When most people are thinking of golf, Earl Hurd is thinking of shad.
"It's that time of year," he said, twitching a tiny chartreuse jig in the turbulent tailrace below New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. "Masters Week is always shad time."
Hurd joins scores of other anglers each spring who cast furiously for the fat, hard-fighting American shad that swim upriver from the Atlantic Ocean in search of spawning grounds.
New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, located 13 miles below Augusta, is a barrier that congregates the fish -- and the fishermen.
"On Saturdays, it's elbow to elbow," said Hurd, who has fished for shad in Delaware and New Jersey. "It's not as crowded on weekdays."
American shad are among several anadromous fish (ocean species that spawn in freshwater streams) that inhabit the Savannah. They're also one of the most popular.
"They fight hard and they make the greatest bait in the world," said Fernando Clark, who enjoys catching shad and uses them as bait to entice something even bigger: catfish.
The spring shad run, which lasts from April to early June, attracts anglers from as far away as Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta and Columbia. But most are local.
"We do get a lot of Masters visitors come by," Clark said. "It's fun talking to them. I met a guy from Michigan and told him all about our shad and stripers; he told me about ice fishing and walleyes."
Shad are sometimes harvested for their roe, which may be eaten. Many anglers freeze the shad for use later as cut bait, or simply release them unharmed to continue their spawning mission.
"We caught about 40 this morning, and we let all but one of them go," said Daniel Odom of Augusta. "I'm mainly a bass fishermen myself, but these are fun to catch on light tackle."
American shad average one to three pounds, but four pounders are common. The state record, caught in 1986 in the Savannah River, was 8 pounds, 3 ounces, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The limit on American shad is eight per person and a Georgia fishing license is required.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.
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