Flyfishing for shad on NC’s Roanoke River using a kayak or canoe

The Roanoke River is known as a hot spot for shad fishing. People flock to Weldon in droves every spring to get their shad groove starting in late February and on through April. You can stand at the Weldon ramp and see dozens of people and just as many boats in the short stretch of river you can see. You can even fish from the ramp and catch them right there if you like combat fishing. If that doesn’t sound very appealing, there is another way. If you own a canoe or kayak you can fish the river upstream of Weldon. You will catch just as many fish, if not more, and see hardly any people. You will also be treated to visions of thousands of shad in the shallow riffles. They swim across the tops of the rocks with their backs and tails out of the water and really let you take a nice long look at them.


When the water is low the easiest way to fish upstream of Weldon is to take a canoe and launch it underneath the Hwy 301 bridge in Weldon. “The Rockfish Capital Bridge” has a dirt path alongside it that runs right to the river. It is a simple matter to drive down and launch a canoe or other cartop boat. There is a big pool above the Weldon rocks and shad will stack up in it. The water is deep.  You will need a sink tip or sinking flyline. You can paddle upstream quite a ways as the water is quite flat.  Fish will often be found from above The Rocks all the way up to the first big drop off upstream a ways.  If they are there, they’ll be rolling.


If you really want to get away from people there is another option. What I used to do was to launch at the wildlife ramp in Gaston off of Hwy 48. At this ramp you will be floating almost the entire rocky part of river from where it comes out of the Roanoke Rapids Dam canal and on down to Weldon. There usually isn’t much action right there at the ramp. I wouldn’t start fishing until I got to the I-95 Bridge. Stay to the right as you go downstream. Once you go past the nice house that sits on the right side, just as you get to I-95, you are in good fishing water.  Look for the “Happy Shad Roll” to tell you where the fish are. When shad are relaxed and in a place they like in the river, they will roll and splash and generally make it known that they are about.Also look for Osprey swooping down over the water.  They like shad too.

Let’s assume you have found the fish, they are right there in front of you. You can see them swimming past you in the water, it is quite clear, and they are splashing in the pool. In this situation fish with a light flyrod, generally a 4 or 5 weight, with a floating line.  Keep the fly above the heads of the fish. If it goes beneath them they will move away from it. Anything that goes above them will get a look. You will actually see the reaction of the shad as your hook goes by them. Some will rise up for an instant and go down, others will give chase and turn away, then one will come right up and slash at it. Often they will miss. But often enough they won’t! Shad are great fighters. The bigger ones, those approaching 18 inches or more, will make tarponesque leaps.


On down the river there are a couple places you need to be careful of. If you are a good canoeist then you know what to do already and don’t need my help. If not, you will want to check ahead when you see a drop off and decide whether you want to run it or portage. Keep your gear light for just such an occasion. I recommend that you do not try to run the rocks at Weldon at all, no matter what your experience. Pull out at the Hwy 301 bridge.  You need two cars for this by the way in case you haven’t figured that out yet. One other place that will warrant special consideration is the area known as “The Gap”. You will see large boulder formations on either side of the river that form…a gap. The river takes a big turn to the right through a pretty narrow area here. It would be wise to check it out ahead of time if you have not done it before. A good place to portage for a canoe or kayak.  Let me add that all of this fishing is done when the water on the river is running low.  Often times during shad season they hold the water back at the dam. That is what we are talking about here.  If motor boats are able to run upstream from Weldon, then do not attempt to fish up there in a canoe or kayak.  There’s too much water moving too fast.  Check here – – if it’s low it’s probably safe to try.


Other than that the river is pretty mild and goes through very nice country and there is a good chance you will see eagles, osprey, deer, turkey and who knows how many different species of assorted birds and ducks. Add the chance to fish for hickory shad by the thousands in almost total seclusion and it is a trip that has definite rewards for the intrepid angler.


4 thoughts on “Flyfishing for shad on NC’s Roanoke River using a kayak or canoe

    1. captgordon

      It’s pretty obvious when you look at the graphs but below 5,000 cfs should be ok. If you can see the rocks and it looks like a regular stream it’s okay. If the motorboats are running upstream of Weldon then it’s too much.

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