Shad Run Madness

photo of shad fishermen

Shad fishing South Coast style… (Image from

The Seasons are Changing So Must the Fishing

Mid May and winter is around the corner. We have already seen the change in fish being caught in the area. The species common in summer have become fewer in number while winter fish hasn’t really started yet.

Fewer elf have been seen lately. These tasty bait fish are most prevalent in Mossel Bay during summer, but come the winter months and the drop in sea temperature sees these fish begin their annual migration up the East Coast to the spawning grounds off KZN, and to face the gauntlet of Natal’s ‘shad-run’.

Natal Shad Run Madness

It’s not easy to describe in words the atmosphere at the Natal shad (elf) hotspots during the winter months. Normal anglers seem to go slightly crazy at the mere mention of the word ‘shad’. Shad fever, like the well-known hunters’ syndrome ‘buck fever’ catches the most stolid fisherman. Tempers flare as a hundred or more anglers crowd into a space large enough for maybe ten.

Crossed lines, tangle up’s, unwitting mistakes all cause anger and irritation. Arguments and fights provide as much entertainment to onlookers as the antics of the anglers to evade the Conservation Services officials and take home more than their bag limit.

Anglers Catch Thousands of Shad During Run

Not so long ago anglers would bag hundreds or even thousands of shad on a daily basis. In those long gone days the bio-mass was good, the concept of conservation had not yet been thought of, and there were no bag limits.

These days of course things are very different. species stocks are reduced and conservation is on the tip of nearly everyone’s tongue. Size limits (300mm total length) and strict bag limits of four a day are enforced by KZN Conservation Services. Stiff fines are given to offenders transgressing these laws.

Controversy Over Levels of Shad Stocks

There is a lot of controversy over the state of the bio-mass of the species “Pomatomus saltatrix“. Vested interest (the commercial fishing industry) and some scientists consider the species still endangered, others including one of South Africa’s leading marine biologists have stated the shad is no longer endangered and could be considered for limited exploitation.

Interestingly, this same scientist later changed his mind in support of a report published by a group of commercial interests and claimed the species was still extremely vulnerable. Clearly, this type of dissent nad mind-changing does little to inspire confidence in the angling community of Natal, many of whom have traditionally harvest shad as a source of protein.

Not the Final Word

I am no fundi on the species, and have only been a casual participant during Natal shad runs. So I have asked another fisherman who has been more involved with shad fishing to post an article or two on the subject. The first of these should be published later today.

In the meantime, I can say one thing, fishing for shad can be a lot of fun, and shad make excellent live baits for larger predatory fish



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  1. #1 by Mike on 10/04/2013 - 21:36

    I was sitting here working working not too enthusiastically and sort of accidentally clicked the bookmark for this blog… This photo brings back memories of great mornings in KZN.
    Shad fever, crossed lines, tangle ups…
    Yeah, winter and shad season is coming in a few months again. I wonder if I’ll still be here in Gauteng by August. A bit of shad season madness is just what the doctor ordered…

    Off the subject. Ray, I haven’t seen a post from you in awhile? Too busy fishing? Catching lots of shad? Leave some for me! 🙂

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