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RALEIGH, N.C. (March 7) - About this time of year, North Carolina's coastal rivers begin teeming - with fish and anglers eager to tangle with those early-spring aerial acrobats, hickory shad, as they begin their annual spring spawning runs.

One of the most popular shad fishing destinations in North Carolina is the Roanoke River. Hickory shad begin appearing in the lower part of the river near Plymouth in late February and early March; by mid-March, they're being caught in sizeable numbers in the upper river near Weldon, in Halifax County.

"The peak of shad fishing on the upper Roanoke varies from year to year, occurring when water temperatures rise to between 52 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit," said Kevin Dockendorf, a fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. "This year's run should start picking up around mid-March and continue through early April if water temperatures continue to rise steadily."

If their timing is right, bank-bound anglers frequently can catch fish along the shorelines adjacent to the Commission's boating access areas at Weldon and Williamston.

Hickory shad have strong runs in many other North Carolina coastal rivers as well, including the Tar, Neuse and Cashie rivers.

On the Neuse, the first hickory shad normally show up in late January or early February although anglers tend to outnumber the fish until late February or early March. Many anglers fish from the bank near Spring Garden and Kinston, but boat anglers tend to congregate near Pitchkettle Creek and Contentnea Creek.

On the Tar, a good place to fish for hickory shad is the Bell's Bridge area north of Tarboro. Using the Commission's boating access area, boat anglers can head upstream to Swift Creek or downstream to Fishing Creek. Although bank access is limited, bank anglers can usually find success along this shoreline. Another good spot for boat and bank anglers on the Tar River is near Battle Park in Rocky Mount.

On the Cashie, anglers fish "shoulder-to-shoulder" along the bank near the junction of U.S. 17 and U.S. 13 in downtown Windsor. Launch a boat at the Commission's boating access area on Elm Street and head downstream to fish at the mouths of oxbows and feeder creeks. When boating, please remember to use caution as many boat and/or bank anglers may be congregated just around the next bend.

Knowing where to find hickory shad is easy. Reeling them in is more of a challenge. While they fight hard and strike readily, shad are known more for their impressive aerial acrobats and will put on quite a display of flips as they're being reeled in. Many experienced anglers have lost their fair share of "ones that got away" during these flips.

Catch hickory shad using flies, small spoons and artificial lures. Curly-tailed jigs with white, chartreuse or pink tails seem to work well. Most anglers typically fish for shad on light spinning gear rigged with shad darts or spoons on 4- to 8-pound test line. Fish these lures by casting upstream into the current and retrieving as they sink and drift downstream. Because hickory shad may be at varying depths and currents, anglers should adjust lure weights according to river current or fish depth.

"Many anglers prefer to fish a tandem shad rig, a shad dart or plastic grub combined with a small spoon to give shad a choice of bait," Barwick said. "Others prefer to move around the creek while fishing, but most choose to anchor or tie-off to the shoreline and cast to areas where there are breaks in the river current or stained water from where a creek meets the muddy river water.

"Areas where opposite-traveling currents shear against each other tend to hold fish as well."

While many shad-fishing enthusiasts harvest their daily creel limit of 10, catch and release is practiced by many anglers who prefer not to eat this bony species.

Hickory shad, like their larger cousin the American shad, are native to the Atlantic coast, spending the majority of their life at sea and entering freshwater only in the spring to spawn. Once abundant, both species have suffered from overharvesting, pollution and dam construction. While the American shad continues its struggle, hickories are doing well, particularly in the Roanoke River.

For the latest freshwater fishing news, including regulations, programs and stocking schedules, visit the Commission's Web site, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220. From mid-March to about mid-May, the Roanoke River fishing report will be posted every Thursday morning.
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