My first shad planking

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Only a few days after my first day at the Suffolk News-Herald, my editor told me I had the honor of attending Wakefield Ruritan Club’s 63rd annual shad planking.

He said it like this was definitely something I wanted to be a part of, but frankly, planking shad just sounded violent.

I had never heard of shad, let alone eaten it after it was nailed to wooden planks and smoked for hours.


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My ignorance to one of the premier political events in Virginia politics unfortunately exposes my green status in Suffolk.

Even after hearing my editor’s accounts of the event, viewing the shad planking website and reading archived items on the event, I still had very little idea of what to expect when I got to Wakefield Sportsmen’s Club.

In a blur of red, white and blue, gaggles of George Allen for U.S. Senate signs lined the road as my little Honda Fit’s wheels tried to grip the gravel.

When I arrived, I was astonished by how many people there were. It’s not that I expected a small event, but it was still surprising this event that started as a way to celebrate fishing season had brought in more 2,000 guests.

The path leading up to the stage was adorned with booths and stands filled with volunteers and political aides smacking stickers and pushing fliers.

The strangest sight to me was Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tent, which was the beer stand — how very clever.

In an attempt to avoid starving, I made a beeline for the shad.

In the long line, I could overhear several conversations — all of which were politically charged.

“Why does everyone think they can run for the Senate?”

“I can’t believe Tim Kaine didn’t show.”

Many of the guests had a fire in their eyes as they discussed subjects like the redistricting controversy and big elections in 2012.

There’s a blazing passion that only politics can light in people, and this event fans those flames.

Even as I dug into my shad, the gentlemen next to me were so enthralled in their conversation, I couldn’t even butt in to ask whether I should eat the fish with a fork or with my hands.

After being there a few hours, I realized shad has very little to do with the shad planking, other than providing sustenance.

The event is a haven where people can relax, get dirt on their dress shoes, fill their faces with bony fish and talk politics.

After my first shad planking, there are a lot of things I could say to prepare newcomers for next year’s — the speeches are more funny than formal; people will talk your ear off about what’s-his-name; and the planking is the preview of politics for the next year.

But above all, the most valuable lesson I learned is shad is delicious, but it’s better to enjoy it with a fork. Sure, it was easier to get through the bones, but my fingers had a fishy residue on them for the next day. And I know I’ll never get that smell out of my car.