The following article from the August 05, 1890 issue of Forest & Stream details one of the early accounts of fly fishing for shad. As this species is being rediscovered by fly anglers, I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers.
At your request I have visited Holyoke in order to glean some information about fishing for shad with a fly, and herewith submit my report. I arrived there about 3 P.m. yesterday, and procuring a boat I navigated it to the middle of the river and came to anchor a couple of boat lengths east of the old saving-ferry pier, and about the same distance from a boat that contained three pretty lively fishermen, while just beyond them wan still another boat, that contained nothing but a solitary hat, as I then thought, for this was all that I could see; but I soon found out that there was considerable life under the broad brim, as I shall describe at the proper time.
Glancing at my surroundings I complacently seated myself, and commenced preparing my rod, entirely satisfied with my position, for I occupied the best place on the river, and had Chalmer's boat, which never was known, no matter what luck befel the others, to come in without full freight of glistening captives; my trusty, well-tried rod was in my hands, and—where in time is that tip. In vain I shook the hollow cane that should have held it; in vain I peered into the cavity with anxious eyes ; no delicately tapered tip did I see. Alas! my beautiful tip, the pride of my heart and joy of my eyes, was not to be found. Some dastardly hand had removed it, and rudely blasted my fondest hopes, for what possible chance of success had I in an encounter with the monsters of the deep without the aid of my beloved tip? After a few moments of bitter grief, sacred to the memory of that departed tip, and the sacrilegious hand that wrought my woe, I braced up my shattered nerves and prepared for the coming struggle which, with a prophetic eye, I now foresaw was inevitable, for well I knew that in my crippled condition and fatal weakness in my most vulnerable point, that the bloodthirsty shad would improve the opportune moment to seize my outpost and try to break my line of battle, thus overwhelming me with inglorious defeat. But my loss had made me desperate, and although I could only raise my colors half mast high I defiantly flaunted them in the very face of the enemy. I had intended to "whip" the stream 'and endeavor to punish the shad in a sportsmanlike manner, but owing to my misfortune I was obliged perforce to do as the noble Romans all around me were doing, and unreeling a hundred feet or so of line I let it float down the swift current and calmly awaited tho signal of battle. Glancing around to see what was going on, I saw that solitary hat give a flop and suddenly shoot six feet or more into the air, as its owner sprang to his feet and started at full speed toward the stern of his boat, where a short, slim stick, to which his line was fast, was impatiently beckoning him on. Never was the truth of the old saying, "the more haste the less speed," more forcibly exemplified, for no sooner was he up than down he went at full length upon the gunwale, with one leg in the river and the other wildly gesticulating in the air. How he ever recovered his balance I failed to understand, but recover he did, and once more essayed to reach the rapidly vibrating stick; but the fates were not through with him yet, and before he was fairly under way he lurched to the starboard and brought up all sitting. I heard the crash of the splintered seat above the frantic yells of our three jolly fishermen in the next boat, and rather expected to see him disappear through the bottom of the boat; but he soon righted up, and, apparently more eager for the fray, he made a grand effort, and succeeded in reaching the goal and grabbing the line, and with many knowing nods and satisfied flops of the huge straw hat he landed his fish amid the tumultuous applause of the happy three, who at once, in honor of the event, opened some"more beer; indeed, they had been doing this all the time, and I had come to the conclusion that they were in mortal fear that the bottles would burst and swamp their boat and give them a taste of water; and to avert the 1 dire calamity they were getting rid of the stuff as fast as "possible. Scarcely were the bottles at a proper elevation when one of the trio dropped his, and with a solemn oath asseverated that he had "got him." I saw by the swaying of the rod that it was a heavy fish, and expected to see him break away, but I soon found out that no novice held tho rod, and after a well-fought contest he was safely brought to net. "With pride in his heart and a joyful light in his eyes—for this was his first shad—the victor, with the deafening cheers of his companions ringing in his ears, disentangled his captive from the hook, and as I volunteered the remark that that was a noble fish he carefully placed his hands under him. and tenderly, proudly raised him up for my inspection. This was a fatal mistake, for no sooner did this crafty Alosa again behold his native element than he doubled himself up and with a mighty effort tore himself from the fond embrace, and with a derisive wave of his caudal appendage, that must have been peculiarly aggravating to the feelings of our hero, he disappeared beneath the cold, dark waves. At this instant—now mark the strategic cunning of this most subtle fish—when I was utterly enervated, and entirely unprepared for the conflict, a huge five-pound monster seized my advanced guard, a favorite scarlet ibis, and at terrific speed bore down the rapid current. Bravely I rallied my forces to the rescue, but ere my nerveless hands had found their cunning and checked his headlong rush, he had forced from me full fifty- feet of line. As soon as he felt the killing strain he leaped high in air to reconnoiter the battlefield, and when he discovered who was in command, and caught a glimpse of the vengeful fire in my eye, he became demoralized, and commenced a series of wild rushes and towering leaps that nearly broke my heart; but all in vain were his frantic struggles, for, as I have said before, I was a desperate man that day, and although fearful odds were against me, "with an energy born of despair" I fought the battle to the bitter end, and at the end of forty-five minutes of agonizing pleasure, mingled with cruel doubts and fears, during which I would have given half my kingdom for my dainty tip, and the other half for the landing net which I had left at home, I saw his silvery side turn up, and unresistingly drew him within reach, and thrusting my finger into his wide open mouth safely landed the gallant fish, and with unspeakable happiness in my heart bowed in acknowledgment to the vociferous cheers that greeted my success.
The fish having now learned to their cost that, notwithstanding my crippled condition, I was more than a match for the best of them, wisely abandoned the contest and let me alone, but ever and anon the music of the humming reel and the pleased ejaculations from the adjoining boats proclaimed abundant sport, and kept me pleasantly occupied till nearly dark. I counted no less than twenty-seven noble fish taken by my neighbors, not including many more that were under size, while many of the handliners lost quite a number of apparently heavy fish. The most taking fly is the scarlet ibis, although almost any of the common trout flies, particularly the different shades of brown and orange, have proved successful.
The season opens as soon as the fish arrive, which is about the last of May, and closes Aug. 1st. The present season has not been as successful as usual, owing to low water, yet many fine fish have been captured, Borne of them turning the scales at upwards of six pounds. . I shall try them again in a few days, if I find that tip, and see if there is any sport to be had in "casting," and will report success. -- Shadow.