In 2018, my friend Joe Albea, the producer of Carolina Outdoor Journal, had an unusual and ambitious idea and asked me to tag along on a great adventure. Joe likes to fish for 2 species: shad and speckled trout. He is a shad nut just like me. There is a subculture of shad nuts who fish for shad across Eastern NC religiously across Eastern NC. Some even fish for shad at all of the major hotspots across the country during the spring shad run. The longer I shad fish, the more frequently I encounter such characters. Every time I go shad fishing, I run into the same group of people. When the bite is on, they are always there. It’s kinda funny and when I run into one of these “nuts” there’s always a little strange smile exchanged and a sort of mutual respect acknowledging the other’s presence at the best shad spot that day. The look and smile is a way of showing respect for a fellow shad enthusiast who had the same idea. When I see one of these guys, I usually just laugh and say something like, “Great minds think alike” and that’s all that needs to be said. My point is that there is a great passion and appreciation shared among shad fishermen, and when Joe Albea approached me about his idea, there was no hesitation in taking on the challenge. He also invited Nathan Summers, who is the sports editor for the Greenville newspaper, the Daily Reflector. Nathan is an avid fisherman and fly tyer, and he wanted to come along to document the story.
Joe wanted to catch shad in all 4 of the major Eastern NC shad rivers in one day. Those rivers are the Cape Fear (which is an American Shad fishery), the Neuse, the Tar, and the Roanoke (which are all 3 primarily hickory shad fisheries but have a few American Shad, especially in the upper reaches above where most of the hickories are caught). It sounds simple, but to pull it off, it takes lots of planning, hard work, and a little bit of good fortune. In 2018, we made our first attempt at it. We left Joe’s house in Winterville very early in the morning and were putting the boat in at Lock and Dam #1 on the Cape Fear River at first light. There were about 5 boats in the water fishing already, so we didn’t have the very best spot but we were in the zone and we all landed our fish within about an hour of fishing and were peeling rubber out of the boat ramp parking lot headed for our second stop on the Neuse River near Goldsboro.
Neither of us was familiar with the Neuse that far upriver, but we had some reliable intel about lots of shad at the mouth of a particular creek. We arrived at that spot and started fishing, and fished some more, and fished some more, and no bites. We didn’t have any other good options in that immediate area (aka a Plan B), so we quickly realized as time was ticking that this stop was going to end our day. We spent too much time there trying to catch shad and no longer had time to drive to and fish the Tar and the Roanoke. Long story short….we failed, and we were so bummed out.
Fast forward to Mar. 23, 2020 for our second attempt. We repeated the same storyline as above with some slight improvements. At Lock and Dam #1, we were back in the truck about 30 minutes, all 3 of us catching our American Shad. It was pouring down rain, but we weren’t going to let some rain stop us from our goal.
For the stop on the Neuse, we launched at Pitch Kettle. We ran up to Pitch Kettle and due to the lower water level, there was no current in the creek, which proved unproductive for shad fishing. There were a few scattered fish being caught at the mouth of the creek where the black water was mixing with the river water but there were several boats already there fishing and the prime real estate was gone. I took a risk and suggested we run up to the mouth of Contentnea, which is not a short run and consumed some time. When we arrived, there were about 3 boats fishing the mouth of the creek. We were the fourth boat down from the mouth, but I didn’t feel like we were in the bad spot. We fished for about 20 minutes with no bites. I watched 3 fish caught among the other boats. Joe then mentioned that he had sometimes caught them on the other side of the river from the creek mouth in the past, so he made a cast to the opposite side of the river and bam, he hooked up on the first cast. Nathan and I followed Joe’s lead and quickly caught our fish. Two decisions, one by me and one by Joe, led us to our fish. It was interesting how that all played out.
The next stop was the Tar, and it was the least dramatic stop out of the four. We launched in Falkland, upriver of Greenville, ran downriver, and quickly caught our hickory shad. We were back on the trailer in 45 minutes. Joe and I both fish Falkland frequently and know the river there well. After we got our fish on the Tar, I knew we had this one in the bag because the Roanoke in Weldon was a sure thing. I had been fishing up there every day prior and had been blistering them.
When we arrived in Weldon at about 3 p.m., we launched the boat and eased down the river to where I had been catching the fish all week. In about 30 minutes, we had about 25 fish, so our goal was officially accomplished. After the first fish were caught by everyone, we shared lots of high fives, and there was a great sense of relief shared among the group. We had done it, and to our knowledge, no one else had ever accomplished such a feat. We joked that this had to be some sort of new world record, but it would only be important to just a few people in the world who were as “nutty” as we were about shad. I assured the others that at the very least, there was no one else that day who was doing what we were doing.
After getting home around 9 p.m. and reflecting on the many miles we traveled that day, I was overwhelmed with a sense of appreciation for not only the shad but also the great diversity that the rivers of Eastern North Carolina offer. This accomplishment was truly a showcase of our great resources here in North Carolina. I hope everyone else can appreciate them as much as I do.