John A. Punola lives in New Jersey, and spends plenty of time fishing there. In fact, the octogenarian will tell you that he has built up quite a reputation over the years.
“I started shad fishing in the Delaware River. That was back in 1972, during trout season,” Punola said during a recent phone interview. “After I caught that first shad, I quit trout fishing. I became a shad fisherman, and I’ve been fishing for them ever since.”
Punola hasn’t really totally given up on trout — he has since written books about fishing for them in both New Jersey and Catskills waters — but he has spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to target the hard-fighting shad.
“I’m the Shadman in the industry down here. I’m the authority, I guess,” Punola said. “I talk about the shad, and I talk about where the migrations are coming from, what to expect, how to fish for them.”
On Saturday, Aug. 12, Punola will share his hard-earned lessons with Maine anglers, as he’ll present an informative program at the Veazie Salmon Club. The doors open for the free event at 6:30 p.m., and Punola will begin speaking at 7:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.
Punola said returning to Veazie was natural for him.
“I love Maine and I love fishing up there. I’ve written a lot of articles about fishing up there,” Punola said. “I [first] came up in 1986, and not too long after that I joined the Veazie Salmon Club, and I’ve been a long-distance member since then.”
In an odd turn, despite his club membership, Punola has never fished for Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot River, which flows past the Veazie clubhouse. The river — along with all Maine rivers — is now closed to fishing for the federally protected species.
“I’ve never fished for [Atlantic salmon], and [club members] tell me that I may never, ever fish for them,” Punola said.
But one species that he will get the chance to fish for, should he choose to return to the Penobscot next June, is the shad.
Nearly 4,000 shad have been counted at the Milford fish lift this year alone, and anglers have begun targeting the fish that has been notoriously absent from that stretch of the river for decades due to the presence of downriver dams.
“I’m excited to hear [that people are catching shad in the Penobscot],” Punola said.
Back home, Punola has spent years figuring out the tactics and techniques that work best for shad.
“We have had huge, huge shad runs down in the Delaware River, and it was not unusual for some of the fishermen down here to catch 100 shad in a day,” Punola said. “I’ve caught as high as 63. And mine are all shore-caught. I don’t have a boat, and I don’t fish from a boat.”
Punola said he’s looking forward to sharing some tricks with Bangor-area anglers.
“I’ll show them the right and the wrong, and explain to them that the shad is a totally different fish [than they’re used to] as far as fighting qualities,” Punola said. “They’re like a smallmouth bass. But they’re very fragile. Their mouth structure is very thin. You can almost see through it. It’s like, opaque. So you can’t hook ’em and drag ’em.”
And Punola said he’ll help teach new “shadmen” how to find the species.
“They’re a current fish. They follow the current. And wherever the current is, that’s where the shad will be,” Punola said. “They won’t be in still water, no matter how deep it is. They follow that current line because they need that oxygenated water.”
In addition, Punola said that shad aren’t looking to feed when they come into the river.
“So as far as fly fishing [is concerned], you’re not imitating anything, because it’s not looking [for food],” he said. “What you’re looking for is color, something that will attract them.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke