Just shaddup and fish!
As we move out of late summer here in Kwazulu-Natal, our thoughts start to turn to some of the autumn and winter fishing that we can soon expect. By Craig Thomassen
For those of us who enjoy casting artificial lures from the rocks and beaches, we are coming into the most exciting time of year. Species such as queen mackerel, kingfish and, of course, shad are about to become plentiful in our waters.
There are already reports of a few queen mackerel coming out at some of the popular spinning spots, and some big shad have been landed along the KwaZulu-Natal coast right through summer. Those big blue shad that we all hope to catch have been scarce over the years, but seem to be making a comeback. Hopefully, this is the reward for years of conservation; with bag limits and size limits in place, the shad appear to be doing better.
With reports of catches of big blue shad coming in from up and down the coast, I thought it would be a good idea to write an article on South Africa’s favourite inshore line fish. I will share some information on this popular species and how to catch it, with particular emphasis on using artificial lures.
First, let us take a quick look at the natural history of shad. These fine fighting sport fish are found along the entire KwaZulu-Natal coastline and right into the Cape, where they can be caught as far south and west as False Bay. They come up the coast into the warmer waters of KwaZulu-Natal, along with the sardine run each year. They spawn in the warmer waters of KwaZulu-Natal and their eggs hatch within a few days. Their tiny fry drift southwards with the ocean currents until they land up in the cooler waters of the Cape, where they grow to maturity. Shad take around two years to reach breeding maturity, which is at a size of between 25cm and 30cm. An adult female can lay anywhere between one and two million eggs each year, which sounds a lot, but the juvenile shad have a very high mortality rate on their journey to the Cape.
Shad love the sheltered waters of inshore bays, especially where there is some milky water created by water turbulence for them to hide in. They feed on smaller fish such as pinkies, mullet, karanteen, sardines, anchovies and round herrings. When hungry, they will basically attack any fish smaller than themselves; they are cannibalistic and will also feed voraciously on smaller shad.
They are most active around sunset and sunrise, and can be caught in numbers at these times, especially when they coincide with a high tide. The best tide for catching shad is two hours either side of the high tide, when the water is full and the tidal currents are strong. When these conditions, along with a low-light period occur, then shad can be caught right in the shore break as they smash into small bait fish in the shallows.
While the Cape fishermen tell us that shad prefer warmer water when they are down there, they appear to like cooler water in KwaZulu-Natal and often bite best after a strong north-easterly wind. This wind usually makes the water a bit dirty as the chop kicks up the silt on the bottom. The shad seem to enjoy the slightly discoloured water as it gives them some shelter, and they are energised by the cooler, oxygen-rich water. Bluebottles often accompany a good shad run.
Tackling up for shad
Most of the shad caught along the KwaZulu-Natal coast are round the legal size of 30cm, and while the odd big blue shad is encountered, these are seldom caught during the frenzy of a shad run. The bigger fish seem to swim alone in the deeper water, and behave more like garrick. The shoal shad are best targeted on light spinning tackle and small lures. While many shoal shad are caught by anglers throwing big spoons on surf rods, due to their incredibly aggressive nature, much more fun can be had by targeting them with the light stuff. A 7’ to 8’ light rod, such as a Shimano Vengeance or Shimano Aerocast, is ideal. Team this with a spinning reel such as a Shimano Sienna (for the budget conscious) or a Shimano Sustain, anywhere from a 2500 size to a 4000 size. This type of setup works best loaded with a good casting braid such as Sufix 832 in 10lb to 20lb. A spool of 20lb fluorocarbon along with some light piano wire (I like 29lb Malin wire) is all you need, along with some lures.
The outfit described above will work for shoal shad as well as for big blues. However, the lures for these two are generally quite different.
First let’s look at gearing up for shoal shad. A selection of spoons will make up the bulk of your tackle for shad. I like to have a mix of spoons – some light ones for days when casting distance is not an issue, usually with a nice S-bend shape to give the spoon plenty of swimming action. These are great, as they almost never snag up on rocks and can be fished right over rocky channels and gullies in the foamy water.
I always rig my spoons with a single hook, as this also makes them far less likely to snag up on rocks. I also carry some heavier casting spoons to get distance when needed. I still like them to be small and compact, but much heavier. These are for windy days and days when the shad are sitting out in the foamy water around a distant sandbank. Heavier, compact spoons generally need to be retrieved faster to make them wiggle in an enticing way, and this also helps to keep them away from the bottom.
Shoal shad can also be targeted with small bucktail jigs. I find white, green or yellow to be good colours, and I seldom use a bucktail heavier than ½oz when targeting shad. Small dropshots can also be deadly at times, especially when the shad are close in and smashing tiny baitfish. In this case,
I normally use a ¼oz jighead with a 3”-baby bass, white fluke or minnow. Both the bucktail and the dropshot are fished with a fast twitching action, which drives the shad dilly in the foamy shallow water.
When you have caught your fill of shad on spoons or jigs and want to simply entertain yourself with some fun action, then try some small surface lures. Small poppers such as Rapala Skitter Pops in 5cm or 7cm, Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bugs in 6cm or Rapala X-Rap Walk lures in 9cm can get the shad boiling and smashing on the top and provide much entertainment to the true artificial lure fisherman.
Shad over the 2kg mark are generally referred to as blue shad. These are seldom caught in among the shoals of smaller shad, but can be targeted differently. Rocky points that allow one to access water behind the backline are often good spots to look for blue shad. Otherwise, the edges of white water along the points at the ends of bays, as well as the channels along the edges of midbreak sandbanks are also good places to look for these elusive fish. Bigger lures are more likely to get attacked by bigger shad. Two-ounce chisel-nosed plugs are taken by bigger shad and are a good lure to use, as they cast well. You also get a good chance to pick up a garrick or kingfish while looking for that blue with these lures. I prefer plain white for my chisel-nosed plugs, but the different coloured ones also work.
Barry Wareham, who is always trying different things and finding new fishing styles, has been having some great success targeting bigger shad with the 17cm Rapala Max Rap. This long, slender lure imitates garfish and halfbeaks and seems to be irresistible to big shad, as well as kob, kingfish, springer and queen mackerel at times. Barry fishes these lures with a sweep of the rod, causing the lure to dive, and then allows the lure to float up and break the surface again. He has landed some impressive blue shad on these lures. ■