Shad fishing brings on a sea of calm

February 28, 2011 

Folks always ask me why I like to fish so much, and I think I finally have the answer. But, before I tell you exactly how my epiphany came about, I will tell you that for the past few weeks I have been one stressed-out puppy.

I guess you could say a combination of things have had me a bit on edge. Just two days ago, I darn near went postal trying to figure out what refrigerator to get for a family-owned property.

With siblings throwing in their two cents on every aspect of that stupid refrigerator, plus the upcoming wedding of my daughter, plus feeling like the creature from "Predator" had just ripped out my spine, I was about to blow like Mount St. Helens. Call it divine intervention or whatever, but one phone call saved me.

"Hello?" I answered.

"Neil here...what's cha doing, boy?," said this deep, gruff, all Southern voice.

"Going crazy I guess. So what's up?," I replied.

"How 'bout you and I hook up the boat and go see if the shad are here yet?"

To which I replied, "I'm awfully busy, but, uh, what the heck ... let's go and let's go right now!"

It was one of those decisions that went totally against the reality of that day. I had a list of things to do that was a mile long but I had reached critical mass and had to escape.

The "Neil" on the phone was none other than my neighbor Neil Lax, who has been a Blufftonian darn near as long as Bluffton has been around. To complete the picture, Neil is a big barrel-chested man, bearded, wears blue jean overalls just about every day of the year and wears shoes only when there is an "occasion." But inside this big fellow has a heart of gold.

As I have mentioned in previous columns, shad fishing isn't for everyone, which is fine by me. Up North is a different story. There are rivers up there that draw thousands of anglers when the shad run is on but down here you're lucky to see a dozen folks on any given day. Other than my friend Jimmy McIntire, Neil is the only other person who likes to shad fish as much as I do.

Often called the "poor man's tarpon," the great American shad migrate from the ocean up into local rivers to spawn. They will travel hundreds of miles up rivers ending up in fresh water, where they deposit their eggs. Strong fish, shad are a blast to catch -- often jumping three or four feet out of the water when hooked and fighting very much like big freshwater trout. The hitch is, they don't bite the lure thinking it's food; they do it out of pure aggravation. The males, called bucks, are smaller than the females, or sallies, and a shad's mouth is small and paper-thin, so even if you hook one there are no guarantees. They will jump, they will peel off line and they will do everything and anything to get rid of the hook.

My baits of choice are small chartreuse screwtails and tiny gold spoons fished on ultra light tackle.

Arriving at the Ogeechee River just south of Savannah, we launched the boat. Looking up at the giant cypress trees and the first blooms of spring, I could feel my anxiety level dropping like magic. It was so darn beautiful.

We hadn't gone 50 yards when one of my rods bent double. From the moment I picked up the rod, I knew this was a big sallie as she put her broad side against the current making her feel about twice her weight. As I fought her, all I could think about was shad roe sautèed in butter for dinner. Neil finally netted the fish, a whopper, and into the boat it went.

Then it happened.

I was actually shaking with excitement as I went to put her in the cooler, and with one flip she slid out of my hands, hit the rail and, splash, back into the water. Neil just shook his head, and I was devastated. My dream dinner was gone.

Considering my stress problems of late, I figured that was my one shot and I blew it. Yep, a dark cloud was hanging over my head, and I was doomed to fail. That thought had barely made it through the maze of gray matter called "my brain" when two rods bucked at the same time.

Redemption was at hand!

The current in the Ogeechee is swift, so the only way to land the fish is to head into the current and, with kid gloves, ease the fish to the boat. This time I didn't touch the fish after we boated them and I had my shad roe. In all we caught 12 shad, which in shad-fishing terms is a very, very good day.

As I sat that night savoring each and every bite of shad roe, I realized that for the first time in weeks I was calm. My stomach was no longer knotted up. I could think again and though my back hurt like hell, I was happy.

So this is why I love fishing so much. Just that simple combination of nature, a good friend and the beauty of the Ogeechee River had cured me better than any medication ever could.

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