Originally created 04/14/02

Anglers learn to appreciate American shad



Tom Swift's vision of a perfect morning involves a turbulent tailrace and a tiny jig flung hard and far into foaming water.

"Always aim for the heaviest flow," he said, launching a cast that arched toward the lower face of New Savannah Bluff Dam. "The fish are stacked up in that fast current."

It took only moments before the rod tip twitched - and lurched downward. A fat roe shad, remarkably energetic after its 1,400-mile journey from the North Atlantic, had engulfed the tiny hook.

"Bring him up, bring him up!," said Swift's son and fishing partner, Andrew Swift, who netted the shimmering fish after a brief battle and added it to the cooler.

American shad - which congregate at New Savannah Bluff near Augusta each spring - are among the South's least appreciated gamefish.

"This is one of the best fishing experiences you can have close to home," said Tom Swift, who launches his boat at the Bob Baurle ramp off Lock and Dam Road and has only a three-minute ride to prime fishing areas.

The shad migrate upriver to spawn from early April to late May. The schools eventually find themselves stalled against the 64-year-old lock and dam - where anglers such as the Swifts enjoy catching them on light tackle.

"These fish have only been in fresh water a few days," Swift said. "A lot of them still have little parasites on them called sea lice that can't live in fresh water."

The females, known as "roe shad," weigh 3 to 7 pounds and can grow much larger.

Three world-record American shad have been pulled from Savannah, according to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame:

  • an 8 pound, 1 ounce fish caught by Henry Baxley on 8-pound test line;
  • an 8 pound, 3-ounce fish - also caught by Baxley - on 12-pound test line;
  • and a 6 pound, 11-ounce fish caught by Danny Nelson on 15-pound test line.
  • Shad are harvested for their roe, which may be eaten and sometimes are substituted for caviar. They can also be fried or baked - or simply released.

    American shad, admittedly, are sometimes more challenging to clean than they are to catch.

    Swift and a fishing partner once traveled all the way to Savannah - to observe the professionals at Rousseau's Fish Market clean and bone shad.

    "These people ship boned shad all over the country," he said. "Each fillet has over 200 bones, and these guys can bone one out in just two minutes."

    The limit on American shad is eight per person, and a Georgia fishing license is required.

    American Shad facts:

    ™ Three line-class world-records were caught in the Savannah River.

    ™ Females lay 100,000 eggs, but 99 percent perish within two weeks.

    ™ Shad weigh up to seven pounds and require four years to mature.

    ™ Shad only return to the rivers in which they were hatched.

    ™ Shad hatched near Augusta travel as far as Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119 or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.