- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. Jim and Kory York arrived long before sunrise. "Gotta get going," Jim said. "If you want to hook a shad, you can't wait. The earlier you start, the better it is."
While he talked, the elder York never stopped tugging and pulling on his stubborn, tight-fitting chest-high waders, but they finally popped on when the stout, tall Kory gave them a good yank. In another time and using another type of garment, Kory's helpful act might have turned into one huge atomic wedgie but not now.
Minutes later the father-son fishing team from nearby Stafford sloshed through wet grass, past a "City of Fredericksburg" sign and over piles of rocks, onward through a dense stand of trees. The two soon arrived on the shores of one of America's most storied and historic rivers, the Rappahannock.
"We had a great day here when was it? last Friday," Jim said as his son wasted no time wading into the shallow edge of the river holding a slender spinning rod, its reel loaded with light monofilament line and a tandem rig of lures known appropriately as shad darts dangling from the rod's top section. The two shad darts, spaced a foot or so apart, provide the necessary casting weight.
"Got one," shouted Kory, 25. Then, just as fast, "It got away." The "it," of course, was a hickory shad, a harbinger of spring if ever there was one. This smaller cousin of the table-worthy white shad whose roe and mild flesh is sought by epicures the world over arrives in the Rappahannock to spawn when trees sprout the beginnings of leaves and the first blossoms of redbud bushes shine brightly from still bleak hillsides.
Pretty soon the younger York caught a hickory shad that didn't get away. It leaped and churned through waterlogged rock beds until it came close enough to York to allow him to lift it gently from the water, remove the dart and promptly slip it back into the river.
His father, meanwhile, hooked and lost two or three shad in a row, but that was just fine with him. "There are plenty of them out there. I'll get mine," he said with a laugh and eventually did.
In the distance, another shad fisherman stood in water so high it touched his elbows whenever he executed a cast and began to reel in line and lures. The man apparently knew where to be because he caught one shad after another, occasionally even some that appeared to be of the white variety. Either way, all of them were released, much to the dismay of small flocks of seagulls that hoped someone would throw a fish toward the shore for them. It didn't happen while we were there.
As predicted, the shad stopped attacking the darts the moment the sun rose a good bit above the tree tops on the east side of the Rappahannock. Oh, there would be a bite now and then, but they became rarer as the sun became brighter. It didn't matter. By the time the fish quit biting, our little gang along or in the Rappahannock had enough casting, hooking and reeling action. It was time to move to the beginnings of the tidal parts of the river downstream of the Route 1 bridge.
Some of the shad fishermen walked back to their vehicles to drive down to Old Mill Park on Caroline Street, where the Fredericksburg/Stafford Park Authority provides excellent, lengthy riverfront access for fishermen, hikers, bikers, or picnickers.
In my case, I needed to know if the white perch were willing to look at a spinner or grub, but a helpful local angler said, "The tide ain't right yet. They'll show up in the holes up near the bridge pretty soon."
What a shame. I had to leave before they arrived, but there will be other days for white perch.
The shad spawning run depends a great deal on the weather. It could last another two weeks or more, but in years gone by we've seen it come to a screeching halt in a matter of days.
Fredericksburg, incidentally, is one of the angler-friendliest towns on the East Coast. Around the aforementioned Route 1 bridge's western side there are a number of spots for river access for waders or shoreline fishermen. If you plan to fish upstream of the bridge, be certain to have a freshwater license a bargain even at $30 a year for us out-of-staters. Virginia ranks high as far as fish-rich public waters are concerned, plus there are cheaper visitors licenses, and, of course, reasonable resident license fees.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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