Herring return to run the wild Appomattox

Now that spring has sprung and high school sports are in full swing, another sport is starting to heat up: Fishing.

Spring is typically one of the best times to fish here in the commonwealth, and on a nice, early spring day last week, Matoaca High School student Ryan Moore and Chesterfield County resident Jeremy Moore made the relatively short drive down to the Appomattox River. They put the old bass boat in down in Colonial Heights, heading for the same spot in the river they fished last year.

“Fishing has always been a way of life for me,” Jeremy Moore said. “Whether I was fishing at the beach with my Pop or at the river with my cousin or friends, it’s hard to beat. Fishing for herring is one of those fun times that only comes around once a year.”

The Moores’ objective: To catch as many herring as possible. What is a herring, though? Fans of British comedy troupe Monty Python may remember the fish’s pivotal role in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when the Knights who say Ni! challenge the party looking for the grail to “cut down the mightiest tree in the forest… with… a herring!”

Typically, though, the fish isn’t used to fell trees – it’s a smaller game fish that is fished for sport and commercially as a major source of food.

True to Southern tradition, herring is typically salted, fried up and eaten with a side dish of mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. Or the eggs, also called roe, are mixed with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Herring meat is a delicacy in Europe, where it is often pickled. In Asia, the roe is often used for sushi.

“Fried and salted herring are awesome for breakfast,” Jeremy Moore said. “Definitely one of my favorites, they are awesome with cornbread, fatback or black coffee.”
There are two types of herring, the Atlantic and Pacific varieties. They usually travel in huge schools in ocean waters.

But what are they doing here in Virginia? Well, each spring, usually a few weeks after the weather breaks, herring can be found inland, via coastal rivers, to lay eggs and spawn. The entire event typically lasts a couple to a few weeks.

Also mixed in with the herring are American and Hickory shad, which can be substantially larger than herring. American shad cannot be kept, according to Virginia game laws, and must be released. Last week, Jeremy Moore hooked an American Shad that probably weighed 3 to 4 pounds; by comparison, herring are usually thin fish that are rarely larger than 15 centimeters.

Now, how and when does one fish for herring? Well, there is still time.

They will likely be in the river for at least another week and, just like any other fishing, there are fast and slow days. The Moores’ last trip rendered 178 fish in just over three hours – a very successful day.

Before heading to the water, make sure to obtain a Virginia freshwater fishing license. A license can be obtained online at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/licenses/. For $18, the bearer can fish for a calendar year. Children under the age of 16 do not need a license.

While one is actually fishing, a boat is useful, but in certain places on the river, a cast from the bank will do the trick. Light tackle spinning rods make a small fish’s fight fun, or cane poles from a boat will also work. The lure of choice is called a sabiki rig, and can be fetched at any tackle shop for around $4 to $6.

It has about six small, reflective artificial rigs and hooks, as herring and shad are attracted to the light in the water. And yes, it’s possible to hook up to six fish at once, which can make things pretty interesting.

When fishing for herring or shad, cast out the line with the rig tied on – no bait is necessary – and slowly reel in, slowly “jigging” your lure with an up and down motion. Once a fish is hooked, keep the rod tip up for leverage on the fish, and reel in surely but slowly. A hooked herring will attract the attention of other fish and sometimes lead to “trailers” hooking on, as well, out of curiosity. Setting the hook isn’t always required, but can help, as the fish tend to “attack” the lure.

The herring and shad running is a great opportunity to take the kids fishing. Not having to deal with the boredom of sometimes hit-or-miss bass fishing, or the waiting game that comes with fishing for catfish, makes this excellent fishing for the novice fisherman. It’s easy, fast-paced and often has a high reward, and a better day’s catch yields plenty of fish to share with a neighbor.

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