Shad Fishing Basics


Shad / Elf Fishing 101[/b]

Being fishermen we so often over complicate the simple facts to fishing.

Shad, Elf (Pomatomus saltatrix)[/b]


Considered by many as the backbone of South African rock and surf fishing the humble shad is still a much sought after quarry to many seasonal fishermen. Know as Elf in the Cape ad Shad in Natal the species has long suffered the effects of over fishing. During the seventies and eighties fish stocks were on the verge of collapse and a noticeable decline was reversed by introducing and enforcing stringent catch limits as well as a mandatory closed season.

Shad are a remarkably fast growing species and the positive steps in conservation have resulted in a healthy and stable fishery across South Africa. It is also evident that the average sizes have increased in recent years. It is rewarding to notice the increasing reports of a notable ‘Blue Shad’ being caught on a more regular basis.

Shad are known as ferocious and powerful quarry and what they lack in size they make up for in temperament. Shad can be caught almost anywhere under the right conditions, but are most active at sunrise and sunset. If there is sufficient structure such as rock pinnacles, reefs or protected bays Shad can be targeted throughout the day. Overcast conditions with warm sea temperatures also seem to keep Shad active during the day. Under these conditions the two hours before and after high tide will bring the best results.

Shad will feed on just about any presented bait, but when the feeding shoal goes into overdrive they prefer Sardines over most other baits. When a shoal of Shad goes into this type of feeding frenzy it’s best to switch your tactics over to spinning spoons. It’s a fact that a spoon will out fish cut baits under these conditions. You will need to ascertain the best depth and retrieval speeds, but once you have this established your strike rate and speed will guarantee a better catch rate. Spooning for Shad has to be some of the best fun you will experience on a regular basis. Every rock and surf angler should always carry three essential art-lures permanently in his tackle box. Quality ‘S’ bend spoon, ‘V’ back spoon and a plug or popper.

 Shad definitely prefer warmer water where they will find sandy beaches or rock outcrops that produce foamy water. They are ambush predators and target other small fish species such as Mullet, Karenteen, Piggy, Anchovy and Sardines. Small Shad are often on the menu as Shad are highly cannibalistic. Sometimes the best bait to use is a previous Shad catch used as cut bait. Shad are caught off the Cape waters in the summer months from December through to May. During the winter months Shad migrate up the east cast to Natal. In Natal most good catches are made during the winter months. This is also the time and place that Shad spawn and when bag and size limits must be strictly adhered to.

My standard rig[/b] for Shad is a standard single paternoster setup. I make both the sinker and hook snoots 45- 50 cm  in length and tied to a single swivel. I like using standard ‘J’ hooks as opposed to the traditional long shank hooks. I will use a 2/0 or 3/0 Kendal Round as the main hook and compliment this with another ‘skelem’ hook which I Snell onto the main line. The gap between the two hooks is normally the length of an average Sardine with the head lopped off. I will bend the eye of the trailer hook backwards as I believe this enables the hook with a better action. I always use light steel 25 – 50 Lbs and make the entire snoot out of steel. Monofilament can be used, but is not recommended for continuous Shad fishing as you are going to loose that possible trophy fish! Depending on how far out the fish are I can use this trace with or without a sinker to provide options for a drift or anchored presentation. Again I will add a float only is I am going to anchor the bait with a sinker. It is common knowledge that Shad don’t feed off the bottom so always ensure that you bait is either floated with foam or cork if using a sinker. Shad also generally take bait from the tail first. Keep this in mind when you are presenting your bait and try where possible to leave the tail of your bait intact. Further ensure that you always have a hook in or near to the tail in your bait presentation. When Shad enter into their very common feeding frenzy 99% of the time you can throw any bait and still get solid results.

Shad generally take your bait with a lot of aggression and in most cases will actually hook themselves. A typical hook-up will result from one or two taps followed by a strong pull or drop. In most cases you would simply lift the rod and retrieve until you feel the weight of the fish. There are times when the bite can be very light and shy and you will have to time your strike carefully to get any results. One thing is certain Shad have very sharp teeth and your bait does not last long, no matter what effects you feel as a bite the hook is quickly stripped of any and all bait. The trick to successful Shad fishing is not to be lazy. If you had a bite of any description followed by a minute of nothing……….. chances are very good that you will have to reel in and re-bait!

Shad is a hard fighter for its size and what they lack in sheer pulling power they make up for in acrobatic flair. Many Shad are lost in the breakers or ever at angler’s feet when the hooks are thrown in one of the many jumps. The trick is to take your time when playing your fish. Ensure a constant pressure, but not to much so as to tear the fishes mouth. For the best fun, scale down your terminal tackle and hunt these amazing fish on the lightest possible tackle. Some of the best times I’ve had catching Shad have come from drift baits on a Shimano Crucial and Side Stab spinning reel on 5lbs line!

Important Restrictions,

Closed Season           1st October – 30 November

Bag Limit                     4 Fish per Angler

Size Limit                    30 cm (Fork Length)[/b]
It is important to note that this abundant species was once under threat.

To ensure that we can continue to enjoy this fantastic catch for generations to come anglers must be considerate to King Neptune and his dwindling bounty. Too many fish are legally caught, taken home, never to be eaten.

Nothing substitutes for time spent by the water, but instead of spending ten visits doing the same thing have one day of trying ten different things.


Tight Lines,

Trophy (aka Brett Harris)



Tim Moorooviah

New member
Annexure 6 of the Recreational Angling brochure reads:
"(2) The size of the fish shall be measured in a straight line from the the tip of the snout to the extreme end of the tail."
Seems like the method for measuring is "TL" total length and not "FL" fork length. Please verify. Thanks...