Tour, as a co-angler, but I think he's hooked on kayak fishing now and wants to buy older Malibu X-Factor.
The Stripers come up and feed hard on the Shad and Herring while staging for their own spawn, and can be caught on livebait, cutbait, and artificials. The potential for a citation is always there, with fish over 40" consistently being caught from boats and the bridge. This was the first year that I set out specifically targeting the Stripers, but I had been given a few pointers by a fishing buddies who had caught 20 or so fish the day previous, and I felt confident I could get on 'em. I used a Sabiki rig to catch some small Hickories, and after double and triple checking to be sure they weren't Herring or Alewife, I hooked the fish in a manner similiar to how you would bridal a bait for Marlin, going in ahead of the dorsal, just under the skin on the back, and out just behind the head. I only had one bait, after giving a couple to my buddy, but one was all it took, and within 15 minutes my clicker started screaming. I could tell right away that this wasn't a catfish, and quickly got a glimpse of the fish. He was no giant, but I was still stoked.
That was the only Striper we picked up that day, and I wasn't able to get back out after them before the bite slowed. The Shad made their way back downstream and the Striper fell in right behind them, so my attention has turned back to the Salt. With good reports of Flounder, Trout, and Redfish, as well as Bluefish and big Croaker, I'm itching to get down to the inlets and tear 'em up. Until then... Tight lines!