The Shad Kill; Fact or Fiction

Shad KillAnother writer has called the Shad Kill a “pseudo hatch”.  He is right in the sense that it’s not like a caddis or mayfly hatch.  It’s really not a hatch at all but pseudo hatch does sort of describe this event in that it happens almost every year and some times twice in a single year.  Yep!  A lot of folks don’t know that sometimes a shad kill occurs at the end of the summer near or after the labor day holiday weekend.  This~ summer~ shad kill is more rare than the early spring kill which happens just about every year.  Forty two (42 f) degrees fahrenheit seems to be the magic temperature at the surface of the lake which causes the early spring shad kill on Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes.  The summer kill is caused by much warmer temps and I’ve not figured out the magic temps for the summer event but also seems to be helped along with low D.O. (dissolved oxygen) and lake turn over.

Shad get pulled through turbines of the dams and into the rivers which causes some very exciting feeding activity.  The trout on these rivers go absolutely berserk and feed voraciously.  This can be seen if the shad come through with their swim bladders intact and full of air.  Explosive takes on the surface of the water will excite any fisher when this happens.  It is THE most fun of all the fishing on the White River.  It will get the adrenaline pumping for sure and dang near cause a heart attack when a fisherman has such a take on his/her floating fly from a big brown trout.  At times there are so many shad coming through that the  surface glitters.  Twice in 15 years so many shad have come through the dam and made it to Buffalo Shoals which is 32 miles down stream from the dam.  That is a lot of shad.

Shad

Sometimes though the shad will come through with their air bladders burst and they will sink to the bottom instead of floating to the surface.  This requires fishing the bottom and fishing with some weight on.  The cast used for lots of weight is commonly the the water haul introduced and made popular by John Wilson.  It is a simple cast that generally takes the duck out of the chuck and duck type cast if done properly.  Generally though shad will be suspended in the water column and so must the fly, wether with one that sinks very slowly or one that is suspended by an indicator.  Another guide and I worked on flies a number of years back and tungsten beads have made a fly possible with a slow sink rate and is best fished on floating line. It is a technique that allows the fisher to see the fly and watch the take.  It was first done as far as I know when the “gummy minnows” first came out but there were problems with the fly, we also used lead head jigs which worked pretty well but most fly fishers didn’t consider them flies so back to the tying bench for some more experimentation.  Six  years ago this winter a fellow guide and I played around with some tungsten bead maribou flies that worked in this fashion (slow sinking).   I was powder painting t-beads then to get the colors needed which limited me to the number of flies I could tie as painting these beads in this manner was a royal pain.  Today it is not a problem as painted tungsten beads are a little more common ( see flys hop page ) and make it much easier to produce large numbers of flies.  Tungsten beads have not only changed the way guides now fish the river but are also starting to change the way a shad kill is fished as well.

Much credit needs to go to Tom Rogers who developed a couple of flies years ago that are still used today.  The inverted popper (sneaky pete, slider) and especially the Blow Fly.  Tom tied it with a red bead on the head and with out a red bead.  It was designed to move weave and bob around in the heavy currents of 8 units of generation.  Both flies are  still used by many guides with lots of modifications and different versions.  Another fly I’ve been involved with is a foam one in the shape of a floating shad that rides on it’s side like the shad mostly do.  I’ve been using this shad pattern for a number of years with some success and in different versions and colors.  John Wilson showed me how to cover it with Flexi Cord body material from W.A.P.S.I. which changed everything for me with this fly.  I believe also that John Gully was also using a similar fly that he had come up with.  I was shown the fly by Frank Saksa 10 years ago and we used them then naked or with out the body covering.  They worked ok but not like they do with the body covering.  It’s a time consuming fly to make and it’s hard to cast but works well under the best conditions and early in the kill.  Davy Wotton has a unique version of a floating shad pattern as well.  His pattern was developed originally in the U.K. for fishing still water but he adapted it for use on the White River system and it floats belly down.  It is a successful pattern I first saw him use 8 years ago.  It too is not an easy fly to churn out in big numbers.

One of the draw backs to fishing a shad kill can be the sheer numbers of shad coming through the dam.  As I said I’ve seen them make it 32 miles down stream in large numbers.  With kills this big you can be sure the trout will gorge and then they get real hard to catch.  This is rare however but often fishing further from the dam is more productive than fishing at the dam.  I like to fish what I call the “cusp”.  This is where the shad have not quite made it yet in big numbers but the fish are turned on by shad flies because they’ve seen a few of them and are keyed in on them.  Big fish will move for a long way to take these flies.

My outlook for a shad kill is good as colder temps arrive along with lots of wind to churn the lake up and cool it off.

Don’t forget to sign up for my shad kill alert by sending an e-mail to shadkillalert@flyfisharkansas.com with shad kill in the subject line.  Those who sign up for the alert are the first to know of this event.  Also, don’t forget to pick up the phone and book your trip for feb, march and early april which are the prime months to fish the shad kill.  My number is 870-404-8906.  Try to avoid friday and saturdays if you can and sundays through thursdays are the least crowded days as large numbers of boats can slow or even shut the fish down.

(2010  E-mail for permission to use any or all parts of this article.)

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