Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 5/22/2017

Fishing is good to excellent across the area. The Caney Fork River continues to shine on both high and low water. In the Smokies, strong hatches have been keeping fish looking up.

Yesterday, Blue-winged Olives hatched for hours during the light rain and drizzle. Fish were looking up but also took nymphs well. Streamers were moving some quality fish as well. The summer hatches are well under way now. Expect Golden and Little Yellow stoneflies and Isonychia (Slate Drake) mayflies. Light Cahills and Sulfurs have been around as well.

The Caney Fork River continues to fish anywhere from good to great on high water streamer floats. Anyone who wants to target trout with streamers will find this to be exciting fishing. Low water is becoming more and more likely, and if that trend continues we will see some great low water floats. The fish are hungry and we are going into some of the best fishing months on this fine tailwater.

Cumberland Plateau smallmouth streams are rounding into fine shape now. Rain will bump flows up again, but in between the fish are hungry and willing to hammer a fly! Musky floats are about over for the year unless we get more rain.


Photo of the Month: Shad Eating Rainbow

Photo of the Month: Shad Eating Rainbow

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Is a Shad Kill?

Since I keep talking about the shad kill, many of you have been wondering what I am referring to. Here is a little more information on the phenomena and why it should get you excited as a fly fisherman!


Many years ago, when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) started building dams throughout the Tennessee valley and its tributary streams, numerous warm water reservoirs were formed. Each of these lakes boasts incredible diversity when it comes to fishing and a few even offer trout fishing.

The unintended by-product of these lakes was the cold water fisheries that prevailed below each dam. Within just a few years, many of the rivers were being stocked with trout. Not all of the TVA lakes have a trout fishery downstream because some are too shallow, but in the lakes that are deep enough for stratification to occur, cold water settles to the bottom of the lake. During the summer months, the bottom draw reservoirs are dumping cold water through the generators in their respective dams and create fantastic tailwater fisheries downstream. Rivers like my local tailwater, the Caney Fork River, as well as the Clinch, South Holston, Watauga, Holston, and Hiwassee are all known as great fishing destinations.

What most anglers do not realize is that these tailwaters fish great through the winter. Most anglers prefer to come fish during spring through fall when it is warmer outside. However, the winter can produce phenomenal midge hatches, and on a few rivers, blue-winged olives and winter stoneflies. The big event each year happens in late winter, if it is going to happen.

Each summer, in the reservoirs, the various species of shad (especially threadfin) proliferate in the nutrient rich waters. The shad in turn provide a great forage base for various fish including smallmouth and largemouth bass, stripers, white bass, and many other species. However, the shad need relatively warm water to thrive. In the winter, when the surface temperature on area reservoirs drops into the low 40s, shad start dying en masse. When this occurs, the current from the generators in the dams slowly draws the dead and dying fish. Eventually they get sucked through and come out below the dams into the tailwater fisheries.


That is when the real fun begins. When shad are coming through a given dam, the fish in the river below go on a feeding binge. In fact, this phenomena is one of the secrets of the fishing I do for large stripers. Generally, you can expect the best shad kills to happen in late winter during the months of February and March. It is during these times that the lake surface temperatures normally reach their lowest points of the whole year.

Even better for us fishermen, when a shad kill is on, fish will often hit just about anything white as they eat as much as they can and then some in an effort to pack on the pounds. Fish grow fat ridiculously fast on this high protein diet.


This year, I'm forecasting a good shad kill on the Caney Fork River. If it happens, it will be in the next 1-3 weeks. We have already seen some limited numbers of shad coming through the dam at Center Hill but so far the fish have not keyed in on the shad in a big way. If you are flexible with your schedule and want to experience some incredible fishing, call me as soon as I announce the shad kill has started to book a float trip to throw streamers. You may catch the fish of a lifetime...

There is a good chance that we will also see good shad kills on the Clinch and Holston Rivers. Additionally, even though it is a warm water fishery, I have had good luck fishing the shad kill on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga below Chickamauga Dam. The white bass and hybrids seem to like the shad as well as freshwater drum and of course the stripers when they are around. If you are interested in learning how to approach this fishery as a wade angler, please contact me for more information or to book a guided trip.


Over the years, I have developed 3 flies specifically for the shad kill. Two of them are ones you have seen or heard about before, the PB&J and my recent floating shad creation. The PB&J is best when you need to dead drift your patterns.


