We had met at Geechee Outdoor Supply, a meeting place east of Statesboro for fishermen and hunters on US 80 in Brooklet. The store sells among many other items, a variety of tackle, much of which is targeted at the shad fishermen in the area. Randy Crosby, who works there, had set up our fishing trip, gladly putting me in touch with Bill and Dan.
Bill pushed the boat out into the current, but we never ran anywhere. He simply slipped the trolling rig tied to his baitcaster into the water and let out fifty feet or so of line behind the boat. I followed him with a similar rig as he pointed the boat upstream.
Were fishing this part of the river, first of all because we have been catching fish here the past few days, Bill said as he kicked the idle speed on his motor up slightly. The other reason is that the creek has been way up and out of its banks. People in this area refer to the Ogeechee River as the creek. This part of the creek has some higher banks, he continued, so even when the water is up, we have a more confined area, and the fish are channeled into it, making it easier for us to catch them.
In parts of the Ogeechee, the river is wide and naturally shallower. High water means flooded timber on both sides in these wide areas, and Bill does not like to fish those areas. Too many places for the fish to go, he says.
As we moved upstream against the current, Bill continued, Now, lets see if we can catch a nice fat shad.
Shad. When most Georgia anglers hear the word shad, they think of bait; they think of big catfish; and, they think of hybrids and bass. But, along the coast and in upstream towns close to the major rivers, quiet, close-knit communities of fishermen wait every spring for a different kind of shad to appear. We are talking about the American and hickory shad.
American and hickory shad are primarily a saltwater fish. Each spring they complete a migration that began at their birth some five to seven years earlier. Like the venerable striped bass or rockfish, they migrate back to their birthplace to spawn. However, unlike the striped bass, most of these silvery acrobats die shortly after they spawn.
The run begins as the water temperature begins to rise. Moving inland from the ocean, they can be caught towards the mouths of rivers like the Sapello, Altamaha, Ogeechee, and Savannah as early as the first of February. As the days of spring move into March and April, the fish move farther upstream, sometimes well over 100 miles inland from the ocean.
The shad is perhaps the most overlooked species in all of Georgia. Older generations of anglers talk about shad runs almost with a reverence. Few people realize that shad fishing for American and hickory shad dates back to our forefathers. Washington and Jefferson, among many others were a part of a huge commercial shad fishery prior to and after the revolution.
Dan lamented that people today dont appreciate the shad. These youngsters dont want to deal with the bones they want fish sticks, he says with a grin. He fished commercially for these shad in earlier years, right in the Ogeechee, and was able to sell every pound of fish I caught.
A commercial gill-netting season still exists for netters each spring, an indication that the population is stable enough to sustain this kind of fishery.
But the part missing in all of this is the shear pleasure of catching what a lot of experienced shad anglers call the Poor Mans Tarpon. These fish can make strong runs and high leaps, and can be an awesome battle on light tackle.
While Bill trolled with his rod, he looked curiously at mine. I was fishing with an ultralight spinning outfit and four pound test line.
Do you catch many shad on that little outfit? he wryly asked.
I replied that I liked to fish with light tackle for shad. Four pound test line means a longer battle and usually more jumps.