Shad Cover


By Jon B. Cave

Each year, one of the most prolific yet little known runs of anadramous fish occurs during the winter months in east-central Florida as American shad migrate from the sea to spawn near the headwaters of the St. Johns River. After a 4 to 5 year absence, the fish are instinctively returning to their natal waters to produce a new generation. Florida has the southernmost migration, but there are other runs of American Shad in many rivers along the Atlantic Seaboard. Tags indicate the fish travel from as far away as Canada’s Bay of Fundy.

The American, or white, shad is the largest of the herrings. In Florida, they average 2-3 pounds, and 5-pounders are caught with regularity. In rivers to the north, the average size is somewhat larger, mostly because some of the northern fish are repeat spawners. Those in the St. Johns die after reproducing – probably the result of making such an exhaustively long trip, but also because the warm southern river drains the fish of the energy necessary for a return to the Atlantic.

Staying tight to a jumping shad

Shad begin to enter the river mouth at Jacksonville sometime in December when seasonal temperatures begin to cool the water. Male shad, or “bucks”, are the first to arrive, followed shortly thereafter by the larger female “roe” shad. Once the fish enter the river, they wind their way a distance of more than 200 miles to the uppermost reaches south, or upstream, of Lake Monroe where 80 percent of the river’s fall occurs and currents are the strongest. There, females release their eggs freely in the moving water while males swim alongside and disperse milt. The strong flow of water facilitates the fertilization process by mixing eggs and milt together and it prevents the eggs from settling in the bottom silt where they are likely to perish. The height of spawning activity occurs in January, February, and March when water temperatures hover in the mid-60’s, but a very small number of shad may still be alive well into April.

The shad’s preference for a location with a strong current should be the foremost consideration in selecting a productive fishing spot. Places with the swiftest flow include the main channel, the edges of steep banks, deep holes, the outside bank of sharp turns, and drop-offs. On occasion, the fish will even move into tributaries if the current is substantial enough. Among the locations with the best opportunities to flyfish for shad are those in the vicinity of Mullet Lake, Lemon Bluff, Highway 50, Lake Harney, Hatbill Park, and Puzzle Lake.

Shad are filter-feeders who nourish themselves by opening their mouth with gills flared to strain food, mostly plankton, from the water as they swim. However, studies by biologists indicate that shad, like many other anadramous fish, stop feeding once they enter the freshwater environs of their home river. Some skeptical anglers doubt that scientific research because they have witnessed shad pursuing minnows (a rather common occurrence) in spawning locations and mistake that behavior for feeding when, instead, the shad probably regard the smaller fish as egg-eating predators and are chasing them from the breeding area.

American shad

Despite the fact that they don’t feed in freshwater, shad can be enticed to strike small flies if they are presented effectively. Flashy patterns tied on size 6 hooks and weighted with a set of bead-chain or extra-small dumbbell eyes are standard for the St. Johns River. The presentation needs to be made at either a 90 degree angle to the current or, preferably, just slightly downstream. To allow the fly sufficient time to sink, dead-drift it with an occasional mend until it is quartering down-current. Then simply strip the fly slow enough to feel it occasionally bump the bottom. That being said, there are occasions when shad inexplicably prefer a faster retrieve with the fly closer to the surface – so it pays to experiment a little to find the most successful technique at any particular time.

I normally opt to use 6-weight tackle for American shad, but going a weight lower or higher is just as effective. The river’s water level largely determines which fly line density is appropriate. When the water level is high and currents are strong, a full-sinking line may be the best choice. On the other hand, a floating line is ideal when the water is low and in situations where the fish are near the surface. A sink-tip line is a good all-around choice as it will handle the widest variety of conditions. A tapered leader approximately 8’ long is a good match with any line density and a tippet size of 0X or larger will assure a good turnover with the weighted flies.

American shad jump as frequently as baby tarpon - but fight harder

Like other anadramous fish that must withstand the rigors of a lengthy migration to reproduce, American shad are extremely strong and determined fighters that don’t come easily to the net. When hooked, they become flashing, silvery missiles that repeatedly launch themselves from the water. These characteristics, as well as the fish’s willingness to strike flies, have made them an increasingly favorite target among flyfishers in Florida where redfish, snook, tarpon, bonefish, spotted seatrout, and largemouth bass also vie for status as the most popular gamefish.

For more from Sage Ambassador Jon Cave, please visit

Claremont Isles

Claremont Isles

Spectacular multi-species fly fishing in the Claremont Isles in northeast Australia.

Renowned fly fisher and Sage Ambassador Peter Morse is featured this must see fly fishing documentary about a never before filmed area of isolated islands, sand cays, reef flats, offshore reefs and river systems. The variety of species here is amazing and between the spectacular camera work and great fishing you’ll be educated and entertained. Check out the trailer here.

Buy the DVD here

Northern Exposure

Russ BC Buck

Northern Exposure

by Russ Miller
Sage Pro Manager

I am not sure what it is when you cross over the border from the U.S. into Canada. There is a weight that is lifted, perhaps it’s the knowledge that your phone is no longer in service, and that for the next three days all you have to worry about is which run to step into next.


This morning it was easy to choose what run we would start at for first light. As we fired up the stove at the camp spot for some hot coffee, I could hear the river song playing in the background. It had been the same tune that we fell asleep to every night. Instead of getting in the car, we would fish our home pool at the doorsteps of camp. As we rigged up in the pale blue pre-dawn light, the 14 foot Magnum red METHOD rod glowed a little as I strung it up. This rod was an easy one to fall in love with; it is ultra-light, ultra-powerful, and has the soul of a champion. I was able to hit seams that were out of my previous casting range and keep my fly swimming through water that was untouched.