In addition to these patterns, white Wooly Buggers work as well as just about any other white streamer. I'm partial to Kelly Galloup's Stacked Blonde in all white.

Regardless of what flies you fish, make sure that you are using a strong rod and heavy tippet. I fish the shad kill with a 7 weight rod or heavier and fish no lighter than 10 lb. tippet but preferably 12 lb. The fish can be large at this time and the worst thing you could do is to hook the fish of a lifetime on too light of a tippet.

Stay tuned here for more on the shad kill. Once it is on it may last for days or it may be over within 48 hours. In rare years it may drag on for a few weeks but don't hold your breath for that one. However, as long as it stays unseasonably cold here in Tennessee, we have a pretty good chance of an awesome shad kill!

If you have any other questions about the shad kill or want to book a guided trip, please reply here and let me know or contact me

14 comments:

  1. Great post and very infotmative. I have tried to plan trips around shad kills in the past but always arrive too early or late.

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    1. Atlas, unfortunately luck plays a big role in hitting the shad kill right. The most important part about hitting it is flexibility to travel to the river on a moments notice. Easy for someone like me who lives close by, but not so easy for someone needing to travel much farther.

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  2. Hi Dave. That was a great explanation. We have Threadfin Shad in a lot of our lakes out here, but no one has ever talked about a Shad kill. Now I wonder if such a thing occurs. I have some research to do. Thanks for the info.

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    1. Mark, I can tell you that it takes an extended period of very cold temperatures. Around here, that would mean temperatures in the single digits or teens for at least several days...

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  3. I've only fished for white bass and stripers once in a large lake here in Colorado during a feeding frenzy. It was an unbelievable experience. I can only imagine what it's like under the circumstances you describe.

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    1. Howard, that is something I haven't been able to do as much of. This summer I am planning on fishing some lakes a bit more for bass, etc., though and hope to get on some good surface boils.

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    2. Hey Mark,

      Our reservoirs out west are deeper with one exception being Clear Lake. Our lakes will stratify and creat a thermocline. This allows the shad to find a comfort zone and prevent major die offs. Like I said, Clear lake and also the Cal Delta being shallow natural bodies of will have a boon and bust cycle but the larger reservoirs have pretty stable populations.

      We do have a couple of power generation tail waters with similar fishing but the forage is small Japanese smelt. We also very similar floating smelt patterns as David does. It is all hinged on them generating power though. Turbines shut down and so does the fishing and usually a summer and fall gig when the smelt bunch to spawn and get sucked in being week swimmers.

      Hope that helps

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    3. David, thanks for jumping in on that. I've wondered how many other parts of the country have this phenomena. The deep part of the lakes intrigues me as some of ours are very deep as well but not sure what deep is compared to yours. Ours have the stratification in the summer so I'm curious now about what other factors may affect this shad kill. Thanks again for chiming in to help us out on the California waters!

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    4. Our larger west slope Sierra reservoirs that Mark and I fish are built on the major river canyons and have 300-500' at full pool. Generally the thermocline here hovers at 35-60" year round though thread fin tend hang to above it depending on the plankton zone being filter feeders. A contributor to die off here can also be on low nutrient lakes coupled with the stress of colder water and just naturally bite the bullet as part of the cycle. A big lake here is 20k surface acres. Small compared to the Midwest and south east reservoirs though deeper on average because of the topography. I've been reading your reports since your move back there and would like to plan a trip to that part of the country for some fishing and to check off GSM Nat Park off my bucket list. I may be contacting you soon to start making some plans.

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    5. Very interesting and yes those are deeper than most of ours. I would enjoy showing you around anytime you can make it. Give me a holler when you are ready for a trip!

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  4. Wow is that a fat bow! The thing looks like it's fixen to explode!

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    1. Most of the fish I caught that day were coughing up LOTS of half digested shad. This one had already caught a bunch up and still had a ton in its stomach.

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  5. Hey, David, thanks for putting together an informative post here that most of us should enjoy and learn from. I have experienced the rush in the reservoir when bass are feeding on schooling shad in shallow water. However, not in the river section. I have lots to learn.................................

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    1. Mel, I've wondered if there are any rivers in Colorado that see this phenomena. I never noticed any on the Arkansas tailwater in Pueblo which seems like the most logical candidate but I'm not even sure if there are shad in the lake down there.

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