The past few seasons, the shad dart (or “sharts” as I occasionally call them) has become an essential piece of hardware in my tackle box. In both fresh and salt water, these jigs can be downright deadly, and are perhaps the most overlooked lure on the market.
It all began a few years back when I was fishing for hickory shad. It was mid-May, and the hickories had shown up in full force. They are a great chunk bait for early-season stripers, and I hoped to procure a few for some nighttime chunking. I had recently gone fishing for American shad and still had a box of shad darts tucked away in my truck. So, why not? I figured if they worked so well for American shad, the hickories ought to like them too. Sure enough, they worked like a charm and I got my bait, which resulted in my first keeper striper of the season.
A few days later, I returned to the same estuary, looking to have some more fun with the hickories, but they had pulled a disappearing act. I slowed down my retrieve and hopped the shad dart along the bottom. What I discovered is that the lowly shad dart, when presented properly, is irresistible to early-season schoolies.
I’m not really sure what the shad dart imitates. Perhaps it resembles a grass shrimp, or maybe it looks like a small baitfish. I have become quite confident, however, that it looks like something that schoolies crave, and it has become my favorite offering for targeting them. Chartreuse and red and-white are my go-to colors.
Read More: Darts on the Delaware
I’ve found most of my success working darts in areas with moving water. Harbor entrances, shallow channels and entrances to back bays are where they really seem to shine. I fish them the same way as I do for shad. I cast one up-current, let it settle to the bottom, and then begin a slow, steady retrieve. Add in a few slow twitches and occasionally allow the dart to sink back to the bottom to make sure it’s in the strike zone. The hits are often subtle, so keep your rod tip low and try to keep slack out of your line.
Because a shad dart is so light (I prefer 1/4-ounce), scale down your tackle. I use the same freshwater rod and reel that I use for largemouth bass fishing. Drop down to a 12-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, and you’ll be amazed at how many fish you catch.
Related Video: Shad Darts Can Catch Fluke, Too!
Another interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed about shad darts is that they are very effective during worm spawns. Stripers are known for being extremely fussy during these events, and on several occasions, I’ve handily out-fished fly-fishermen who were closely “matching the hatch.” During a worm spawn, simply go with a medium-paced, steady retrieve, and try to keep the dart high in the water column. Sweep your rod tip back and forth, low to the water, to simulate the mindless wanderings of a cinder worm.
And, do you want to know what else you can catch on sharts? Just about every fish that swims! In fresh water, I’ve had good luck targeting white perch with them, and crappie like them too. I’ve caught fluke, sea bass, and tautog, and if you really want to have some fun, tie one on to an ultralight setup and cast off the docks for scup.