The sound of the rushing water was tranquilizing as my cast quartered downstream and settled softly. The small fly touched and disappeared underwater just above the churning white cauldron where I hoped some shad might be frisking. My line immediately snapped tight, and my energy flowed back.
I held the line firmly with my hand for just an instant to be sure of a good hook-set. Then the fly line was ripped roughly through my fingers as a graceful silvery rocket shot out of the water, hung weightless for a long second in the morning sun, fell back and, without a pause, jetted away downstream forcing my rod over hard.
Early-bird anglers trying out the rockfish bite in catch-and-release mode are finding slow going. However, the Gum Thickets has been the location of much earlier success.
Spring Turkey Season: thru May 9, half-hour before sunrise to noon; May 10-23, half-hour before sunrise to sunset
The day had a dreamlike beginning. Friend Ed and I had arrived late that beautiful morning at the small, popular location on this Eastern Shore river and were amazed to find no one there. That can be a bad sign, a prime indicator there are no fish. But every once in a while you get lucky and are the first on the scene of a hot, springtime shad run. We were lucky.
With no one around to hinder fly-casting, I had broken out a short six-foot-nine-inch six-weight rod. It was ideal for working with the tight, complicated terrain behind me. My back-cast had to avoid the massive trunk of the tree to my immediate rear, remain low enough to avert its descending foliage and yet be high enough to clear the rocky, ascending bank.
Glancing back occasionally over my shoulder as I worked out line with false casts, I managed to avoid fouling the fly and got a decent presentation, well out and just over the sweet spot. The eager hickory shad now putting a severe bend in my rod had done the rest. It jumped again, far downstream, turned and headed back, cutting effortlessly into the swiftly moving current.
As I stripped in line to prevent the slack that would allow this ocean-run speedster to shed the hook, it gathered in loose gobs at my feet. Then, almost as if my fish realized the tactical weakness that this pile of line presented, the hickory jumped again, eyeballed me and screamed back downstream.
I no longer tried to keep any tension on my line. Instead, I endeavored to guide the loose loops with my hand as they leapt back off the ground and snaked hissing up into the guides. Miraculously, after a few uncertain moments, I got all the loose line safely out without it knotting up and jamming. I had the fish tight to the reel. Now I could do battle.
Cranking the little Bauer fly reel like a dervish, I kept up with the gleaming, rocketing fish as it ran and jumped, tearing up the water. Now when it took line back, as it did again and again, the smooth drag wore the hickory down. I finally slid the tired rascal up onto the bank, got it unhooked and sent it back on its way.
In the meantime, Ed had been having his own water circus at the river’s edge. Throwing a light spin rod with a pair of small one-eighth-ounce orange shad darts rigged in tandem, he had caught and released three nice hickories in the time it had taken me to subdue my single fish.
All our hickory shad were big, thick, healthy and obviously ready to spawn. Running to sometimes over 20 inches in length, they were present in substantial numbers. When the sun hit the water at the right angle, it was inspiring to see the dense schools spiraling away into the fast-moving currents, flashing close together in their reproductive dances.
We enjoyed this incredible bite all by ourselves well into the fourth hour before, worn out and the fish still biting, we loaded up and headed for home.
Fishing License Alert
DNR has new procedures, including a newly designed computer interface, for issuing fishing and hunting licenses. To apply for either, you’ll need to provide an official photo ID (i.e., driver’s license or other government-issued ID) plus your Social Security number. Non-citizens must also provide Maryland-recognized ID such as passports or Green Cards.
Alas, computer application is so far proving clumsy and complicated, and it is taking much longer to issue licenses. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your permits. There well may be long lines on opening day.