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Fly Fishing in Europe - Shad: The Silver Arrows of Avignon

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The author with a fly caught 'silver arrow'. The author with a fly caught 'silver arrow'.

In the Durance River near the town of Avignon, shad are concentrated in large quantities from April to June below a famous weir called “Callet”! These powerful fighters jump out of the water like silver arrows and love to take a fly in the strong currents of this beautiful river!


Avignon is an historical town, which was home to the Papacy for a century. It still has a large castle built to serve as the Pope's residency, the "chateau des Papes". It also famous for “le Pont d'Avignon”, a bridge which spans only half of the river which is the theme of a very popular folk song. Is there a better place to cast a fly?

The poor man’s salmon!

shadLike every season, my telephone rings and the message from my friend is clear - ”Laurent, shad arrived on the Durance." A bit of time to sort urgent matters and obligations; and two days later, I’m on the highway that drives me to the Vaucluse. Often called "the poor man’s salmon", shad are an exciting quarry with suitable fly fishing tackle, and the fish that looks like a small tarpon is a bundle of nerves when it takes a fly. This species is the most abundant anadromous fish on the French coast. These sleek, silver, schooling fish are unique inhabitants of some local rivers like the Durance and the Rhône. Shad enter rivers in the early spring and can travel hundreds of miles upstream to spawn. This energetic and taxing migration allows juveniles to hatch and be reared in an advantageous freshwater environment since larval development cannot occur in salt water. French shad spawn in open water and do not often move up too far into the tributaries of the large rivers that they ascend. 

A fish of the family Clupeidae, which also includes sardines and herring, shad are divided into two species: Alosa alosa and Alosa agone. From April to June, shad follow the course of coastal rivers and their tributaries to spawn. Until the mid-20th century, shad ascended the Rhone to channel Savière (Lake Bourget), the Saone and Isere Auxonne up to Grenoble. In 1947, the dam of Donzère greatly reduced the range of the species: the decline of shad will be very fast, fisheries reached 53 tonnes between Arles and Pont-Saint-Esprit in 1927, and only 10 tons in 1950. Spillmann (1961) still reported spawning between Beaucaire and Avignon and catches in the Aude and Herault. Subsequently, however, changes in legislation and in public opinion focused attention on the problem and placed the responsibility for fish passage on the owners of the dams. Fish passage devices, such as ladders and fish elevators, were constructed on the main stem dams. The first attempts at building fish ladders occurred several years ago and fish successfully ascended this structure to the pleasure of anglers! 

shad and fliesFinally, I meet up with my friend on the riverbank, quickly locating the best pools for shad. Lunch is quickly eaten and we are downstream of the Callet weir, which has also been rebuilt there shortly after its collapse in October 2008 with construction of a passage for migrating. First observation, the water is a little tight and strong, a serious sink tip line like the Airflo “streamer max” will be necessary to fish the large pool that extends downstream from the fishing reserve. I rig up my line and 10’ Airflo Forty Plus Nantec rod weight 7/8 'and a good length of 25/100 (8lbs) fluorocarbon which includes three flies of my own tying : orange on the point, a fluorescent yellow as a mid dropper and white on top. The current is very strong and I am treading on tiptoe in the big pool. First cast, several serious mends to drop off flies, nothing happens. Two other anglers are already hard at work on the other side, but do not seem to be successful. After a good try in the same current, I decide to descend slowly downstream, where the flow seems to settle down a bit. This deep water inspires me more. I cast my flies perpendicular to the position, mending my line two times and I strike pretty quickly. A violent take shakes off my reflex. The rod bends under a powerful start in the middle of the pool, and the fish give violent head shakes. I direct my rod to the left and to the right and fish gratifies me with a great jump. This is a great 50 cm shad which has taken my orange fly. What a bundle of nerves! Numerous takes will follow all along the day with tons of pleasure!


My fishing tackle for shad:

Rods: Airflo Forty Plus Nantec rod 10’weight 7/8.

Reel: Airflo Vlite 7/9.

Lines: Airflo Super DRI mend, Super DRI Distance Pro, Sixth Sense clear intermediate and Streamer Max Sink tip.

Tippet: 8 lbs fluorocarbon (Airflo Sight Free Extreme).

Laurent Guillermin

Laurent Guillermin is a French reporter and photographer. Laurent’s images and articles have appeared in a great number of fishing magazines in France and Europe. He’s also well-known in the small fly tying “world” and has commercial patterns tied by Easy Fly. He has traveled all over the world as a reporter and is considered as an expert fly fisher for trout, grayling, pike, carp, sea bass, bonefish and permit. “Every time you go out fishing you can have a different experience. That’s what it’s all about!”

You can contact him on lgfishing@orange.fr

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