We've just completed our move out of the Poconos and back to the Northshore of MA. We're located on the Merrimack River, which is up in the northeastern corner of the state. The mouth is about 4 miles East of us, so we're on a tidal saltwater fishery.
In the past couple of weeks, I've located two Fly Shops in the area ; mostly catering to saltwater fishers, but with some pretty good orientation towards fresh water, too.
I've talked to some of the locals about what to fish for in the river and when. I expected to hear about the Stripers and Bues; which I did, but most of the talk centered around a species that I've never heard of as a fly fishing target: Shad.
According to people who seem to know the part of the river that we're on, the Shad run in the Spring is something that they say is not to be missed. I don't know about that, but I've heard some pretty good stories now about hard strikes and a good fight. So, needless to say, I'm ready to give it a try.
I've also heard some good things about a species that I wouldn't have thought stood a chance in the Merrimack; Atlantic Salmon. Apparently, they're staging somewhat of a comeback along parts of the East Coast and the Merrimack seems to be getting its share; more fish with each passing season. So, if that's true, then that will be the icing on the cake for me!
I don't know anything about fishing for Shad, but everyone says that they'll strike on small, bright streamers. Does anyone out there have any experience fishing this species? If so, how do you do it and what type of flies do you use?
With the Stripers and Blues gone for the season, about the only thing that's in the river now is Pollack, Haddock and Flounder. I've been doing a little reading on each and find that they, too, can be fished on the fly(?) Personally, I can't imagine a Flounder taking a fly but they say that they will. Probably not very exciting to hook and land, but hey, it's only a matter of walking across the street to find out. So, I'm going to give it a shot.
Any pointers on fishing Shad?
Here's a pic of the river; taken at sunrise about a week ago. It's probably 500-700 ft. across where we are. But, the channel runs within 30 ft. of our low water mark.
I'm actually thinking spey rod; for the first time ever!
First of all find yourself a copy of Boyd Pfeiffer's book Shad Fishing. You won't be sorry.
There's a commercial shad fishery in the town where I grew up but I was never much of a shad fisherman myself. The reason being that there was no wadeable spot with the proper structure. I think that's the toughest thing about shad fishing. Shad can be very structure oriented, be that rocks and abutments during the spring run or cool holes in the summer. Reading the water is as important as in trout fishing. Plus, where's there's good fishing there's usually a crowd too which can make fly fishing even more difficult.
They run in the spring when the dogwoods are in bloom and mostly on cloudy days and at night. They're very sensitive to daylight. That same brightness has an effect on the type of flies you use also.
The fishing itself is pretty basic. It's just like fishing a wet fly or streamer with a cast down and across followed by a slow jerky retrieve. The most important aspect I think is casting from the right spot to get the proper swing.
The fly selection can be madding, with the right colors changing from day to day, hour to hour, or even every few minutes.
Here's a picture of some shad flies from the H&H website. As you can see the tying is pretty basic. It's most important IMO to have a good variety
Allan, speaking on flounder in particular: I often used to fish a particular bay/estuary area that had some flounder in it, but this is when I was a cheating spin-fisherman... nevertheless, sometimes working a deeper jig flounder would take an interest. Since they are such a flat fish, they can turn their body like a jack, pompano, or permit and put some power into the fight if they're feeling inspired. If you work a crustacean imitation or even a minnow across the bottom, you're likely to take a flounder or two. It helps that they are tasty and easily filleted... I can't help with the shad, but I wonder if fishing for them is anything like pinfish in Florida, which is more of a battle of keeping them OFF your hook.
I don't think that you're going to find Haddock or Pollack in the river either
People fish for them in the winter, but off shore and deep.
There used to be a good in-shore fishery for tommy-cod but I think that that's even dried up.
There might be hold over stripers however. There's more of those than people might think.
As for flounder, there's 2 kinds. The season for winter flounder is short, just a few weeks at the end of the winter and there's not the numbers that there were 20-30 years ago. You could fish for them with a fly rod I suppose, but you'd be the only one.
Summer flounder, also known as fluke, are more common and are often caught while striper fishing, usually at slack tide. In the late summer they'll follow bait schools right into the surf zone. I catch a couple every year.
Location: White City (tad north of Medford) Oar-E-Gone
Not your side of the Country but always looked forward to fishing for Shad on the Russian River in Nor-Cal. Flies were very similar to the one RT's got on display above. 'Best one' for me was just a bit of red Amnesia shooting line and chain bead eyes. Worked a treat; close second was same fly made with Chartreuse Amnesia.
The one key factor was the use of a clear slow sink 'slime line.' No idea why that was such big deal (vs just a sink tip of some sort), but it was a key factor in multi-hook up days.
Rip, they say that there are both American and Gizzard Shad in the Merrimack. Those flies look like what I'm seeing in the local Fly Shops. I guess since the fish are not, generally, feeding during their spawning runs, that you're trying to annoy/irritate them into a territorial striking behavior.
Yes, they stock Atlantics above the dam in Lawrence; actually quite a distance above it. When the conversation turned to Salmon, there were comments both about fish coming "over the dam" and of them coming in from the ocean. I have no first-hand knowledge of the accuracy of the reports, but everyone seemed excited to be able to talk about Atlantics at all in the Merrimack.
From where I live, I can see Rocks Village Bridge and everyone says that's the place to fish for Shad, so I guess the structure part plays a pretty big role in where they locate themselves during the run.
The Merrimack is an interesting story for me. I grew up on the river; but in the '50's-70's it was so polluted by the effluents from the mills in Nashua, Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, that no one fished it seriously. I think it was classified as a Class H river at that time; which I always considered put it on a par with the Ohio. Now it's a Class B river; so lots of progress in the right direction in 30 years time. And, apparently, the fish have noticed.
Thanks for the referral on the book; I have it on order.
We had a Shad guide from Northern CA give us a video presentation at a club meeting. Looked popular up there. Guys were shoulder to shoulder, literally.
He helped us tie shad flies before the meeting. Pretty simple flies. Here's what I remember of the recipe (all of my stuff is still in storage or I could give you a pic of my ties):
Hook: pretty heavy chrome hook
Eyes: Heavy, big barbell
Tail: Krystal Flash
Body: Red or green Amnesia wrapped to look like segments.
Head: Fire orange thread (figure eight over barbells; tapered behind eye.
I surprised that you never got onto the shad fishing on the Delaware River, they are a big deal there and I often thought on a trip there when I lived in N. C. PA. I do know that I have eaten them and they are very tasty fish especially smoked.
Flounder are fun to catch and very much fun to eat. I caught my first on the Eastern Shore of VA. and my last right here in Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Kenai River; very fun to eat. I've also caught small Halibut on flies, for flounder you just let the fly rest on the bottom and make small strips of the line to find the strike. For Atlantic Salmon you are at least on the right coast for it Some travel is definitely in your future, it'll be a drive but if you go down to Bangor and take Rt. 9 over to Calais you'll be right at the border. Then it's a beautiful trip over to places with names like Miramichi & Margaree. It's been quite a few years (1985, 86, & 87) but I can remember those places like last summer. It sounds like you've got it right at your door but whenever you get the traveling druthers there are plenty of options. I could go on and on, I had often considered relocating to Maine myself.