Tying Flies That Imitate Shad
by Mike Hogue

In lakes and streams a very important source of food is shad. Shad typically are a schooling fish and when fish key on them they will take flies which imitate the natural. Bass, white bass, crappies, smallmouth, wipers and brown trout all feed selectively on shad ignoring anything which doesn't match the natural in both action, size and color. In tail waters, such as Bull Shoals, winter time temperatures will kill massive amounts of shad and send them through the power generators to fatten up wintering browns.

Identifying Shad

There are two kinds of shad: the gizzard and the thread fin. The thread fin can be identified by it's fat belly, it's silver body and is about an inch long. Gizzard shad are about 1 1/2" to 2" in size and have an oval shaped body that is silver with a very large eye. The eye is about 1/4" in diameter. Shad also have a very distinct black spot behind their eye. I believe that one of the factors which fish key on is the large eye.

Smith's Shad

A few years ago my friend Mark Smith came up with a fairly simple fly that is attractive, easy to tie and is very good imitation of shad. Mark's shad is loosely based on the old New England standard the Hornburg .After some experimenting with the pattern, I believe Mark came up a fly that correctly mimics the shad.

Hook: Mustad 3366 size 2
Thread: Red size 6/0
Tail: 10 one inch strands of crystal flash
Body: short flash, pearl tinsel chenille
Wing: 10 strands of crystal flash.
Cheeks: Mallard flanks
Eye: 1/4" Silver witchcraft tape on eyes
( or sub the new 3d holographic eyes, same size and color)

Tying the pattern:

1) Begin by folding 3 -4 strands of crystal flash in half. Cut the loop end. Continue folding and cutting the flash until you have a stack of flash about an inch long.

2) Tie in a ten strand bunch of flash as a tail. The length of the tail should equal the hook shank.

3) Tie in pearl chenille and wrap forward leaving 3 hook eye lengths open.

4) Tie in wing with lengths and amounts the same as the tail.

5) Select two mallard flanks which match each other in size. Strip off the bottom downy part. Remove an eye from the paper backing by slipping a bodkin beneath the sticky part. Pick the eye up and paste down on the center of the feather about a 1/8 to 1/4 " from the bottom. Flip the feather over and add a drop of supper glue to the back of the feather.

The glue will bond the eye tighter to the wing.....witchcraft's glue isn't very good. Only use a drop! Too much and you'll wreck the wing!!

6) Tie feather in as a cheek.

7) Finish head. I next apply a thick coat of clear finger nail polish at the point where the feather meets the head. This step adds strength to feather, stiffens it and keeps the cheek from getting torn off. Let dry. Note I do not use any particular brand of polish. If you have flex-cemment this will work just fine. Finger nail polish is cheaper and has a brush in the bottle which is my main reason for using it.


You may wish to add a white marabou feather between the two cheeks. The marabou will add action to the fly. If you add marabou, tie in the crystal flash on top of the the marabou. Also try adding peacock hurl as a topping.

Tying the Ruptured Duck

The ruptured duck is an old Iowa fly used for many years in NE Iowa for smallmouth. Where the pattern originated I have no idea. I suspect that this fly was borrowed from some of the New England smolt patterns. Tied as I do, it largely imitates a dead drifting shad. When shad die they float horizontally with their eye up.

Ruptured Duck

Hook: Mustad 9672 or 9674 size 4-8
Thread: Red size 6/0
Tail: none
Body: short flash, pearl tinsel chenille
Wing: A single Mallard flank over 10 strands of crystal flash.
Eye: 1/4" Silver witchcraft tape on eyes
( or sub the new 3d holographic eyes, same size and color)

Tying the pattern:

Basically this is the same tie as above without a tail. The wing is tied flat on top of the body so that the eye faces up.For the larger size hooks use the really big sized flank. For pike be sure to coat the wing heavily near the head with finger nail polish or flex-cemment.


Again you may wish to add a white marabou feather before the wing and flash.

Fishing the flies:

In lakes look for schools of boiling shad in the fall and in the evenings. Cast to the outside of the school in short strips with pauses. You may wish to use a sink tip to fish deeper than the schools. Another tip is to use a full sinking line with a 9 foot leader. In this presentation, you lay the line on the bottom and let the fly float to the top. You make very, very slow strips with pauses to animate the fly.

In rivers try dead drifting with a 9 foot leader. Look for schooling activity and again fish in strips with pauses. Fish often can be spotted chasing shad or attacking them.

If you use this for browns, browns often will hit minnows to kill them and then they will pick up the minnow. If you strike too quickly when they smack the fly, you may miss the strike. Often it is best to let the brown hook himself.

Email: Mike@eflytyer.com

For more Info Contact:

Mike Hogue / Badger Creek Fly Tying / 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068

Phone: 607-347-4946