We all lost a good friend and one of the sports’ finest ambassadors with the passing of famed trickcaster Shag Shahid over the weekend. Shahid, 86, had been fighting several health issues over the past several months and died Saturday night in a local hospital. According to friends and family who were at his side, “he moved on just like he always did, with that famous Shag grin.”
“It’s hard for us, but Dad seemed comfortable and ready when his time came,” said son Wade Shahid. “Those who knew him best know he was a competitor in everything he did.”
Shahid was known worldwide for his remarkable casting skills, and he was able to build an audience anywhere he’d perform. “I’ll bet you a dollar I can put this plug in that cup,” he’d say, gesturing his rod toward the intended target. It never took long for a crowd to gather and he rarely missed during his routine. When the casting plug did stray, it was impossible to tell if it was a truly a miss or if Shahid was just looking to up the ante, albeit only a playful bet.
Shahid was born to Lebanese immigrants in Charleston, S.C., and grew up in Timmonsville. He developed a love for fishing early in his youth and frequented Santee Cooper. He was also fond of team sports and played football, baseball and basketball in high school, and then football and baseball at The Citadel. His birth name was Wadere, named after his father, but got his “Shag” nickname during his high school years. Some say the name came from the fact he was so fast; others say it was because he had his own little shag dance.
In the early 1950s he played semi-pro baseball in the region’s Palmetto League as a pitcher. He often used a baseball analogy when teaching casting, saying, “It’s just like throwing a baseball; you have to know when and where to let go.”
After leaving baseball, Shahid moved to Birmingham, Ala., where he owned and operated Shag’s Restaurant. During this time he met Lola Price, and the couple was married in 1955.
The Shahids later moved to Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., where he opened Shag’s BBQ in the Gulf Coast region that was fast becoming a popular tourist destination. It was during this time in the early 1970s that Shahid pursued an opportunity in the fishing tackle business, going to work for Lew Childre in his upstart rod and reel operation in Foley, Ala. Childre and Shahid became good friends and fishing partners, and together developed some of the fishing industry’s most popular designs in innovative models of rods and reels made and marketed under the Lew’s brand.
“I’m not sure if Shag got out of the barbeque business because he thought the fishing market sounded better to him, or because too many customers were complaining about their sandwiches having a taste of paint from overspray as he dabbled in painting lures on the side,” laughed Casey Childre, son of the late Lew Childre. “Dad and Shag made a good team though, and they worked on a lot of products together. Shag carved from wood what eventually became the pistol grip handle made by Fuji and featured on the Lew’s Speed Stick.”
The Lew’s Speed Stick rod fitted with a Speed Spool baitcast reel ultimately became the tools of Shahid’s trade as he mastered a variety of casting tricks. Shahid developed a unique wrist flip that exaggerated the light action of his short casting rod to effortlessly launch the bait to his target of choice. Many learned his techniques, but few ever mastered the same level of proficiency.
Even in the years following Lew Childre’s death in a plane crash in 1977, Shahid was a prominent face of the Lew’s brand.
A Lew’s ad in the March 1979 issue of Field and Stream touted his quote, “If fishin’ is mostly casting … why not learn to cast good.” And to those who knew the man, most probably agree that the body copy in the ad that read “… learn to swat a skeeter off a moccasin at 20 yards,” did come from Shahid and not an ad agency writer, because he had a lot of good one-liners he often delivered during a performance.
As Lew’s changed licensing partners over the years, Shahid was always able to find a role with each new marketer of the brand. He continued making appearances at trade and sport shows for his sponsors into his senior years, including several for Zebco around the company’s 50th anniversary in 1999, during a time when Zebco held the Lew’s brand.
Even as recently as March 2009, Billy “The Captain” Hildebrand had an article in his Fan Outdoor column titled “Sportshow Memories!” in which he wrote … “I remember Shag landing a casting plug in a guy’s pocket as he walked by or dropping that plug into a coffee mug at the end of the aisle. ‘Where would you like me to put it?’ he’d ask anyone who’d listen. With a friendly southern drawl he charmed the ladies and just flat sold reels. Some bought reels and really had no idea why.”
Shahid was a southern gentleman and he aimed to please, whether teaching a fellow angler or a family member.
“I never really realized what I had in such a special dad while growing up. It’s really only come to me in the past dozen years after having to deal with some tough times of my own,” Wade Shahid continued. “He watched me, instructed me, and guided me until he knew I was on solid ground, then he stepped in to really help me pursue my own fishing career. I’m fishing the FLW tournament circuit and have a confidence like I’ve never had before because of my dad. I’m pleased I was able to tell him that and say ‘thank you.’”
Shahid is considered one of the true pioneers of a fishing industry that advanced rapidly in product innovation and technology through the 1970s and 80s, largely in part due to the growth and popularity of organized tournament bass fishing during the period. He loved to bass fish, especially with a plastic worm, and was really good at it. Shahid’s passion for the sport, the industry, and people who fished gave him the perfect opportunity to utilize his skills in product development, casting and entertainment to the fullest.
His casting demonstrations inspired many anglers to become more proficient with their tackle, and he taught scores of fishermen how to catch more bass by accurately hitting targets with focused casting. Shahid is one of a small group of industry professionals who historically created bass fishing and gear as it’s known today, joining the elite list of legendary anglers who passed before him including Lew Childre, Jim Bagley (balsa crankbaits lure designer), Tom Mann (popularized soft plastic fishing lures) and other fishing friends.
