Shad never stand still. They dip, dart, skitter, daisychain, jump, flow, but they never stop. If you see a shad not in motion, that shad is dead. You will never see a singular shad. There are either a thousand or none at all. Their communal life in motion reaches its crescendo in the spring as they seek warm hospitable enough water to deposit their futures into. As they gather in their spring numbers moving up river, down river, and around the mud banks, they create a current of shad that runs parallel to the overriding water current until it doesn’t. And the underwater current of shad breaks off and goes in another seemingly random path manipulated by a cost/benefit directional analysis we were never meant to understand. This current of shad does act like a water current in that it starts to pull all things to it.
It starts with a few curious souls, a white bass, maybe a smallmouth. These first few explorers are merely the pebbles tumbling down
the slope foreshadowing the avalanche. By the time the dogwoods are on full floral display, the river has all the inhabitants of the warm underwater environment swimming in and out of it, guzzling shad with every pass. The spawning of hybrids, stripers, gar, bass, and carp intersect with feasting, and at that intersection exits excess not seen since the roaring banquet halls of the vikings. We as fisherman are left aghast standing on a bank or a boat and watching it all go down at our feet.
You can get hypnotized by staring at this shad current within the water, usually being snapped out of it by a larger plop of an aquatic predator. Your first thought should be, “Fornicating or feasting?” Either way, an opportunity lies in that direction. Fish that are fornicating often have friends that are feasting, like some sort of swingers party catered by the shad. The usual rule of, “let ‘em spawn” is thrown out the window with these kinds of impulses in the heavy spring air. “Cast, strip, catch” is the only thought now. Encounters are as numerous as they are varied, all the while the river of shad never stops.
Until it does. This level of motion is ultimately unsustainable. All things must rest. The shad disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and with them the swarming hordes of predators. Bleary eyed and despondent, I show up one more time. I’m not expecting much. It seemed to be tailing off the last time I was here and the calendar is unflinching. Still, without knowing for myself it was over, the doubts of days left on the table will haunt me until next spring. I check every nook, and most of the crannies. The shad are spent and so am I.