|Delaware Indians setting shad traps and smoking operations|
Of course, all of that changed when the French, Dutch, and English started erecting mill dams across coastal plain streams from North Carolina to New Jersey in the mid-1700s (although it's true that beaver dams existed on most or all of those streams at various times prior to colonial settlement). These mill dams prevented shad (and herring, striped bass, and many other species) from moving upstream to the spawning grounds, which in turn, made the corralled and confused shad very easy prey to fishermen. Humans' interest in harvesting these fish en masse has not subsided. In several states in the Northeast, the season on American and Hickory shad remains closed due to centuries of overfishing. However, a very particular and unusual culture still exists every April and May on those Chesapeake Bay streams - catch and release fishing for Americans and Hickories. How weird is that culture? Check out the tackle:
You have to admit, those are some pretty weird little plugs. They're called shad darts. While shad can and do bite other lures (and live bait), they certainly chase these little things around.
I have to admit, I have not fished the shad run in three years now, and I have forgotten what I had taught myself about these tough fish. I started off with a few crappie lures that were getting big strikes but no hookups. I then switched to a 4" Rapala Subwalk "Ghost" with a trailing streamer and the hits came fast and furious. The shad - big shad (a dead 18"er was on the bank) - were rising through the stained water, grabbing the lure, and heading deep. Then they would run the bottom of the channel while still holding onto the lure. Then, every time, I'd decide that I'd had enough, turn off the drag, and start retrieving, at which point the shad would bounce the lure. I hooked a few dozen and never brought one to the surface - very frustrating. Other lures didn't provoke the same strike. Smaller lures only caught me bucketfuls of panfish (and once again, I did not have a creel or cooler with me). Frustrated, I eventually gave up and headed for the fish passage barrier where I learned how to fish for shad on Maryland's Choptank River.
But it just was not to be. Neither the upstream fisherman's luck, nor the tales of striped bass lurking in the pools below were able to get any shad in my hands on this day. The Choptank was ridiculously stained, once I saw it up close. No lure could deal with the discoloration and the speed of the river (nearing flood stage). Oh well.