By Chris Funk
In my neck of the woods—Alabama–springtime brings waves of spawning fish that get bottlenecked behind obstacles in the river. One of my favorites is the “poor man’s tarpon,” known elsewhere as shad but referred to locally as skipjack. There is no glory in catching a skipjack compared to the monster stripers or catfish that tend to run with them, but you would be hard pressed to have more fun. I don’t care if you are 5 years old or 50; a fish that hits aggressively, fights hard and jumps freely will put a smile on your face.
A standard “skipjack rig” of two 1/8–ounce jigs rigged in tandem is hard to beat on the river. You can throw whatever color you want as long as it is white. In truth, when it is on fire the color doesn’t matter a bit, but if they ever slow down the white has always been my top producer. A standard cast and retrieve works, but folks catching the most have developed a “skipjack twitch.” This is just a pumping retrieve that makes the jigs jump erratically in the water and tends to really fire the skipjacks up. This is an outstanding venue for a fly rod and small weighted Clouser-style minnows. A 3-pound skipjack on a 5-weight rod provides a great workout in the current.
This is one of the absolute best fish for young anglers or those who are new to the sport. Plentiful targets that require little or no skill are always what I want when I am teaching a young angler; my own son cut his teeth on the “Chattahoochee tarpon.” Before my non-fishing father-in-law passed away, even he would jump at the chance to go chase them and started bugging me at the first sign of spring.
Most people catch and release them but serious catfish chasers know the real truth. There is hardly better catfish bait than a chunk or slab of oily skipjack. You will see them loading coolers full to take home and vacuum pack for later use. We have taken the smaller ones offshore and used them as an awesome substitute for cigar minnows as well. No matter if you are chasing them for bait or just a tight line, the skipjack is a great target.
—Chris Funk is a photographer, kayak angler and member of Jackson Kayak’s Fishing Factory Team