Contemplating my fly choice for the morning, last night’s drinks still sat heavy in my head and the late night fish stories motivated me to make a change. Rumor had it that black and blue was the ticket. That was all I needed to hear as I had been on a pink fly bender the past two fishless days. Digging through my box I found the one, a black marabou head with a blue prom dress tail. It certainly caught my eye even in the dim glow of my headlamp. Steaming coffee in one hand and rod in the other we made our way from our camp, through the foliage, and out onto the gravel bar. Harry and I sat and watched the river flow, sipping coffee and waiting for the morning to start.

BC Buck

About a third of the way down from the head during another rhythmic swing, my fly got crushed. I didn’t have to worry about my loop or setting the hook, I just had to hang on and enjoy the ride. Minutes later Harry was grabbing the wrist of my first BC buck and I was ecstatic! After celebrating and high fiving, I sat down to re-live the experience and soak the scene in. Harry stepped back in, anxious after feeling and seeing the power of these native fish. I let my nerves calm down for about 15 minutes and stepped back into the head. Three casts later the matching hen came to hand.

When it rains … it feels so good!

A Different Take on a Little Rod

Sage 370-4 Response

A Different Take on a Little Rod

Joe Mahler

Hidden within the SAGE line-up is a gem. The Response 370-4 is a seven-foot three-weight rod that is a true workhorse – ok, a pony. I realize that it is not likely that a rod of this stature will never be the talk of fly tackle shows and expositions, but maybe this one should be.

I have never owned a rod lighter than a four weight, but last spring I was kayak fishing with Steve Gibson in a lake near Sarasota, Florida. It was tough day for sure. Windy, chilly, and the bass, bream, and crappies had a chronic case of lock-jaw. I had a seven and six-weight rod with me, Steve was armed with a two and three-weight. At the end of the day, Steve had caught 17 respectable fish, while I caught only two. We were fishing close to each other, even using the same flies, but Steve, with his diminutive equipment picked the shoreline apart like a micro-surgeon, while I simply blew through some of what proved to be the best spots. Steve explained that the down-sized outfits that he was using somehow changed his view of the shoreline and made him more focused. So, hat in hand, my search for the perfect three-weight began.

When it comes to equipment, “If it’s worth using, it’s worth abusing” definitely applies to me. While terms like “Lifting Power” and “Backbone” aren’t usually tossed about in light rod discussions, I knew that, although I was looking for a small waters rod, I never look for small fish. The rod I chose would need to cover a range of waters– from canals to lakes to backcountry creeks, on foot and by paddle, as well as a variety of species including bream, exotics (oscars, cichlids, and peacock bass), largemouth bass and even small tarpon. Kayak fly-rodders are usually from two different schools of thought on rod length. The first argument is that since the caster is usually seated, therefore closer to the water’s surface, a longer rod is helpful in keeping the back cast from hitting the water and help with distance overall. The other side is that being able to tuck a shorter rod inside the kayak will make it easier to navigate twisty backcountry creeks and, since super-distance casts are seldom necessary in a stealthy kayak, a short rod is a better choice for most situations. I tend to agree with the latter.

The Response 370-4, to me, is very much in line with the popular SAGE Bass series rods. It’s a fast-action rod that will handle more payload than one would expect. I often use flies ranging from #8 cork-bodied poppers, to #4 bucktail streamers on salt water hooks. The key with throwing the larger flies is to use a shorter and heavier leader than is typical. For bass and small tarpon, I use a seven foot 12-15lb. leader with a 20lb. butt section. Initially, I paired the Response 370 up with a 3 weight RIO gold line but found that, for my purposes, a 3 weight RIO Grande helps load the rod better.

In the six months that I have been fishing the 370, I have landed largemouth and Peacock Bass to 18” and baby tarpon to 27”. I have definitely put a bend in the rod, but I’ve not felt under gunned. The four-piece 370 comes in a tube that measures less than 26” in length. It fits in my travel bag, and is always under the seat of my truck. It has become a staple in my casting instruction sessions as an aid to build line-shooting skills, which the Response 370/ RIO Grande combination does beautifully. If you are looking for a little rod with a lot of attitude, take the Response 370 for a test drive.

Joe Mahler is a Sage ambassador, casting instructor, author, illustrator, and experienced kayak angler in Florida. To learn more about Joe, head over to his Facebook page and website.

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Fishing Southwest Alaska

Fishing SW Alaska

Sage Technical Service Manager, Chris Andersen, just got back from steelhead fishing Southwest Alaska. After putting some of our gear to the test, check out what he has to say.

Just back from my annual trip to some of my old guide waters in Southwest Alaska fishing with my friend Patricia from Blue Fly B&B. It was truly just like old times, the average fish was from around 26-28 inches with fish into the 30’s…..all chrome bright and as hot as the hottest steelhead I’ve ever fought…only these were native Alaskan trout! If you’re ever planning a trip to the Naknek, Blue Fly has an awesome B&B and a fantastic guide service.

I used the new METHOD 8126-4 with the new Sage 2210 reel and connect core shooting line and the new Skagit Max Short (625 grain). The METHOD spey… what can I say other than amazing, simply amazing. I was fishing some very large, heavy, wind resistant, water soaking flies in the occasional 50 mph wind and that rod delivered the goods despite the demanding situations. The METHOD had tons of soul and it fought fish well without being too overpowering. The new 2200 series reels performed flawlessly. What a great reel for the price! I really like the new RIO non-stretch connect core shooting lines and the new heads to go along. I noticed a huge difference between the standard and non-stretch cores when it comes to feel and sensitivity when fishing the line as well as hook sets and holding the fish once you have them pinned. For the angler who fishes hardcore destinations, be it Alaska or our own Olympic Peninsula rainforest rivers during Winter steelhead season, there’s simply nothing better than this setup.

Chris Andersen, Sage Technical Service Manager