Shahid will be laid to rest later this week near his longtime home in Ft. Walton Beach. He is survived by his wife Lola, sister Agnes, sisters-in-law Margaret and Billie, sons Wade and James, and grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
Remembering Shag Shahid
Wadere “Wade” Shahid III, son
“I really didn’t know what I had in my dad until the more recent years; he really did become my best friend. I grew up fishing and I was able to effectively read water by age 13. I was somewhat of a problem child growing up, and dad did his best to keep me in line. And, just for the record, I really wasn’t the one who put the snake in the nun’s car while I was in Catholic elementary school; I just happened to be the one holding it when my two buddies and I were spotted. Now, as a tournament bass fisherman today, I’m better at the sport because of my dad. Of course, being my dad’s son, I can trickcast and I can fish a worm, but not I, nor anybody else, will ever be able to do those things as well as him.”
“I’ll be forever grateful for the many opportunities given me by my dad, including the chance to fish with him and President Jimmy Carter in some phosphate pits in Florida. I want to make him proud with what I do with my life from this point forward. I’d like to be just like my dad.”
Casey Childre, son of late Lew Childre
“In the mid-1980s, Shag had been invited to Japan as a guest of their government. The Japanese loved him, his accent and his casting skills. He simply mesmerized them everywhere he went. He appeared on a national television program and invited folks to come see him at the Osaka tackle show where he’d be performing. The place was so packed that the fire marshal had to monitor crowd capacity from a catwalk, instructing officials to open and close the doors as necessary. It got so congested where Shag was performing that authorities decided it was necessary to move Shag outside to perform. A large part of the crowd followed him out. When the folks remained outside with him, the other vendors started complaining about the lack of attendance. So, the show organizer eventually had to bring Shag back inside and all was well again in Osaka. People just loved Shag.”
Craig Childre, son of late Lew Childre
“Shag was like an arm wrestling champion, and we were always trying to beat him. During set-up at one of the tackle shows in Chicago, Lew’s salesman Paul Lightsey and I decided to challenge him together. Shag told us both we could use both arms at the same time against his one … we thought it would be a piece of cake. Not only did he pin us, but in doing so he tore so much hide off of my elbow that it bothered me throughout the show. That made the defeat even more humiliating when people asked me what was wrong with my arm.”
Al “AJ” Jackson, co-worker with Shag at Lew Childre and Sons; expert rod designer
“Shag was such a good man, a real gentleman. I had the privilege of working with him at Lew’s for many years. My expertise was in rod development and actions, and it was great to have been an integral part of the Speed Stick introduction with Shag and the team. Not only did we work together at the shop, we also were travel companions to shows and tournaments, so we spent a lot of time together. I would not have had the career I did, nor be where I am today, had it not been for Shag Shahid. He taught this saltwater spin fisherman to go bass fishing, and everything I know about bass fishing I learned from him. He was a hell of a fisherman and caster, and taught me how to compete. Everything he taught me is still embodied in everything I make. He’s a part of my daily life every time I turn around.”
Bill Dance, host of “Bill Dance Outdoors” television fishing show
“You didn’t challenge Shag in casting, nor in arm wrestling. But during an AFTMA (now called ICAST) tackle trade show in Chicago during the 1970s, while in a meeting with Shag, Lew Childre and a contingency of Japanese tackle manufacturers, I privately convinced Shag to let me win a match. Although he didn’t like losing at anything, he finally agreed as long as we’d tell them it was a joke afterwards. With his Japanese fans cheering him on and patting him on the back throughout, their vocal expressions went through a swing of highs and lows as our arms went back and forth. Just when it seemed Shag had the upper hand, I pinned him. His fans were first stunned, then quickly shifted over to my side and started patting me on the back and congratulating me. Shag said, ‘Okay, Bill, now let’s do it for real.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I wasn’t about to wrestle him again and left the table with Shag still trying to convince the group it was a prearranged victory. Shag and I would laugh about that every time we’d cross paths thereafter. Shag was a lot of fun and I’ll miss him.”
Ray Scott, founder of B.A.S.S.
“Shag was a good man. I really like guys who have ideas and live with them until they make them happen; Shag was one of those. He was truly a unique man in a special circle of anglers from an important era that helped shape our fishing community. I saw in Shag a compassion for wanting to help people be better at casting and catching fish. And he had a special gift of patience in helping those who needed some extra attention. He sure could cast and I always enjoyed watching him entertain a crowd at the shows. I have to say he was truly interested in helping people, and to me that’s a great compliment about any person.”
Gary Dollahon, Dollahon PR
“I was at Zebco during the time in the 90s that the company acquired the Lew’s licensing rights, and Shag seemed to come right along with them. Whether sharing a boat together or working a promotion, he kept me laughing with his stories and antics. Some of his visits to Tulsa were in spring, so after work I’d head to my kids’ baseball and softball games, and he always wanted to come along. The kids would want to engage him in casting exhibitions; he wanted to coach them in baseball. I decided to take advantage of the chemistry and have him do a video for youth on tackle and casting, positioning him as a “grandfather” interested in sharing his skills with the “neighborhood kids.” With the kids gathered around him and sitting on the grass, he held out his thumb as he so often did during his demonstrations, and in his thick Southern drawl, said ‘this is my brain, it controls my whole cast.’ He went on to some further explanations, then returned to quiz them on what they remembered. He stuck his thumb out toward them again and asked, ‘Now what is this?’ In perfect unison, they replied, ‘It’s your bran.’ The camera guy and I got to laughing so hard about their hearing bran instead of brain with his accent, that we had to stop and re-film the segment. Shag was always kind to me and my family, and he will forever have a special place in our memories.”