A belly full of shad

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yesterday was the third Wednesday in April, which meant that, for the 63rd time, lovers of politics and an oily, bony fish gathered for a uniquely Virginian rite of spring — the Shad Planking.

What began in the 1930s as a small celebration of the running of the shad in the James River has turned into an annual celebration of politics deep in the deep south of Route 460.

Each year, Wakefield Ruritan Club members nail the silvery little fishes to old oak planks and smoke them over an open flame for eight hours. While they wait to dine, a couple of thousand political junkies rub elbows with the commonwealth’s political dignitaries.

Email newsletter signup

So, too, do candidates make the trek to the Wakefield Sportsman’s Club each year for the opportunity to give away thousands of campaign stickers, beer and face time to would-be voters.

The list of attendees and speakers over the years is a veritable who’s who of Virginia lawmakers and political leaders. Senators, congressmen and governors have all made the event and run the gauntlet.

Former Gov. Mills Godwin was the keynote speaker a record seven times since 1962. Harry Byrd, Doug Wilder and John Warner have also taken the stage.

This year’s speaker was Gov. Bob McDonnell, who took the opportunity to skewer his predecessor Tim Kaine, who has announced he is running for a U.S. Senate seat, Sen. Mark Warner and some of his other favorite Democrats.

It’s an event that everyone with an interest in Virginia politics should try to attend at least once. The proceeds support the Wakefield Ruritan Club’s many charitable endeavors, the political debate and spectacle are worth at least the price of admission, and the beer and stickers are fun, too. Even the fish have their place.

For those who have tried shad, though, the question is whether that place is in the belly or in the trash.