Little Big Fish
Hickory shad are the redheaded stepchildren of the fishing world. They're in the same family as fish more commonly thought of as bait down South, such as alewives and sardines. You can hardly eat them, they're so bony and oily. At 18 or 20 inches, tops, hickories are smaller than American shad, which can grow to 7 or 8 pounds and attract huge numbers of anglers. Hicks are found from Florida to Maine, but they're most common in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia. And they're only around for a couple of months. While the catching may be sporadic in the early days of the run, these are fish not easily forgotten. Strong enough to survive Atlantic tides and an epic migration, hickory shad will bend a light spinning rod practically tip to butt. On a 4-weight fly rod, a grow'd-up buck shad, as they say in these parts, is a fistful of lightning, surging deep, running with the river current, then leaping with a fervor that's earned hicks the nickname "poor man's tarpon." When the hickory run is on, however, the fishing is on fire. Anchored in a strong current seam, you may catch 10 fish on 10 casts. A few weeks from now, Wood and I may not burn a pint of outboard gas all day long to catch all the fish we want.