Fly Tying: May, 2018

Bill Schaadt’s Shad Fly


Much of the time we focus our attention and energy to those anadromous fish whose numbers are dwindling and the forecast for success seems marginal at best. This year our chances to hook up with an elusive steelhead seems to be no different. Perhaps we should be taking advantage of fishing for shad, an anadromous fish whose numbers each year apparently are in the millions in the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.


When we say shad we are talking specifically about the American Shad, a species of shad that were originally native to the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Florida. The American Shad are members of the herring family and are mostly plankton feeders, spending three to five years in the ocean before returning to their home rivers to spawn. At this time they usually range in size from 1 to 5 pounds, but will sometimes reach up to 8 pounds in size. After spawning about half of the fish will survive to return to the ocean to repeat the process again. Historically the American Shad was an important food source for the founders of our country and are still regularly consumed on the east coast. In 1871 American Shad were introduced to the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento River systems and they spread from there up and down the Pacific coast. The shad became so successful that the Columbia River system now has the largest shad run in the world, an estimated three to five million fish yearly. Unlike some introduced species, at this time there seems to be no documentation about harmful effects of the shad numbers on other native species of fish. Some depleted populations in eastern rivers have needed to be replenished with eggs from Columbia River shad. While still regularly eaten on the east coast, American Shad are often released by west coast anglers or are retained to be used as bait for crab or sturgeon fishing.

In June Nick Wheeler will be speaking to our club about fly fishing for shad, a species that is generally overlooked by most flyfishers. Nick, working out of The Royal Treatment Fly Shop, has become somewhat of a local guru regarding shad fly fishing. Before moving to Oregon, Nick learned about shad fishing in his native California rivers and later transferred that knowledge to our local waters. He now ties the shad flies used by Water Time Outfitters guide Rob Crandall, who seems to be the only fly fishing guide that is taking advantage of the shad fishery in the nearby Willamette Falls area. Some of our club members have been clients on Rob’s shad adventures and they all seem to come back with stories regarding the epic number of hookups. Following a trip with Rob, club member Linda Becker reported “numerous multiple hookups” and how she eventually “got tired from catching fish”. We should all experience that feeling once in a while! Of course that was fishing from a boat. For June’s Fish-A-Long we will be relying on Paul Brewer and Dave Kilhefner to find us a location where we can reach the shad from the bank.


At this month’s Fly Tying Night we will be tying up a fly designed for American Shad in preparation for the club’s Fish-A-Long in June. Nick Wheeler shared with me the pattern that has been proven time and again to be the most effective fly for shad in our area. Being the gentleman that he is, Nick is not taking credit for the design but I think it is fair to say that he has taken a pattern that was first introduced by Bill Schaadt in California and tweaked it to make it a real deadly fly for our local waters.


Curiously enough, Bill’s last name “Schaadt” is pronounced “Shad”. How appropriate is that!? Bill Schaadt (1924-1995) was a larger-than-life figure in the world of fly fishing and could be the topic for an entire article just by himself. In fact he was the focus of a Sports Illustrated article called The World’s Best in 1974 (  Schaadt is also featured in an acclaimed film called Rivers of a Lost Coast which documents the rise and fall of steelhead fishing on California’s north coast rivers.  The movie is available in the Clackamas County Library system and can also be viewed online through Orvis. In 2014 a book came out called I Know Bill Schaadt. It is a tribute comprising tales from thirty people who knew this unforgettable fly fishing legend.


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After much experimentation and testing Nick has found what works best!


Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, May 23rd to tie up some Bill Schaadt shad flies. As always we will be starting at 6:00 pm.  The flies are easy to tie and should be suitable for tyers of all levels of experience.  Nick Wheeler will be on hand as the celebrity guest tyer for the evening.

As far as equipment, techniques, and locations we will be looking forward to Nick  sharing all of his knowledge about catching American Shad during his presentation June 19th.


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